As so many of us, all over the world, every kind of person, have endured the stultifying boredom and disconnection of stay-at-home orders, it has been emphasized to an even greater extent than normal how very crucial artists are to our collective and singular well-being. We depend on essential workers to keep us safe and provided for, on scientists to keep us well, on teachers to keep us learning and growing. But the artists? They’ve kept us sane. They’ve kept our spirits in the sun. The musicians, painters, writers, poets, film and television makers, all of these have fed our weary souls with beauty, laughter, and light.
At LadyFaire, we love artists. So each month, we’ll be featuring one artist, someone whose primary life is to make art in a Ren Fest setting. We’ll enjoy interviewing, then introducing you to them.
Introduce yourself! Who are you (wow, that can be a deep question!)
Which is sillier? My real name or my stage name? Really it is a toss up. Both should make you laugh and the most important thing to me is spreading joy. Officially, I am Jill Anne Jack. In the Renaissance realm I go by “Fanny McCrackin.”
For many years I have been able to fly under the wire and keep my status unknown. Alas, this only worked for so long, the secret is out. I own the band “Tartanic”. Women in charge was not a thing in the past and only now as the world swings around to stronger women in the world is it okay to admit what I really do. Our ensemble tours the country spreading love and noise in the form of a very loud bunch of guys, bagpipes and big drums, a few dancers, a lot of laughs, and a whole lot of work.
Love Tartanic! How did you come to the Renfest world?
Like most, I came to the Renaissance world as a patron. A yearly habit brought me there in 2002, looking to take photos of all the amazing things there. The sound of bagpipes called to my Celtic dancing spirit. Just like in a fairytale, the lead-guy fellow saw me dancing in the distance and decided to wrangle me onto the stage for a dance. Things went well and we saw one another several times that day. Kiss cards were all the rage back then and I was armed with a stack of 52. At some point me awkward self gave the whole deck to this “Adrian” guy. Some weekends later we had a dinner date at a local Mexican food restaurant with perhaps a dozen or more “Rennies” and our long distance romance began. Long story short, it ended in marriage and owning a band.
I remember kiss cards. I might have employed a few myself. Why do you do what you do?
What we do, individually and as a team, is make people happy. There is no nobler thing to do in this world in my opinion. Whether I am dancing in the show, painting in the woods, crawling through abandoned buildings taking photos, writing stories in my tiny vintage purple U-Haul travel-trailer to entertain fans while we are not on the stage, designing costumes, corralling band members, or driving across country–all are in the attempt to do good things so that others benefit in some way. One of my favorite things to do is paint. Lately, I have managed to take classes with the famed Polly Liu at the Houston Art League on Montrose Boulevard (when we are in range of Houston, Texas). I attempt to glean any knowledge that I can from this strong and fascinating woman—she’s an artistic force to be reckoned with and I am fortunate to have been hand-picked by Polly to be the recipient of many years of her studies in Europe. This marks my fourth year studying with her and her alone.
Old Holland oil paints are the medium required by Polly Liu. This is a difficult medium to travel with, and therefore the interior of my vehicle will eternally smell of turpentine. Most often I will rope my easel to a tree and paint outside in all kinds of weather and all levels of bug life. My entire back seat is filled to bursting with art supplies. Polly teaches drawing, painting figure, and portrait. Had I a guess, I would have thought my strong suit would be figure. I was wrong. Portraits are my zen. Polly knows best. She gave me some great advice, “Do not paint on cheap canvas or with cheap paint.” When I asked why, she replied, “If it turns out great then you have a great painting on cheap canvas. You can always paint over a bad painting so it is never a waste to use quality supplies.” Polly has an ancient sagacity about her at all times.
What is your background?
My background is varied and nothing formal until I took photography courses in college. Sign language was my major and yet photography paid more bills. Moving to Houston to join my my husband, Adrian, brought me and my two boys into the art scene and culture there in many facets. Theatre, music, dance, film, galleries, and museums abound and we were involved in all of it, from performing at Jones Hall with the Gay Men’s Chorus to costume design with the Revels (Houston’s annual winter solstice theatre production), and finally to grant-funded Theatre Arts programs and performances in Houston area schools that were without drama classes. It was never a plan to tour with the band full time, but the phone kept ringing for us to perform our show, created at the Texas Renaissance Festival, at other festivals and events all over the country. Eventually this made flying home to teach difficult. We had to make a choice; we chose to go on the road and pack everything into storage till the band “played out.”
