You may know artist Jacqueline Penney from her distinctive studio in Cutchogue — a renovated 1840s red barn on North Street that’s also her art gallery and home. Or you may recognize her larger-than-life painting in the Cutchogue Free Library that she donated in 1987.
Ms. Penney has been embedded in the North Fork art community for over 50 years, and this year she turns 90.
To celebrate more than a half-century on the North Fork, Ms. Penney will be having an ongoing sale of 50% off prints in her gallery, located at 270 North St. in Cutchogue.
Her art has always been known for focusing on what she loves — the landscapes, seascapes and wildlife of the North Fork. Currently hanging in her bright and airy are realistic scenes of New Suffolk and Peconic Bay, among many others. Though known for her realism and working mostly with acrylics, Ms. Penney has always had an adventuresome spirit when it comes to art, exploring other styles like collage and abstract, her daughter Deborah said.
“I play around,” Ms. Penney said. “In other words, I’ll start something and then something else will spark me. And I’ll think, wait a minute — I’m gonna do this instead. So it might be two or three days but I’ll get it.”
That same spirit has also carried throughout other aspects of her life. The recipient of a scholarship to the Phoenix School of Design in New York City, she has studied at Black Mountain College in North Carolina and The Institute of Design in Chicago. Her list of awards is lengthy and she’s also the author of five books, including her memoir, “Me Painting Me, A Memoir,” which she published in 2012. She’s even in the “Who’s Who of American Women Artists & Teachers” and her award-winning self-portrait entitled “Me,” is in the National Association of Women Artists’ permanent collection housed at the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University.
On top of her impressive career, Ms. Penney also shared doing what she loved by teaching art to North Forkers for over 30 years.
“When someone would come to me and say, ‘Oh I can’t paint,’ ” Ms. Penney said, “I’d ask them, ‘Have you ever painted before? No? Then how do you know?’ ”
Desire and passion are what she thinks make good artists, her daughter said, not necessarily talent.
“She told me as a kid: It’s not a talent. It’s a desire. If you want it you do it, you’ll learn how to,” she said. “It may come easier to some people than others. But if you want to draw, you’ll learn.”
Ms. Penney experienced a rough childhood and a history of alcohol abuse in her family but was always fascinated by color and beauty and eager to create. In kindergarten, she put her crayons on the radiator and was enthralled by watching the colors melt. Today, having worked with many well-known artists and being exhibited in places like the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton and Forbes Galleries in Manhattan, there’s not much else she wishes she had done. Even at 75, Ms. Penney took on the thrill of sky-diving with her daughter.
“Every day is different,” Ms. Penney said. “Art is different. Everything that comes into your world is different. And that’s what I go to. Those are the kinds of things I’m interested in.”
But when asked what her favorite place was: “Right here,” she said, referring to her barn. “I really wouldn’t I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but here.”
Above anything else, the passion that she puts into her pastoral scenes and the way she captures her love of the tranquility of the North Fork is what she wants to be remembered for after she’s gone.
“I think that’s what she wants — not to be remembered for the awards that she got,” her daughter said. “I think she just wants to be remembered for who she was as a person too. Because other than being an artist, she’s a pretty incredible person. So I think she’d want to be remembered for who she was.”
CORRECTION: Ms. Penney’s first name was misspelled in an earlier version. It is Jacqueline.