Come on in, sweetie,” a voice welcomes me in as I enter the Hampton III Gallery. “She’s sittin’ in the middle room if you want to greet her.” The “she” in question is artist Jeanet Dreskin, the regional legend and dynamic painter, who turns 100 this month. I pause to take in Dreskin’s strong, sapient paintings, alive with the kind of movement you’d expect to see under a microscope or in a tide pool. In front of Dreskin’s Magic Carpet paintings, or “monotypes with hand-coloring,” as she describes them, my eyes can’t choose a starting point: the studied, knotted edge; the mystery of cool, woven hues; the pools of glowing green? It all feels necessary, it all seems to echo the invitation I first heard when I arrived: “Come on in.”
By the time Jeanet Dreskin started creating personal works, she had already cut out an energetic and ambitious art career. From undergraduate studies in art fundamentals and a pre-med program at Tulane in her native New Orleans, Dreskin went on to complete the medical arts program at Johns Hopkins. She worked in New York at the American Museum of Natural History, focusing her biological illustrations on primates. These drawings, all one hundred of them, were published in a book called Gorilla, Gorilla. In 1946, Dreskin moved to the Midwest where she worked as a medical illustrator at the University of Chicago. From there, she and her husband moved to Greenville. With her titan experience behind her, Dreskin turned toward fine art. In addition to educating others, both as head of the school at the Greenville County Museum of Art and as an instructor at the Governor’s School, she immersed herself even further in her own education.
Wading through the crowd at the gallery opening of Jeanet Dreskin: 100 Years, I lock eyes with her. She is seated in a corner, surrounded by her Willywas and Flow Paintings—and by people, of course. I watch, listen. Everyone has a gift, a word, a story for Jeanet. She clearly has a lot to give them as well. Even those of us attending her gallery show are given a priceless gift—a handwritten recipe of her Grandma Rena’s stuffed crab, printed on the back of a postcard of her blue crab painting Bait I. One of her students from the GCMA school days, Joanna Llew, recalls her open teaching style. “She wasn’t controlling—she really let me draw. She even invited our class to her home, and that really impacted me.” The woman I locked eyes with is an industry behemoth—not only a professional and a formidable talent, but also a teacher, a giver, a welcomer, a friend. With Jeanet Dreskin, it isn’t either/or. It’s both/and.
In the early ’70s, Dreskin studied in the then-new graduate program at Clemson University, a time during which her integral Sere series was born. “There’s a great connection between [the Sere series] and my area of study as a medical artist,” she explains, noting that in her medical work, the final result dictated the entire process. “Here, I’m letting the image dictate what the final result would be.” Standing in the Hampton III Gallery, I spend time with the Sere series—the womb-like burnt orbs, the cellular drama. The quiet yet daunting way these works pull you into themes of birth, death, regeneration. I text my friend later: “I feel so honored to have met her.” Who wouldn’t? There’s a master in our midst here in Greenville, the rare kind that welcomes you in with open arms.
The Hampton III Gallery offers an expansive collection of works from throughout Jeanet Dreskin’s career. From her movement-heavy Flow Paintings to her environmentally themed Sere series, discover Jeanet’s work here. Hampton III Gallery, 3110 Wade Hampton Blvd, Taylors.
The Johnson Collection in Spartanburg is home to some of Jeanet’s quintessential pieces, from mesmerizing botanical illustrations to the richly hued Magic Carpet paintings. The Johnson Collection, 154 W Main St, Spartanburg.
Photography by Will Crooks.