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Annapolis' Paca Garden is fertile ground for Arundel artist

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As a young girl, Jean Brinton Jaecks would sit around her family's dinner table in Severn and listen to her parents talk about nature, light and color.

Her mother, Mary, was a painter; her father, Earl, created wood sculptures as a break from his job as a designer at Westinghouse.

"Back in the 1960s, they began an organic garden," Jaecks recalls. "In 1961, that was unheard of. The neighbors made fun of them."

Love of the outdoors and the arts were reinforced during summer vacations, when the family would drive to Cape Ann and Rockport in Maine. There, a young Jaecks was entranced by artists who worked outdoors in view of interested onlookers.

"I was fascinated with that. I went to museums and many of my parents' friends were artists. It was just a way of life," she says.

So it should be no surprise that Jaecks, a graduate of Glen Burnie High School, followed a similar path. A resident of Millersville for nearly three decades, she is a plein-air — French for "open air" — landscape painter.

She has been a painting instructor at St. John's College in Annapolis for 18 years and has also taught at the National Arboretum, the U.S. Botanic Garden and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum of American Art.

On Oct. 19, she'll conduct a workshop from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for artists of all levels of experience. The workshop will be held at the Paca Garden, an 18th-century garden managed by Historic Annapolis Foundation featuring a fish pond, ornamental bridge, terraces and a summerhouse in a secluded setting.

"I have been teaching the four seasons in the garden for about four years," she says. "A lot of people don't realize that the garden is in the peak (for brilliance of color) in September and October, before we have the frost. There is a lot of color."

Jaecks received a bachelor's degree in fine arts from what is now the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1972, and a master's from George Washington University in 1996.

Writing about herself, she notes that "painting light and atmosphere is the essence of my work. The love of nature compels me to work out of doors in all seasons and weather."

The Paca Garden is a familiar place for Jaecks.

"It is a really special place," she says. "When I was a child, my dad took us to dinner at Carvel Hall. It was an old structure that was taken down in the 1960s. Under this parking lot was a garden from the 18th century. When they took out the asphalt, [they found that] it had preserved the garden.

"Who would have guessed that 40 years later I would be teaching in the garden?" she said. "I have always loved the garden."

Mollie Ridout, director of horticulture for Historic Annapolis, met Jaecks about 12 years ago at Historic London Town and Gardens in Edgewater. "Then I moved to Paca Gardens about 10 years ago, and I invited her to bring her talents here," Ridout says.

"I love watching her; she is so fluid and responsive. I really enjoy her interpretation of the garden, which of course is dear to my art," Ridout said.

Jaecks attended St. Paul's School in Glen Burnie before graduating from Glen Burnie High School. She backpacked through Europe, with stops in 17 countries, after graduating from MICA.

He 2008, she was awarded an art residency to paint in Brittany in northwest France. There, Jaecks says, she would paint from early in the morning to late at night, early May to late June.

"That was a wonderful time for me. I had no obligations. The days are so long there because they are so far north," she says.

While in Brittany, she learned of an opportunity to teach a class on the Amalfi coast in southern Italy in 2009. "That has influenced me greatly, being by the sea," says Jaecks, who went back to teach there in 2010 and 2012 and plans to return next year.

Jaecks and her husband, Harry, also a painter, were married in 1975. Their two sons both studied imaging and digital arts at the University of Maryland. Son Andrew is an imaging editor at National Geographic; son Brinton is working in television and motion pictures in Hollywood after graduating from the Rhode Island School of Design.

Harry Jaecks also graduated from MICA and is a graphic artist who has illustrated several books. In the past, the two have spent significant time in New England, where she has maintained a studio in Rockport, Mass.

Her exhibitions have been shown at the Dimock Gallery at George Washington University, the Decker Gallery at the MICA, the Mitchell Gallery at St. John's College, the House of Representatives in Washington, the House of Delegates in Annapolis, the Baltimore Watercolor Society, the Johns Hopkins University, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Audubon Society and the Easton Waterfowl Festival.

These days, Jaecks paints about six to 10 hours per day, she says. Recently she has been getting up at dawn to sketch in her garden in Millersville, where she also has a studio. She teaches evening classes at St. John's and a weekend class through the Corcoran Gallery in Washington.

"It is a nice balance," she says. "I [paint] because I love it, but then again you have to make a living."

The Oct. 19 workshop, Painting Four Seasons in the Paca Garden: Autumn, will be held at the William Paca Garden, 3 Martin St., Annapolis, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. All levels of students are welcome. The cost is $70 for Historic Annapolis members and volunteers; $75 for nonmembers. For details, go to annapolis.org/?pageid=112.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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