By Marie Green
Alaska is a land unique on this planet for many reasons. Not the least of which is the incredible number and diversity of the visual artists who call it home. My quest was to interview one who stood out in the crowd – Francine Dufour Jones. She is not an easy person; her fellow travellers must accept that she thrives on challenge, change and seeks them out in her artistic life.
After a wonderful and typically unusual romance, Francine married her Alaskan man five years ago and come to live in this land that was so foreign to her Hawaii, Californian background. There is still the excitement in her voice as she talks about how she decided to develop her arts in this land that looked like faerybook places where she had been skying once a year.
‘I must constantly grow and stretch. I embrace every new art supply I can lay my hands on’. Quite some years ago in San Diego, her half of the garage was filled with shelves that held row upon row of art supplies she had found, bought, be given, or otherwise acquired. On the day she had to move there was a serious decision to make – what to take and what to ditch. Francine settled on three mediums to explore – silk painting, oils and watercolours plus digital art. Digital art held great allure as every medium can be contained on the hard drive of her computer.
No love affair with any one medium held her so steadfast that she didn’t also work and experiment in others, including her photographic skills which blossomed from commercial to artistic on through to digital enhancement. But she must paint. Not ‘wants to paint’ it is very clearly ‘I must paint’. Francine perhaps uniquely paints en plein air on silk and has engineered her ideal plein air silk painting set-up which she will bring to the Great Alaskan Plein Air Retreat in June.
She creates batik on paper which are stand alone works of art which she continues to invent enhancements. ‘Francine has worked with oils for so long that they are now the old and honoured friend at the table. I know what I can do with oils. They are my friend; they are forgiving and I can always save the day when working with oils. Silk painting still retains many mysteries for me and I cherish the challenge I still get with this medium.’
Francine drew me back to when she was a little girl living in Japan. She fell in love with silk. So much so that she brought live silkworms in their cacoons back into the USA when her family returned from that engagement. In Alabama she found mulberry trees for the silkworms and this seems to have been the birth of her never rending affair with silk.
The passionate affairs of her life continue. I asked her how she found living in Alaska after marrying her Alaskan husband. She said ‘I am so in love with this man, we would be happy anywhere.’ At the time I was interviewing Francine, her heater had died and she was bundled up in igloo gear reminiscent of Red Riding fur lined hood and coat, so I believed her.
Her studio is filled with artificial natural lighting so during the winter darkness, her artistic Muse to have full reign. ‘For me my works are like children, I have given birth to them, I cannot neglect them’. However, she still makes the time to regularly fulfil her teaching commitments as a small way to repay the gifts she has. ‘I have learnt a lot from others so I just love giving back by sharing what I know. What can compare with the joy you see in a student’s eye when they ‘get it’ ? I agreed, there is nothing quite the same. With numerous websites and blogs and workshop pages, it is rather obvious that Francine knows her way around IT and I asked how this had began. ‘It is an art form to me now. But years and years ago, I wanted a date changed on my web page. I had to get a coder to do it but I thought surely to just change a date can’t be that hard. So I started to find out how to do that and then couldn’t stop. Perhaps my proudest achievement on the internet was forming a fledgling site almost fifteen years ago to provide one place in the world that silk painters could meet and share ideas and experiments and support. It is now the largest such organization in the world. The only rules I made were – Play nice, Can’t be mean, Willing to share. So perhaps my first medium love will be my last love – silk painting. Just when you think you have mastered it, up comes a fresh idea to try. The challenges are endless and that, perhaps, is what I truly love.