Most people agree that a small town scene evokes feelings of a simpler and more congenial time, a time, perhaps, when farmers brought apples to market, children played hoops and courting couples rowed boats on ponds. No one in the American art scene quite captures this feel like Sun Valley resident and renowned oil painter Jane Wooster Scott.
Now represented in the valley by the Big Wood Gallery in Ketchum, Wooster Scott is light years away from the joke painting she did for a friend in the Grandma Moses vein as a housewarming present years ago.
"She said she needed a Grandma Moses, so I taught myself from her work. I always laugh about what would have happened had my friend said she needed a Picasso for her new house."
Though quaint, her paintings aren't in the Grandma Moses school any longer. They are less primitive than that and less real than Norman Rockwell, although those are the schools she's aligned with, sensibility wise.
Wooster Scott never had an art lesson and never intended on being a painter with dozens of celebrity clients. Originally from Los Angeles, she moved to the valley 14 years ago, but recently has returned to L.A. to spend half of each year.
She has a studio in each home and works daily. "I never even have to take a paintbrush," she said. "I feel very blessed. It's also something I love to do. I'm just champing at the bit to get up there and start. As long as my hand holds out, I feel I could go on until my head drops in the paint."
After finishing her Grandma Moses replica, she continued painting. Then, a family friend, the comic actor Jonathon Winters who also is a painter, had a gallery opening years ago in L.A. and invited Wooster Scott to hang a few of her paintings. The gallery was not pleased, she recalled with a laugh.
"There were a lot of show biz people. It was an opening night like you wouldn't believe with klieg lights and a red carpet. I had 40 paintings in the show and they all sold out in one hour. Suddenly the gallery loved me."
After that propitious event, things just snowballed into her corner. Celebrities began collecting her work and hosting gallery openings of her work. Galleries called from New York and elsewhere, and she began getting commissions.
This past year has been especially busy, she said. She did commissioned work for Disney, the University of Pennsylvania, University of Southern California and the American Federation for Chess. She also completed a piece on the Memory Park in Ketchum for Jim Cimino, who built the small pocket park at the north end of town in memory of his late wife. Cimino is one the folks pictured in the painting, as well as the recently deceased Ketchum-ite Bernie Currie reading an Idaho Mountain Express. Giclee prints of the painting are for sale at the Big Wood Gallery. Half the proceeds will go toward the upkeep of the park.
With an average of 15 new paintings completed each year, it's no wonder she is in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most reproduced artist. Wooster Scott frankly laughs at this dubious claim. When she did a painting for the Idaho State Lottery, a company in Texas that prints all lottery tickets asked her to do other paintings for other states. These paintings are reproduced on literally millions of lottery tickets.
The heart of her work, however, lays in the everyday scenes depicting people at work and play.
"They are simple, peaceful, warm and humorous," she said. "They appeal to the average person. You know what's going on instantly. I paint idealism. It's the way the world should look."
And then there are the Sun Valley paintings. The town and its scenery are her most frequent subject. She has done all the lodges, Baldy and Sun Valley environs over and over, in different seasons and different years. She's done many ski scenes, "I've never been on skis in my life, she laughed. "I'm always getting asked to paint things I know nothing about, I just bluff my way through."
But what bluff.