We are still out playing.
What is integral to your work?
For me a nice space is integral. There must be order and beauty. Disorder is distracting for me. Chaos is not my thing. Our lives are unpredictable enough with travel. My preference would be bright colors and nice smells, throw pillows, nice rugs, flowers–even silk ones–to pretty up things, that is what makes me happy and productive. Sure, there is a little OCD to my process. Ha! I will spend as much time readying my creative space as actually creating art.
I totally get that. I need order and beauty as well. What is a real life situation that has inspired you?
There are so many…
Big changes often will test one’s ability to be focused; these big changes are often followed by a decision as to just how you will let this change your life for the better or worse. Many life choices have forced me to decide to grow and change for the better and not let these things create a chip on my shoulder. Losing a loved one was the catalyst to go and do all the things that I had dreamed of as the fragility of life became very clear all of a sudden.
Who’s your favorite Artist?
William-Adolphe Bouguereau is my favorite painter. His work with light is astounding.
I discovered once a few short years ago, that only 6 percent of the art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art were by women, but not because there were fewer women painters. I am hopeful that the changes in the world happening today will affect this in a more equal way. The politics involved in the art world need some serious help. I do not know if I will be helpful in that cause, but it is a hopeful goal to take gender out of the game. We are all artists to some degree, in some way. I am surrounded by many artists of many forms and am lucky for it. Art is life for me.
There is no particular theme to my work. I jump all over the place in style and color. Artistic ADD, in a sense. My mood will dictate my work so I try never to create when in a negative frame of mind or I will feel that emotion again when seeing that piece and be taken back to a dark place. My favorite research is done at museums around the country, often photographing sections of a painting to practice on my own: a hand, foot, sleeve of a dress, background shading and the like. My phone’s photo gallery is filled with others’ work to inspire me as well. My dream would be to acquire enough skill to work at museums restoring works of art.
Is being an artist lonely?
Ha! No! Not at all. In the renaissance world that we are a part of, there is little personal space so no. I have only to step outside my tiny trailer door to encounter any number of interesting things such as tightrope walkers, tiny feet passing my window, elephants roaming past on their way to morning watermelon treats, a group of ladies going to a morning yoga session on one of the stages, little ones having homeschool adventures, and always a passel of handsome men that work for me just outside of our trailer.
What is something you love?
The feel of a paintbrush gliding across the canvas, wall, paper, wood, the zen feeling of seeing an image appear on photo paper in the darkroom. These are uplifting and exciting to me. Perhaps I am a simple being. Playing games is a foreign concept to my brain. Competition feels wrong. I need to create. Performing I do for others. Spreading joy whenever I can lightens my life and gives me purpose, painting I do for me.
By Kim Bryant
Jill Ann Jack: Born in Texas, USA. and having since lived in Saudi Arabia and Key West; Jill has been reportedly traveling throughout Europe with Psy-Trance music festivals, parking her purple “Grape Escape” all over the United States touring and managing Tartanic, a bagpipe and world percussion ensemble on her own record label; and her artwork in classic oil paint portraiture, sketches and photography has been shown in galleries in both Houston, Texas and Superior, Arizona.
Kim Bryant is a veteran performer, educator, and writer. With 25 years teaching experience, an adjunct professorship in Theatre, twenty years in the festival world, she brings a wealth of experience to LadyFaire Living. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Education from Lubbock Christian University and her Master’s degree in Theatre from the University of Houston. The 2010 winner of the prestigious Texas Educational Association Lynn Murray Scholarship, Kim has studied at Actor’s Studio of Chicago, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, and at New York’s Lincoln Center. Kim is married to Travis, has three grown children, Hilary, Travis, and Libby; two bonus grandchildren, Ally and JJ; and two grandbabies, Hazel and Ezekiel.
Haven’t heard Tartanic yet? Or maybe you have and you want more! Visit their website: https://www.tartanic.net/