Jerilyn is a painter of American history, and teaches drawing at Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers and Spring Studio, and collage at The Cooper Union Department of Continuing Education.
What brings you to the Mulberry Street Library today?
I intend to use the computer. I do everything that needs to be done with email, practice how to use the computer and I do it all at the library... Since I don’t own one, I will prioritize what I do and get done the most important things. And that’s an aid to thinking!
How did you get interested in painting American history?
I realized about ten years ago that I wasn’t interested in American history and didn’t know anything about it... I was interested in French painting and French history, but it became clear to me that I can’t be a citizen of the United States in this world as it exists today and not know my history. My husband and I read the Federalist Papers together and started building an American history library at home. We’ve been reading ever since! It took a few years before I felt like I could transform myself from an evocative painter to a narrative painter. In about 2006 I started my first American History paintings so I’ve been doing it for about 5 years now. I just had my show of paintings here at the Mulberry Street Library in February and March.
We really enjoyed having your paintings here! Did you have specific paintings in mind, based on the exhibit space we have here?
I knew you were exhibiting work here and I knew I needed a large painting as a centerpiece, so I waited until I had something I knew I wanted on that shelf.
Did you paint it thinking that it would be on that shelf?
Ha ha, no no. I wanted to get up to a certain scale with the work I was building, taking up more square footage with the images, so when I had something that I thought could read vertically on that shelf and not get lost, I thought I was ready. I wanted to do “Crossing the Delaware” for the library, I thought that was a good subject and a good metaphor for today, for people’s lives during uncertain conditions.
How long did it take you paint that piece?
A couple of years. I don’t mean continuous work, but reflective time, then back in to it. A lot of the pieces are like that. They might have a quick spurt of energy, and then it’s like “oh, now what?” for a few weeks or months.
Besides using our computers, what else do you do when you visit the library? Do you check out books?
My husband and I both use the library a lot. We get a lot of books, movies, and television shows of American history that we watch over and over and study. I really believe in using the library and have since I was a kid. I was the tiniest girl with the biggest pile of books! (laughter) I think the library is the centerpiece of a literate nation and essential to the growth of democracy.
We are excited that you and your husband, Dan Merrill, will be doing a reading event at our branch on the John Adams/Thomas Jefferson letters on June 27th.
Yes! We have two wonderful performers who will join us to share the letters: Geoffrey Riggs, webmaster of OperaCast.com and Peter Neofotis, the award-winning author of Concord, Virginia. Dan is scripting the event material as we speak! Here is a sketch from our John and Abigail Adams reading that we did at the Mulberry Street Library on Valentine's Day, where Geoffrey also appeared as John Adams. The sketch is by Jon Rettich, who was a member of our audience that night.