Growing up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, JoAnn Mathews confesses she was “one of those girls that drew pictures of horses and animals.”
“I’m an animal lover. I’m a self-taught artist,” the seasoned professional and Lebanon resident said. “It just takes longer to figure out if you do it yourself.”
In Mathews’ case, it also took her longer to get going but since her early 40s, she has never slackened the pace, producing hundreds of paintings and teaching thousands of students.
“Thirty-two years ago, I really got into it. I got serious. I was widowed. My kids grew up, and I had time. I paint every day or try to. I need to do something artsy every day. I paint in all mediums. Watercolor is what I started with and that is what I usually teach, but I like oil and pastels and now I’m sculpting in clay,” she said.
Mathews says her paintings “ebb and flow with elegance, freedom, confidence and sensuality.”
She paints everything from animals and landscapes to her passion — cowboys, horses and cattle. What caused a native of Iowa (the birthplace of John Wayne) to flip over the great American cowboy?
“I’ve always loved and have been around horses, and I lived for eight years over a barn. Then I moved to Colorado. Wow! I went to brandings. One time I went to a round-up, and it was 12 women rounding up all these cows. I always liked that life. I was born 200 years too late,” she answered.
“Later I moved to Arizona and went to all the cowboy re-enactments and followed cowboy actors.
“I just like it. I like the old cowboy music. I’m not into flowers. I like people and animals. I paint birds, animals, horses and mules. The only thing I really don’t paint is landscapes. Everything I paint has something live in it. Anything with eyeballs,” said the artist, who has won numerous national and local awards and participated in national dog shows, the National Western Stock Show and the International Arabian Horse Show.
Workshop in Lebanon
Mathews will partner with the Artisan Campus at The Mill in Lebanon and present a watercolor art workshop 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18. She has given private lessons and taught workshops across the country including six years at Trinidad State Junior College in Colorado where she had a studio in the A.R. Mitchell Museum.
About the seven-hour workshop she says, “It focuses a lot on the magic of watercolor. Watercolor is a medium that almost paints itself. It’s like an exciting puzzle you put together with watercolor. It’s fun. We will probably do landscape and there will be lots of time to play.
“The way I teach you will understand you paint shapes and you paint life. Once you see that, you’re painting this shape next to another shape. It’s so easy and very tangible. I can teach you techniques. What you paint is the art. It’s the feeling that you put into it that makes an artist.
“You put your heart and soul into each painting. The next one is going to be the masterpiece. I used to tell my students, ‘They’re not all worthy of a frame, but you learn something from each one.’”
A passion for painting
Mathews has hung her hat and paint brushes in Idaho, Indiana, Colorado and Arizona. She had hundreds of students in the Mesa area, many who lived in the 55-plus retirement communities.
“I love teaching people who retire and who have been wanting their whole life to paint. I love that challenge,” said the cowgirl at heart, who haunted the Scottsdale Art School. “Until then I had not studied with anybody, but I took some workshops.
“I’ve sold hundreds of pieces, and I’ve done so many shows in Arizona like the Mountain Oyster Show in Tucson and the Scottsdale Arabian Horse Show. I did a lot of Grant Wood Shows in Iowa and also judged it.”
The artist has been a jack of all trades including saleswoman, nurse, ski instructor, llama trekker, Christmas tree farmer, truck farmer, dog breeder and even built her own house. While breeding old English sheep dogs and Australian shepherds, she traded her paintings for dogs, which opened the door to her painting at national dog shows in Kansas and Georgia.
She donated her paintings for the National Junior High Rodeo posters when the event was held in Lebanon in 2016 and 2017.
She and her husband moved to Lebanon in 2015, following the trail of her son, Thor Reichle, the lead guitarist in the hard rock band Killing Grace.
As for what she is currently painting, Mathews said, “I have a commissioned work going, and I’m working on a crazy thing with bullfrogs and something with seahorses.”
Her other pursuits include her birds (two African gray parrots and a sun conure) and two Australian shepherds.
“I like to travel. My husband is a birder. We have kayaks, so we go kayaking,” said the artist, who lives a zestful life in a water-colored world, “but mainly, I paint.”
The Artisan Campus at The Mill (300 N. Maple St. in Lebanon) with JoAnn Mathews will be offering a watercolor art workshop 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18. The fee is $100. Register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Participants should bring any supplies they have, a canvas and an easel if available.