Accessibility links

Folk Artist Highlights American Themes


While few recognize her name, Jane Wooster Scott is one of the most reproduced artists in the United States. Her portrayals of life in America appear on stationery, calendars and giftware. She is increasingly finding an overseas audience.

Her style is called "American Primitive," and her paintings feature horse-drawn carriages, old-fashioned sailing ships, barns and cottages. Her works show family life in the countryside or the quaint northeastern U.S. towns of the region called New England.

The paintings are colorful but simply rendered, and are reminiscent of the work of an earlier U.S. artist known as Grandma Moses. Like the earlier painter, Jane Wooster Scott had no formal training. She began by copying Grandma Moses prints for her friends, and never expected to become a professional artist.

"You know, it was strictly a hobby," she says. "And I had a family friend, Jonathan Winters, the comedian, who is a very serious painter to this day. And he would see my work in my home. And he was having his first art exhibit quite a few years ago here in California, and he did not have enough paintings to fill this very large gallery. So he said, 'Have a joint show with me.'"

She was skeptical that anyone would buy her paintings, but put 40 in the exhibit and sold all of them within an hour.

The buyers included some of Hollywood's top names, who were friends of Jonathan Winters. She went on to sell her works to such stars as Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Elizabeth Taylor, and the action-star-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Kirk Douglas and Sylvester Stallone have hosted her exhibitions.

The artist's paintings are bright and airy and show life in simpler times, often at the beginning of the 20th century. She admits, however, her style may not be realistic.

"I think it's realistic; probably everyone else thinks it's idealized," she adds. "But I like to think that the world was that way, that everything was just perfect and wonderful and clean and no pollution, no crime, nothing bad with it at all, and I know in my heart that's not true. I'm sure they had their problems at that time too."

But the problems are far removed from the scenes that she portrays, families canoeing on a river or skating on a frozen lake in winter. The painter says her buyers find the themes relaxing.

"I had one actress, as a matter of fact, who said when she comes home, she was doing a [television] series, that she just looks at my piece and kind of goes into it, and it's the most relaxing thing. She just sits back on the sofa and kind of dreams like she's on that ice-skating pond in the painting," Ms. Scott recalls.

The artist's work is often seen in America and has been known for some time in Japan. She says her audience today extends to other places.

"Now suddenly, I am hearing that they want my images for things in Poland, in Hungary, in Germany, in Russia, in Korea and the Czech Republic, which surprises me," she notes.

She says maybe her images of American life transcend both politics and culture, and are finding resonance with a wider audience.

Jane Wooster Scott says her art portrays a vision of a simpler life, which is based on reality but is, in the end, a product of her own imagination.

XS
SM
MD
LG