“I was quite passionate about drawing at an early age,” recalls Jean Carlson Masseau. “My first passion was nature objects and birds and that has appeared and reappeared throughout my life and career.” Masseau’s career has included a variety of artistic endeavors including drawing, painting and photography. Her work has been displayed in galleries and featured in a variety of printed media.
Masseau majored in illustration at the Rhode Island School of Design but also took classes in photography, print-making, and textiles. “All of those mediums feed each other,” she said “but for me it’s all rooted in drawing, seeing, and observing.” Masseau spends a lot of time portraying the natural world, particularly when working with traditional and guache and watercolor. Her depictions of nature have been published in gardening magazines and books and she finds herself drawn to the way nature looks differently depending on the season and light.
Masseau began her career as an art teacher at South Burlington High School and she continues to teach art from her Hinesburg studio and other locations including her alma mater. For the last three summers she has taught a course on botanical illustration at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor. She will continue that course this summer as well as teaching botanical drawing for the Friends of the UVM Horticulture Farm. Showing her versatility, Masseau also organizes a weekly figure drawing and portraiture class at the Shelburne Craft School.
Several years ago, Masseau was drawn to the drama program at Hinesburg Community School by some friends who volunteered there. For seven years, she created backdrops for their productions with community help. Masseau would paint a small version of the backdrop and then create a grid for the larger one. She bought gallons of paint, mixed the colors herself, and then handed out the pots to those working on a particular grid section. “It was quite a project,” she said. “You couldn’t tell where one person’s work began and another’s ended. It was a really unique small town community event.”
Masseau’s illustrations and photographs have been shown in a wide variety of books, magazines, calendars, and catalogs and she has exhibited her work across Vermont, Massachusetts and a number of locations in New York including the New York Historical Society. She has received awards from organizations as prestigious as the Society of Illustrators and Print Magazine, but one award she’s particularly proud of is a prize she received in 2014 from the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Masseau was captivated by the afternoon light on the hull of a sailboat in Charlotte. She was in her rowboat at the time and methodically rowed towards the sailboat while standing on the seat of her boat and waiting for the ripples from her craft to subside. “The process of capturing it was elaborate,” she said. “The exact moment the ripples stopped and I started drifting is when it was best so I had to snap as I moved away.”
Masseau has lived in Hinesburg since 1978. “It really feeds my art,” she said. “I’m surrounded by inspiration. Depending on the time of day and the light and the season I can go out and almost always find something that inspires me to draw, paint,or photograph.”