BETHEL - A massive bird with black, beady eyes, a long beak, and thick feathers may not seem like the typical inspiration for an artist, but Edgar Allan Poe’s iconic raven acts as the creative muse for Jo-Ann Cordes.
“My current art is inspired by the mythical raven. In the amazing world of birds, ravens hold a special place of recognition,” said Cordes, of Bethel. “I believe that many of us are attracted to birds because they seem somewhat magical. Birds view the earth from a perspective that most of us never get a chance to see.”
“Ravens,” Cordes’ first solo art show, is on display at the Bethel Public Library in the Maria Parloa Community Room. The exhibit runs through Jan. 31 and an artist reception will be held on Saturday, Jan.14, from 2 to 4 p.m. Comprising 14 pieces, the paintings are multi-layered, employing mixed media, including acrylic, watercolor, ink, color pencil, paper, oil pastel, and pen.
“I try not to use too many colors in my palette and to keep the raven as the focus. My goal is not to render a precise, anatomical version of a bird, but instead to catch the spirit of the raven. I would like viewers to connect to the character or perhaps the essence of a bird,” said Cordes who relies on photographs and Peterson’s Field Guide to Birds to practice the individual characteristics of ravens. “I work mostly on canvas and artist board. Before beginning a painting, I do several sketches. Several years ago an artist gave me good advice: keep a sketch pad with you and draw something every day.”
Susan Anderson, library assistant for programs and public relations at Bethel Public Library, was impressed with Jo-Ann’s striking artistry: “It has an eye-catching quality. One raven piece is large scale, very bold and beautiful. I knew it would show well in our community room because it’s very imposing,” said Anderson. “Bethel truly has a treasure trove of artists. I do appreciate the talent so much. The artists bring in their friends and family and people from all over, in particular Bethelites, to come and view the artwork.”
Accompanying Cordes’ paintings is her biography and a list of books on ravens. “Jo-Ann shares the inspiration for what she did - the story behind it. It’s an extra treat for the viewer,” noted Anderson.
Since her childhood, Cordes has been intrigued by ravens and crows with Poe’s well-known poem “The Raven” making a lasting impression.
“Poe was such an intense and almost obsessive writer. The haunting image of the raven that Poe created stayed with me. While in college, I came across Carlos Castaneda’s: The Teachings of Don Juan. As a master storyteller, Castaneda studied shamanism and wrote about a raven as a messenger and a connection to another world,” she explained. “Stories of ravens are woven into the fabric of time through folklore, mythology, literature, poetry, and are now the subject of cutting-edge scientific research. Ravens are regarded as the most intelligent bird. They mate for life, are mischievous, demonstrate empathy, and are currently being studied for their apparent cognitive skills.”
As a language teacher at Wilton High School for 24 years and now retired, Cordes has master’s degrees in bilingual instruction and curriculum design. She honed her skills at Silvermine Art School, the Wooster School, and through photography classes from Harold Feinstein in New York. While working for Pan American World Airlines, Cordes traveled extensively and visited many of the great art museums in the United States and Europe. Her work has been exhibited in juried shows at the Mark Twain Library and the Rowayton Arts Center. In 1984, she won first place in Pan American’s International Photography Contest depicting the accelerated transition of night to day in world travel.
Cordes always looks for ways to refine her skills, continue challenging herself, and tackling other subjects. “I’m interested in focusing on animals on the endangered list.”
“I love creating art. It’s always been an essential part of my life and continues to be integral to how I relate to the world around me. I’ve doodled and sketched most of my life as a way to deal with the stresses of life that most of us experience. Doodling is a kind of aimless drawing that allows your inner thoughts to express themselves,” said Cordes. “We live in a world in which there is too much strife. I believe that if humans can observe the natural world of animals - whether it’s the family dog, a beloved cat, or the bird pecking at our window, we’ll find a way to see the connection that exists with all living beings. Art can be a way to make that connection.”
For more information on Jo-Ann Cordes, visit her website at joanncordes.com .