Artist’s Eyes
Polly Jackson ’65-’66 helps her students see the world better through art
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
Polly Jackson Spencer, in a paint-stained apron, stands in front of two bright-colored tree paintings

Polly Jackson wishes that people would take time to see the world around them. To look at a tree and only see one shade of green is simplistic. A basic appraisal. Jackson says that each time a person looks at a tree, he or she sees a minimum of 40 shades of green—but most people have become too accustomed to seeing just one color.

Slow down, Jackson encourages. Appreciate your surroundings.

Jackson is an artist and educator from Albuquerque, N.M. For more than 35 years she has been a professional artist, focusing primarily on the landscapes of the American Southwest. Jackson, who loves living in the mountains and high desert, draws daily inspiration from the local scenery.

“I paint what I love to look at,” Jackson says. “There are artists who have messages, but I’m not one of them.”

Although she first painted with oils, Jackson taught herself acrylic and successfully brought her oil technique to the acrylic medium. In her classes, she teaches an underpainting technique in which she utilizes dark colors first and ends with the lights.

At present, Jackson teaches with the University of New Mexico (UNM) Continuing Education program and at Artisan, an art store in Albuquerque. With a career spanning New Mexico and Texas, Jackson says she can never remember a time when she was not passionate about art.

A self-described “wild child” of the 1960s, Jackson came to Trinity during the escalation of the Vietnam War. Originally from Midland, Texas, Jackson found a supportive home at Trinity. Although she left in 1966, Jackson loved the art and English classes she took and says that Trinity gave her a “sense of self-esteem” and a real gist of life’s possibilities.

“Trinity just made me ready for life,” Jackson says. “It was such a nurturing environment. I’ve always been so glad I went to Trinity.”

On a return trip to Trinity in 1970, Jackson looked up Coleen Grissom, who had been dean of students while Jackson was enrolled. Jackson calls Grissom the “woman who gave me wings” because Grissom accepted Jackson for the person she was, something missing from Jackson’s life up until that point. A young mother and newlywed at the time, Jackson recalls laughing with Grissom about the places life can take you. The two have been pen pals ever since.

Throughout her life, Jackson has worked a variety of jobs in an array of different fields—but always in support of her art. She has worked in the restaurant business, as a tour guide, and in a poster shop in Santa Fe. Through it all, Jackson made art her utmost priority.

“That’s the problem with being an artist,” Jackson says. “You have to take whatever jobs that you can get. I did anything I had to do to make time for my art because that’s what it takes.”
If Jackson is passionate about creating art herself, she’s equally zealous about passing along that love of art to others. After graduating from UNM in 2000 – “I’m a late bloomer, ” she notes – Jackson made the move to Austin, Texas, where she taught informal classes with the University of Texas and at Gardner Betts Juvenile facility.

Teenagers, ages 13 to 17, were in the locked-down facility for anything from drugs and murder to petty theft. Yet Jackson says the kids were receptive to art and calls this period one of her favorite times in teaching.
“They were very appreciative to see me and take an hour out of their day where they could think about anything,” Jackson says. “To show them that they could actually accomplish something – that was a miracle to them.”

Today, at home in Albuquerque, Jackson’s UNM continuing education classes have no juvenile delinquents. Still all sorts, from lawyers and engineers to movie stars and police detectives, partake in Jackson’s classes.

Jackson says she absolutely admires her students, the majority of whom have never painted or drawn before, for taking the plunge. She says one of the biggest barriers for beginners is an unfamiliarity with materials and a misconception that other students are bound to be better artists.

“I like watching people come into my class absolutely terrified,” says Jackson. “And then, at the end of the course, they’re absolutely floored that they’ve produced something so great.”

So while Jackson may be a “late bloomer,” she continues to give her students something perhaps more valuable than a college degree: the ability to genuinely see the world.

Carlos Anchondo '14 is an oil and gas reporter for E&E News, based in Washington D.C. A communication and international studies major at Trinity, he received his master's degree in journalism at the University of Texas at Austin.

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