Poetry of the Soul
By Jordan Staggs | Photography by Jacqueline Ward Images
“I wrote poetry in high school,” says Jessica Hathorn. She wrote little poems and short stories, even as little as a line or a sentence, as a creative outlet for her constant musings. To this day, Jessica always carries a notebook to jot down ideas and, as she describes it, “just to get my thoughts out of my head.” And although she left her writing behind and moved into a business career—including advertising sales, being a regional sales manager for Marriott, and most recently, becoming the director of sales for Hyatt Place Sandestin at Grand Boulevard, which will open this year—Hathorn has always found solace in art.
Her artistic career took a turn from poetry in college, when she began salvaging and painting old furniture, giving it new life and giving her student income a boost. “I refinished my grandmother’s antique chair that my aunt had painted purple in the 1970s.” She recalls this as the project that led her into a love of painting and, to an extent, interior design. It wasn’t until around 2010 that she turned her paintbrush onto canvas instead.
Hathorn found that painting, like poetry, was a way to express her emotions and get her thoughts out into the world, freeing her mind from jumbled ideas. Many of her paintings are inspired by nature or things she would see along the coast of Northwest Florida, where she lived for several years before moving to Birmingham, Alabama, two years ago. The beaches and natural surroundings along Scenic Highway 30-A, especially, have been the subjects of some of her works. “I get lost in watching little sandpipers and the waves,” she explains. “Then, being in Birmingham is a different experience, but still inspiring. I get to be under the trees, looking up at the leaves, instead of looking out at nature from a distance at the beach.” In particular, Hathorn has done painting and sketching exhibitions at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, where the ever-changing surroundings bring serenity and a sense of new life.
Her rebirth as a painter might have occurred after she turned forty, but it’s clear art has always been in Hathorn’s soul. Much like the short lines and poems she would pen as a teenager, the titles of her paintings now reflect her thoughts. “My paintings are about life and emotions,” she says. “The titles have become like my poetry, and sometimes they change, even after I’m done working for a while—almost like they’re alive. I might come back and change something. I never feel like a painting is done until it sells.”
Her first sale, back around 2012, was to friend and colleague Tania Koehler from Howard Hospitality, who Hathorn says “discovered” her. Koehler, whose father is an artist, had come to Hathorn’s house one day and spotted two paintings the latter had been working on in the kitchen. When she expressed interest in buying them, Hathorn was surprised, to say the least. But the idea of making art for others was a welcome one—although she admits it was difficult at first to let her works go.
“I had to get used to parting with the paintings,” Hathorn says with a laugh. “At first I would think, ‘Oh, I’ll never see it again,’ but now I feel like it’s okay because I’m giving a gift to someone—they related in some way to my art and now we’re connected.” That connection is the reason Hathorn prefers to sell her art in person, rather than setting up an online store. “I want my art to find its forever home. It’s like selling a puppy.”
She has amassed several collectors over the past few years, and her work has been shown in galleries and interior design showrooms in Birmingham, along 30-A, in Atlanta, and more. Currently it can be found at Arceneaux Gallery in Homewood, Alabama, East End Gallery in Inlet Beach, Florida, and Haus of Abood Design & Decor in Seacrest Beach, Florida. Hathorn will also exhibit at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens September 1–October 31 and at the Moss Rock Festival in Hoover, Alabama, November 3–4.
She has amassed several collectors over the past few years, and her work has been shown in galleries and interior design showrooms in Birmingham, along 30-A, in Atlanta, and more. Currently it can be found at Arceneaux Gallery in Homewood, Alabama, East End Gallery in Inlet Beach, Florida, and Haus of Abood Design & Decor in Seacrest Beach, Florida.
When it comes to her style, Hathorn is always evolving. “I have a hard time staying confined to one genre,” she admits. Her medium can switch from acrylic paints to charcoal to pen and ink on any given day. “Lately I’ve been working with broader strokes of paint on canvas. I feel they’re a bit more fun, almost like I’m dancing around.”
From that first sale to Koehler at her home until now, Hathorn’s support system has included many artist friends, gallerists, and collectors along the way. She credits Forstall Art Center in Birmingham as being some of her biggest supporters and always willing to help when she wants to try a new tool or technique. “The owners, Phillip and Annette, are great. I love talking with them. All their employees are artists, most with fine arts degrees, so they really are experts at what they do.”
An inspirational trip to Art Basel in Miami with her friend and fellow artist Maxine Orange also instilled in Hathorn a desire to try new things and explore new ways to create. “I’m still discovering and always looking for something new,” she says. “People tell me, ‘I didn’t know you could paint,’ and sometimes I’m like, ‘I didn’t know either!’”
Hathorn’s joy in creating and expressing herself, especially through hard times and times of change in her life, have kept her grounded and given her a desire to help others find the same soul-lifting peacefulness. She loves supporting other artists and creative entrepreneurs and says promoting each other is the key to success for those in her field. “I’m not in it for financial gain—that’s not why I was slapping paint on canvas in my kitchen six years ago.”
Through sharing her art and promoting that of others, Hathorn proves that everyone—even those who might not know it—has a little bit of art in his or her soul.
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