Janet Turner: A Legacy in Art
This year—2014—marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Janet Turner (1914–1988), whose personal art collection became the core of the campus museum that bears her name. A fine art and art education professor at CSU, Chico from 1959 to 1981, Turner was a prolific and talented artist known particularly for her prints and for promoting printmaking as an art form. A centennial celebration of her life, work, and contributions to the University began in the spring with the exhibit Angles and Planes: Janet Turner and the Built Environment and will continue through the fall with Legacy: Janet Turner—Mentor, Teacher, Artist. Both are projects of the Janet Turner Print Museum.
Angles and Planes, which ran from March 10 to April 12, focused on the work Turner did before coming to Chico. She is well known for her prints that depict the natural environment; however, this exhibit featured paintings that explore the built environment, representing the time Turner spent in the Texas city of Nacogdoches and New York City in the 1940s and ’50s. By choosing a personally well-known subject, Turner used architecture as an instrument to explore the congruency of angles, planes, lines, and curves. These prints are not so much about the purpose of the buildings as how the structures can be visually explored, says Catherine Sullivan, Turner Print Museum curator.
“Because her prints, as the body of work of a mature artist, are so well known, some are tempted to call the paintings ‘studies’ for her prints,” says Sullivan. “It is more likely to say that the artistic and subjective issues she was concerned with in painting are echoed in her printmaking work.”
The upcoming Legacy exhibit, running Sept. 30 to Oct. 25, will explore Turner’s prints inspired by her years in Chico as well as her legacy as an artist, printmaker, teacher, and mentor. Because the bulk of her career was spent in Chico, much of her work reflects Chico in subject. Turner’s work also reflects her development as an environmentalist in the beginnings of that movement, becoming even more detailed and specific to flora and fowl over time.
CSU, Chico is able to showcase Turner’s artistic career for two reasons. First, alums Vernon and Marie Fish, longtime North State ranchers, became enamored with Turner’s naturalistic style, use of local subjects, and intricate techniques. They collected with rare foresight works that encompassed Turner’s entire career. Second, upon their deaths, they bequeathed most of their beloved collection to the University to preserve, protect, and display for the benefit of their community.
“It is a rare privilege to be entrusted with a collection; it is an additional honor when it represents the founder of the museum and core of the collection started by Turner herself,” says Sullivan.
The Legacy exhibition will also include a selection of Turner’s students’ prints that she chose to be part of her collection. Turner spent the majority of her adult life collecting examples of printmaking techniques and imagery. The resulting collection is as unique as it is large and encompasses a historically and technically diverse sample of printmaking over the years. It is considered a local, regional, and national treasure. The entire collection has been housed in the Janet Turner Print Museum at CSU, Chico since 1981.
Turner came to Chico State College in 1959. At that time, art was taught as art education to education majors. She was instrumental in developing a fine arts program at the University. She visited graphic workshops, printmakers, museums, and galleries throughout the United States and abroad for ideas to upgrade the University’s printmaking facilities. She served on most of the college’s policy-making committees, and in 1975, she was awarded California State University’s Outstanding Professor Award—the first CSU, Chico faculty member to win this prestigious award. All the while, she continued to inspire her students, to produce and collect fine art prints, and to travel the world when possible.
Turner’s contribution to the education and training of artists and the promotion of printmaking as an art form is historic in the educational field. She was nationally known for developing a print studio in an educational setting and continuing her personal art career from 1936 until her death in 1988. Turner was one of the pivotal women to make a mark as an artist in the printmaking field and as a role model for succeeding generations of both female and male print artists and educators.
In 1983, in honor of her retirement, the University exhibited Janet Turner: Selected Works 1948–1983. Then-CSU, Chico President Robin Wilson wrote the following:
“Janet Turner has paused for us and observed for us—with the artist’s eye—the remarkable creations of nature. … Nature, after all, is a mirror to us all. We are of nature and yet somehow apart.
“When Janet Turner captures for us the solemnity of an owl, the fierce predatory eyes of an eagle, the limpid softness of butterflies in dancing flight—we pause and reflect and understand something about ourselves we had not understood before.”
Adapted and condensed by Kacey Gardner, Public Affairs and Publications, from material by Catherine Sullivan, Janet Turner Print Museum.