Among the most prominent contemporary Appalachian artists is Jeff Chapman-Crane of Eolia. Though he is not a native of Letcher County, we proudly adopted this very talented artist as our very own. Jeff was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains of East Tennessee. He has been painting for over 35 years after being inspired by his high school art teacher, Don Hilton. With just a casual glance at his many works now on exhibit at Summit City on Main Street in Whitesburg, one can readily sense a recurrent theme of real people and real places in rural settings. Jeff said he knew very early in his career that he wanted to paint scenes of Appalachia and he realized that he needed to live in the mountains to capture those scenes.
Jeff visited friends in Neon several times and liked the area. He moved to Neon in 1982 and lived there a couple years. His wife, Sharman, is a native of Wooster, Ohio. They met one summer when both were at College of Wooster taking summer classes. They married in 1984 and moved to their current residence at Eolia. Their home is in the pleasant Cumberland Valley between Pine Mountain and Black Mountain where he has lived and practiced his art for 27 years.
His works of Appalachian realism focus on the culture of Appalachia with an emphasis on portraits of mountain people. Jeff credits many artists for their influence in his paintings including Edward Hooper whose works depict an innate ability to stop time and capture a moment. When I look at Jeff’s work I see that influence. My recurring thought is, "I know that person and I’ve been there." Then I find myself engrossed in the minute details that keep me returning to look at the same paintings over and over.
His realistic work follows well-established traditions in American art in the vein of Winslow Homer, Thomas Eakins and Andrew Wyeth for their portrayals of ordinary life. He also lists Rembrandt and Vincent Van Gogh as his favorite artists. Jeff said that he was also influenced by the photography of the late ‘Picture Man’ Mullins of Jenkins.
His work has been featured in American Artist Magazine and he is a fourtime finalist in the Artists Magazine’s annual portrait competition.
He was the illustrator for the children’s book, Ragsale, which won Best of Show at the 1995 New England Book Fair. Jeff collaborated with Dr. Artie Ann Bates of Blackey, who wrote the narrative for the book. The book is currently out of print and very few of the original 9,000 copies are available.
During his career here in the mountains, Jeff has taught painting at both high school and college levels and occasionally conducts classes for the general public. His mediums are waterbased paints including watercolor, egg tempera and gouache (pronounced ‘gwash’ and rhymes with squash). He also prefers to custom finish the frames so that they match the painting perfectly.
During one era Jeff ‘s work was represented by the late Paul Young, an agent who sold his art in New York. There, his work brought handsome prices in the $8,000 range; some sold for more. He is occasionally commissioned to paint particular scenes but he prefers to paint from inspiration. Today, his work is represented by Phyllis Weston & Ann Bolling Art Gallery in Cincinnati, Ohio and by the J.N. Bartfield Gallery in New York City.
Together with his wife, Sharman and son, Evan, Jeff operates the Valley of the Winds Art Gallery in Eolia, where the work of all three Chapman-Cranes can be seen. The gallery hosts an annual festival on the third Saturday of June featuring live music, poetry readings and other events. Sharman also works for the Mennonite Central Committee with an office in Whitesburg. The organization sponsors programs to coordinate volunteer labor with programs to help needy people with home repairs.
Jeff’s art exhibit at Summit City will continue through January and February.