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Color and Fun: A Self-Taught Artist Brightens The Forest

Forest resident Jean Boyd is well known around the community for her kind smile, her generous spirit, and her colorful paintings. A self-taught artist, Jean creates 7-10 paintings a week, almost none of which she keeps for herself.

“I truly enjoy putting paint on paper,” she says.

Jean had a creative spirit long before she arrived in Durham. An elementary school teacher in the inner city of Brooklyn for 20 years, she always crafted; she enjoyed painting the walls in her home, refinishing furniture, making clothes for her children, and creating needlepoint pieces.

When she first came home to The Forest, Jean was very active in virtually every program offering – lectures, fitness classes, ventures to local parks and eateries. She even took some classes led by resident artists, testing the waters in clay and sketching, realizing that these were not quite the most comfortable mediums of expression for her.

A passion realized

A particularly sun-exposed wall in Jean’s home at The Forest eventually led her to her passion for painting. Any art she hung on that side of her living room caught the sun’s reflection, making it difficult for anyone to appreciate the pictures behind the glass. Jean went out and bought a large canvas and some paint with the idea that the sun couldn’t shine so blindingly on art layered onto cotton and PVC.

The canvas took her weeks to paint. Though the finished product – an abstract inspired by a colorful, swirly piece hanging in an office at The Forest – didn’t quite fit in her room, it did create a spark in her heart that soon grew into a wildfire.

The process of creating something new and beautiful was incredibly relaxing and satisfying. Jean gave the large painting to her children but still had many bottles of paint and a few more pieces of canvas left over. What could she do? “I kept going,” she recalls with a sparkle in her eye.

Practice makes purpose

It was around this time that Jean began experimenting on watercolor paper. In the event that she was not quite pleased with something she painted, she wanted to have the ability to turn her work over and start anew.

Jean spent more and more time in the Forest art studio, carrying shopping bags full of her supplies from her apartment each time she wanted to paint. This became rather tedious, so she asked for room to store her materials in the studio rather than keeping everything at home. Fellow artists in the studio were pleased to give her a drawer for storage. “That was a huge turning point for me, because that meant I didn’t have such setup time and could paint on a more regular basis,” Jean says. “Then I started painting more often because I enjoyed doing it so much.”A funny face portrait by a self-taught artist

In this period of practice and exploration, Jean found that she preferred painting smaller pieces. 6” x 8” watercolor paper is her favorite base. “Very early on, I painted very primitive straight line pictures without any blending of colors. The more I did it, the more elaborate the paintings became,” Jean remembers. From abstract, Jean began creating flowers, then “Funny Faces,” a series of bright, colorful expressions that tend to take on lives of their own as she paints.

“They have a funny appeal,” Jean remarks of the Funny Faces. “I find it strange, but on the other hand, I’m glad that the work I do benefits others. I mean, what could be better?”

The gift of joy

Jean began accumulating piles of her paintings and decided to share them with the Forest community, free for the taking. Appreciation for her work grew over time, and these generous bundles of art soon disappeared almost as quickly as Jean put them out. Since she began painting several years ago, Jean has given out hundreds of pieces, offering her paintings to Forest residents and team members in the Community Center and Health & Wellness Center, and even to OASIS staff from the Durham County Library when they bring books to the community.

“Ironically, they go and visit nursing homes and other retirement centers and take my paintings to people who are shut in,” Jean says of OASIS. “The rest, they offer for free to the community in the libraries.”A painting of a tree by a self-taught artist hangs in a hallway

Jean paints whenever the creativity bug bites, making her way down to the art studio to create her next eye-catching piece. She gives herself a two-and-a-half-hour limit to paint, as she becomes very engrossed in her paintings. “It’s like meditation,” she explains. “It’s very relaxing for me. If I don’t do it for a week, I honestly yearn to go down and paint. It is definitely therapeutic for me, and mentally very important.”

Jean has left piles of her paintings in various places and with every department around the Forest campus. After receiving one of Jean’s pieces, a Health & Wellness Center nurse felt inspired to begin creating her own work. “If Mrs. Boyd can do it, I can do it, too!” she had said. She created an abstract painting on canvas that was ultimately hung in the nurses’ lounge.

Two paintings by a self-taught artist hang in a hallwayHome is where the art is

To craft her work, Jean uses watercolor paper from AC Moore and paint from Walmart. Established painters who move from independent living to the Health & Wellness Center sometimes give her their paintbrushes. “I understand the value of good equipment,” Jean says. “It’s through [the kindness of those residents] that I’ve been able to do some of the things that are easier for me to do with good brushes.”

Some of Jean’s paintings hang on the second floor of the Community Center, between elevators 6 and 7. More of her framed work – an abstract, a landscape, and some cheerful flowers – lines the hallway by the elevator leading to Holbrook in the Health & Wellness Center.

Over the years, Jean’s generosity has brought delicate, fun pops of color to many walls at The Forest. Painting brightens her spirit but also those of the people who live and work in the community. It is appropriate, then, that Jean says people are her favorite thing about The Forest at Duke: “[Team members] are genuinely very kind and helpful and good. The residents are funny and wonderful. The diverse backgrounds and accomplishments of the community are amazing and inspiring. It’s a great place to live!”

Lauren Young, Marketing Specialist

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