Northeat Woman: Word-themed Art Lands Professor In State’s Top Juried Show
When it comes to Brooke Jana Cannon’s pictures, they often are worth much more than a thousand words.
The Waverly Twp. resident and mother of two recently was celebrated in Harrisburg along with 98 other Pennsylvanians as exhibitors in the 2018 edition of “Art of the State,” a juried collection of works chosen from 1,850 entries from 839 artists.
Cannon, known in the art world simply as Brooke Jana, was one of only three Lackawanna County residents — along with Bernie Andreoli and Sarah Wiltshire — named to the exhibit, which remains on display at the State Museum of Pennsylvania through Sunday, Sept. 9. Her piece, “Banfire,” was composed digitally using words, names and phrases from 10 of the American Library Association’s “Banned/Challenged Classics,” including “Brave New World,” “Candide,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” “Fahrenheit 451,” “Gone with the Wind,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Great Gatsby,” “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Ulysses.”
The depth of research and organization that goes in to each of Cannon’s works of art isn’t surprising, considering her career as a professor of psychology and the director of clinical training for the clinical psychology doctoral program at Marywood University. Cannon logs countless hours rereading materials that inform her work and then generating word lists across spreadsheets that become the building blocks of shapes found in each picture she constructs.
“It’s a melding of what I do academically,” Cannon said.
Among the other images she sells in her online Etsy shop under the name Midnight Fern Designs, one finds pieces inspired by the short stories and poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespearen classics, “Don Quixote” and even “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings.”
As a young adult and especially in grad school, Cannon dabbled in art sporadically for fun, namely drawing and working in stained glass. She turned to art more seriously a few years ago as a sort of pressure release valve from her intense psychological work, but it soon transformed into a side business as more and more people began asking for copies and even requesting commissions.
A Clarks Summit native, Cannon graduated from Abington Heights High School. The daughter of Joy Szuhay, a homemaker, and Dr. Joseph Szuhay, who taught rehab counseling at University of Scranton for 25 years, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology and human services and a master’s degree in rehab counseling from U of S before receiving her doctorate in clinical psychology from SUNY — Binghamton.
Though it would seem she followed in her father’s footsteps, Cannon actually credits another man with inspiring her career choice: Bob Newhart, who portrayed a psychologist on his 1970s television show.
Her specialization focused on neuropsychology, and for a time she worked at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center studying traumatic brain injuries and dementia. Cannon taught some classes on the side of her day job before accepting the full-time position at Marywood. Now, she supervises students who research traumatic sports-related brain injuries.
“I enjoy watching students get excited about topics. It’s really rewarding to watch some of them go from student to colleague,” Cannon said.
In class and clinicals, Cannon encourages good listening skills and strong communication, and she trains students to develop empathy and skills in evidence-based practices to help them become good psychologists. But she also tries to show them the importance of self-care and separating oneself from the work.
For her, that’s where art comes in.
Among her first works were a “Macbeth”-inspired piece that she sold as a fundraiser for Scranton Shakespeare Festival, and later “Banfire,” which was part of a fire-themed collection displayed at downtown Scranton’s Bar Pazzo.
“I got hooked,” Cannon said. “There obviously is an excitement and reward seeing things come from nothing.
“Also, obsession,” she admitted. “Trying to get it out of my head and on to paper. It’s a gift and a curse working on the computer because there can be endless edits.”
As she hones her skills, Cannon has ramped up submissions to juried contests and exhibits in order to receive professional feedback to better her craft. Her art recently was accepted by the Brand Library & Art Center in Glendale, California, and she has participated in First Friday shows in Scranton. She also is a member of AFA and the Pocono Arts Council.
“There’s validation in feedback,” Cannon noted. “Imagining my work in people’s houses gives me pleasure.
“Sometimes I do pieces because I have something to say, but when someone else feels it speaks to them, I’m glad.”
Occasionally, her work reflects her own feelings and experiences, and not just stories composed by other authors. “Pussy Hat” memorializes the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C., which Cannon attended with one of her daughters. The pink, cat-ear shape of her piece is comprised of words from 320 protest signs, chants, songs and things she heard during the rally.
“I guess I always felt compelled to advocate. I remember going to a peace march against Vietnam with my mom (when I was 6 years old),” Cannon said. “I felt very strongly about the direction our country was going in, and (the march) was something I was happy to share with my daughter.
“To be there with tens of thousands of others, I don’t think I’ll ever experience that again. I was so impressed with all the different things people had to say. It was surreal.”
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Meet Brooke Jana Cannon
At home: Lives in Waverly Twp. and has two daughters, Jaye, 24, and Linnea, 19
At work: She is professor of psychology and director of clinical training for the clinical psychology doctoral program at Marywood University. Cannon serves as president of the college’s American Association of University Professors. She also owns an art venture called Midnight Fern Designs.
Inspirations: Painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo, literature and social issues
Aspirations: Leading her doctoral program through its next accreditation and becoming more involved in the art world
Diversions: Playing piano, travelling and movies
Aversions: Unethical and immoral actions
Quote: “You can’t always get what you want; but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.” — The Rolling Stones