Beholden to beauty

Painter, educator uses art to offer children hope, healing

BY JENNIFER KOHLHEPP Staff Writer

Jude Vereb Harzer, a painter and educator, believes one of her greatest gifts is the ability to discover beauty in places where it seems the most difficult to find.

Jude Vereb Harzer Jude Vereb Harzer The Millstone Township native, who graduated as valedictorian of the Allentown High School class of 1981, grew up in a singleparent household as one of six children. In a house “filled with noise,” quests for quiet and beauty were constant, necessary pursuits for her.

Later in life, she realized she could recreate the solace of those childhood searches by savoring each step of the artistic process — observation, conceptualization and creation. Her passion for the ritual of creating led her to attend Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa., and to graduate from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass., where she earned a degree in fine arts and art history. She later obtained a fellowship in Italy through Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y.

Despite her strong emotional attachment to art, Harzer shelved her talents after college to raise her own family. She and her husband, Bob, have been married for 21 years and have two children, Christina, 18, and Robert, 16.

"Fly Catcher of Dreams" “Fly Catcher of Dreams” The 11-year hiatus she took could not douse her burning passion for art, and when Harzer’s children were older they encouraged her to start fanning the flames again by helping with artistic projects at their schools in the Brick Township School District.

“I volunteered at their schools and painted murals,” she said. “The administration later approached me about teaching. I took the alternate route and started teaching eight years ago.”

As a kindergarten art teacher, Harzer found that she was reimmersed in the art world, but not in the private and intimate setting she was used to. However, even during that foray, she found hidden beauty and the courage to let her passion burn brightly once again.

“Through teaching, I realized how important and powerful art can be and it gave me more confidence to use art as a vehicle to inspire children who come from situations like I did,” Harzer said. “I started painting children. They became my primary subject matter and they are a lot of my inspiration.”

"The Pain Passes but the Beauty Remains" “The Pain Passes but the Beauty Remains” Harzer paints in oils, but also explores the technique of collage by incorporating a variety of paper and other materials into some of her paintings.

“I would describe my paintings as natural, realistic, whimsical, visual narratives incorporating children, texture, pattern and symbolism,” she said. “Some people describe them as haunting, storybook like.”

Her now famous series “Fly,” recognized by the National Association of Women Artists based in New York City, is an exploration of the loss and restoration of a child’s spirit. In each painting, a child shares a hopeful and healing breath of inspiration. The latest in the series, called “Giver of Life and Light,” commemorates the historic election of Barack Obama through a visual narrative that conveys the sentiment, “Rosa Parks sat in 1955. Martin Luther King walked in 1963. And Barack Obama ran in 2008, so that our children might fly.”

She started the “Fly” series three years ago to inspire children.

“I want every child to know that even if they come from a family like mine, they can have confidence and fly,” Harzer said. “We should be examples to our children, encourage them to take charge, live life and never abandon their dreams.”

Although Harzer now lives in Brick Township, she continues to draw inspiration from her hometown Millstone and the surrounding area.

“With art, you tend to work in isolation,” she said. “I was looking for camaraderie and my mother, who still lives in Millstone, told me about the Allentown Art Guild. I searched online and found the guild, applied and had a juried exhibition with them that has been one of my best.”

Harzer said her involvement with the guild has been like a great homecoming.

“I’ve gotten in touch with a lot of people in Millstone, Allentown and even Roosevelt, where as a child I would play football and run into the school for a drink and see the famous Ben Shahn mural,” she said.

The painter encouraged locals to take advantage of the free guild workshops held every Wednesday in the Roosevelt Public School, where all aspiring artists can partake in their own projects in the company of other artists.

Harzer is a member of the Allentown Art Guild and a member of the Art Educators of New Jersey’s executive board. She recently applied for a fellowship that would take her to New York City this summer and has set a new goal of writing and illustrating a children’s book.

Harzer never thought that she would enjoy so much success so soon on her newly re-established path toward living as a fine artist.

“Once I started, it was like the flood gates opened,” she said. “I’m painting every day and it’s been amazing. Now I’m always looking for the next opportunity, when years ago all I used to see were the obstacles.”

Harzer opened her first solo art exhibition, “Serendipity,” on Feb. 7 at the Mattison Gallery, 701 Mattison Ave., Asbury Park. The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, will run through Feb. 28.

For more information about the Mattison Gallery, visit www.mattisongallery.com or call 732-774-4392. For more information about Jude Harzer, visit www.judeharzerfineart.com or send an e-mail to judiharz@aol.com.