May 28, 2024
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EPHS Art Teacher Extraordinaire - Jennifer Cahoon


Department Head Jennifer Cahoon, A Talented Artist

By Bob Rodericks

Failure Is Not An Option - or "FINAO" is a Tattoo & Body Piercing studio which paired with the Sparrow's Nest Gallery. EPHS art department chairperson, Jennifer Cahoon has added to her teaching resume. Initially an art teacher with strong drawing skills, she has also become a noted painter. Sparrow's Nest is owned by Joe Beckton through FINAO. Cahoon has taken a large role in assisting with Beckton's Sparrow's Nest Art Gallery, and she enjoyed a lively and successful art show opening late last month. Over 350 people were in attendance. The studio which is in North Providence, RI allows Cahoon to show and sell some of her very eclectic work. "Joe Beckton has done a great job and I am happy to be a part of this," she said. A 1991 graduate of East Providence High School and later from Rhode Island College, Cahoon has taught at her alma mater since 1999 and became department chair in 2007. She has recently focused on Latin Art and the Dia de Los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”). At RIC, I trained as a sculptor and was lucky enough to study abroad in my early 20s. My first exposure to Dia de Los Muertos occurred oddly enough in Belgium where in 1993 the entire country was hosting an art exhibition featuring the rich tradition of Latin Art. I was intrigued by the concept of 'Day of Dead', and have had it in the back of my mind ever since to do work relating to the theme," Cahoon told the Reporter in a series of recent interviews.

Cahoon did not always focus on painting. "In the Summer of 2011, I began to seriously teach myself how to paint. I had a strong foundational education in drawing and sculpture from RIC, but did not take to professional painting at that time. For the first time in nearly 20 years, I picked up a paintbrush and began fumbling through the process of how to paint. I started with acrylics, but eventually moved on to water miscible oils, which is what I use most of the time now," Cahoon explained. Cahoon began to experience with the Dia de Los Muertos series starting with a generic face of a woman, "who I chose to paint in that style on a whim," she said. "When I got brave enough, I attempted a self portrait and eventually decided to take on more recognizable faces. I work from reference photographs, using them to plot out where the features lie in the piece through gridding or projection," she said. Cahoon found a niche in this art genre. "From there, the real work began as I struggled through modeling the face in paint and adorning my subjects with the markings of the "Day of the Dead." The series began 8 months ago in July of 2012. Cahoon has continued to teach drawing and all aspects of art to her EPHS students and has personally shifted her focus to painting. She has just completed a series of work dedicated to the Mexican holiday, Dia de Los Muertos. "In this tradition, revelers often paint their faces in a “sugar skull” style, honoring family members which have passed before them," Cahoon explained. The holiday has its roots in Aztec culture, which developed the ritual some 3,000 years ago. "They believed one should not grieve the loss of a beloved ancestor who passed, but should instead celebrate their lives and welcomed the return of their spirits to the land of the living once a year," she continued. Cahoon has taken this idea and re-appropriated it to fit into her own view. In her work, many recognizable celebrities who have passed are depicted as vibrant as they were in life, adorned with the makeup of the Dia de Los Muertos tradition as if they are taking part in the festivities. "I have painted glamorous actresses such as Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, along with a series of 5 “27 Club” Rock N’ Roll stars who left us far too young," said Cahoon. Late authors, musicians, actors and scientists abound in her unusual collection of nearly 30 oil paintings. Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley abound in her collection. Cahoon was pleased at the turnout for her Grand Gallery Opening. "It was a great time. We had big response to the gallery opening. We had music, food and of course all the exhibits. I'm very excited," beamed Cahoon.

The focus of Cahoon's career continues to be teaching her high school students. "I love EPHS. As a former student and now teacher and department chair, it is very special to me. In a recent recent visit to Cahoon's classroom, the atmosphere was found to be very "active". Students were busily at work on various art projects. Unlike a lecture based class, the artist and teacher moved from student to student giving individual instruction. I'm also a local resident and love contributing to my city," she added. However, like most educators in East Providence, she laments the funding problems. "We have little to no supplies left. There hasn't been an adequate budget in some time. I buy supplies when I can and we always look for donations. There is so much more we can do for these students." Many pictures and other stories of Cahoon's art work can be found on and at face book at Jennifer Gillooly Cahoon: Visual Artist.


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