Sulphur Springs native donates art to library and church

Jo Ann Fanning Durham says grandmother Callie E. Jeffress Smith inspired her love to art career

BY TERRY MATHEWS | News-Telegram Arts Editor

June 29, 2007 - When internationally renowned artist Jo Ann Fanning Durham was a little girl growing up in Hopkins County, her grandmother took her out into the fields to paint bluebonnets. 

Staff Photo by Terry Mathews

Jo Ann Fanning Durham (left) presents Sulphur Springs Public Library Director Cheryl Lawson with a copy of “The Art of Layering” as they stand in front of two prints also donated to by Durham. 

Callie E. Jeffress Smith was determined to pass her considerable artistic talents down to her granddaughter. 

�My grandmother inspired me,� Durham said. �She is the reason I fell in love with painting.�

At a time when most women married young and spent their lives raising a family, Durham’s grandmother left Hopkins County to attend Eastman College in New York. After graduation from Eastman, Smith moved to St. Louis, where she studied fine art and painting. 

Smith didn’t limit her talents to canvass. In 1940, she stitched a quilt and sent it to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The exquisite piece, depicting 12 scenes from the First Lady’s life, now hangs in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York.

Durham’s father, William (Billy) Fanning, served as Hopkins County Attorney from 1935-1936, and later had a private practice in Sulphur Springs.

Durham also spent several years in Austin, when her father accepted a post in the Texas Attorney General’s office. While in Austin, Durham took private art lessons and fell more deeply in love with the world of painting.

�We came back to Sulphur Springs in time for me to attend junior high and high school here,� Durham said during a recent visit to her hometown. �I graduated in 1953. Then, my parents moved to Texarkana in 1954 where Daddy served on the Court of Civil Appeals for 17 years. Although we don�t have any family here, my brother Bill and I love to come back for class reunions and other gatherings.�

Although she wanted to study art in college, “Daddy said, ‘You can’t make a living at art, so you must get a teaching certificate,’” she said. “I went to Texas Woman’s University. In fact, Ruth Ashcroft drove me up there. Then, I attended the University in Austin and wound up getting my degree from East Texas State University in Commerce.”

She and William E. Durham courted while she was living in Texarkana with her parents. Durham was with the Federal Housing Administration, living in Shreveport, but often had business in Texarkana. 

The couple married in 1963, and for a time lived in Washington, D.C., but Mr. Durham wanted out of the city. He moved his family, which had grown to include two sons, William Jr. and John, to Fort Worth more than 40 years ago.

Mrs. Durham, now a widow, was in town last week to donate an art book, “The Art of Layering,” (176 pp. Society of Layerists in Multi Media. $35.) and two limited edition prints to the Sulphur Springs Public Library. 

�We are deeply honored to have such a well-known artist donate such lovely treasures to the Sulphur Springs Public Library. It is of great significance and an inspiration to all that she is a former resident, as well as educated at SSISD,� library director Cheryl Lawson said. �Through the exhibition of Jo Ann�s art, we not only pay tribute to an artist of great stature, but also to the rich heritage that makes Sulphur Springs great.�

During her visit home, Durham also donated four pieces of art to First United Methodist Church, which makes seven pieces she’s given to the church through the years.

�I was baptized in that church, and I would like for some of my paintings to be here in Sulphur Springs,� Durham said.

�Mrs. Durham said she was giving us the pictures from her private collection,� said Coy Johnson, president of the board of trustees for the church. �She said she wanted a home for them, and we were more than willing to give them a home. We were tickled to death that she thought of us.��

Durham’s list of professional credentials is impressive.

In 1974, she was the first woman elected to the Salmagundi Club, the century-old center for American art. She has studied with some of the most talented artists in the world and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the International Academy of Contemporary Art in Belgium.

She’s a charter member of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. and the International Museum of Women in San Francisco.

She has taught art in the Fort Worth public school system and has been an artist in residence for the Texas Commission on the Arts.

�The Texas Commission on the Arts was fun,� Durham said. �I spent 20 hours a week painting and 20 hours a week teaching. I taught in Marshall and Cooper. It was a great time.�

Durham is a member of “Who’s Who in American Art,” and she also belongs to the International Society of Experimental Artists. 

Her work has been singled out for a host of honors, including an Artist Showcase Award at the 1997 Manhattan Arts International Annual Competition, Best of Show in the 2003 ISEA in Chicago and the Award of Excellence from the National League of American Pen Women in Washington, D.C.

She won a gold medal in the 1993 Belgium Grand Prix, one of the most prestigious of all modern art shows.

In 2006, Durham was chosen to receive the Samuel Leitman Memorial Award by the Salma-gundi Club. 

She’s been featured in numerous newspaper and magazine articles. In 1999, her powerful “Angel of Faith and Hope” (see illustration) was selected as the cover for Manhattan Arts.

�This painting was created in my studio and has an accompanying story,� Durham said in an article on www.art-exchange.com. �In May of 1987, I was pouring paint for some abstractions and at the same time mourning the death of my son John who died a sudden death at the age of 24.� This angel appeared.� I stopped pouring paint and placed the work aside.� Several days later I finished the painting by airbrushing around the central figure. I feel this was divinely inspired and is a message to all grieving parents over the loss of a child.� Death is not the end.� It is a doorway to Heaven where we will be reunited.�

Ten of Durham’s pieces, including the award-winning “Cosmos Patterns,” are on permanent display on the campus of Tarelton State University in Stephenville. 

Durham has been asked to submit a piece for the third International Women’s Peace Conference, July 10-15, at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in downtown Dallas.

These days, Durham completes two to three pieces a month. 

�I put on really good music. I meditate and then I paint until I�m tired,� the artist said of the creative process.

She continues to develop her talent, working with multiple mediums in a style called “encaustic,” using using heated beeswax to which colored pigments are added. 

Durham says she settled on the medium because it required a “whole different mindset” than traditional art. 

�I heard about it� and saw the work of Maxine Masterfield (founder of the International Society� of Experimental Artists),� Durham said.�

Durham’s work features triangles and circles. Her choice of colors is astounding and full of impact. Her work is ethereal and other-worldly, evoking the heavens and a spectacular, far-flung universe, full of wonder.

�I like to paint the invisible,� Durham said. �That�s what I really want to do.�

Her work can be found at the Upstairs Gallery in Arlington, the Blue Moon Gallery in Grapevine and at Woodbine Furniture in Fort Worth.

The artist is also available at her home studio at 817-244-3807.

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