When retired elementary school teacher Judy Nagely returned from a trip to Kansas City, she brought back the name of a children’s author and illustrator that she thought should come to Marshall County – Jenny Whitehead.
“Judy heard Jenny Whitehead speak at a conference, and she was impressed with her presentation,” explained Wayne Kruse, the arts cooperative’s executive director. “She thought she would be a great addition to our season so we checked into bringing her to our area. Not surprisingly, the teachers were excited about the prospect of having her work with their students; similarly, Ms. Whitehead was excited about coming to our county.”
Whitehead will be here Tuesday through Thursday, November 13-15; her visit is sponsored by the Marshall County Arts Cooperative.
While here Whitehead will work with elementary students as well as junior high and high school art students in Frankfort and Marysville.
“Because of her diverse background we are able to have her work with a variety of students,” said Kruse. “Since she’s written and illustrated several children’s books, she will work with elementary students. Plus, with her varied art background, she has a lot to offer high school art students. During her three-day visit, she will have contact with hundreds of Marshall County’s students. That’s pretty impressive.”
In addition to her work in the schools she will give a public presentation Wednesday, November 14, from 7:00-8:00 p.m. in the Waterville Public Library. The presentation will focus on how a book is made as well as talk about the importance of creativity. Whitehead will show samples of her art and do some drawings and demonstrations. If time allows, she will lead a small art project with those in attendance.
Working with students is important to Whitehead who understands the value of arts programs in schools. Whitehead refers to a particular moment in her elementary school career that made a lasting impression.
“My grade school didn’t have an art program,” Whitehead explained. “We had a lady who walked from classroom to classroom with a cart of paper and magic markers. One day, though, when I was in second grade, she brought paints. I painted a Raggedy Ann and Andy. The principal picked my painting to hang in her office for two whole weeks! I was thrilled. But then it was back to paper and markers. I don’t remember drawing at all for the next ten years.”
Throughout her high school career, Whitehead focused on English and worked on her poetry craft. Still, art classes weren’t part of her school schedule.
“In high school, I kept writing poetry but was afraid to take art classes,” Whitehead said. “Other kids who took art came from schools with art programs and could draw a lot better than I could. I didn’t want to look foolish, so I stayed away from art – but I doodled. I doodled in the margins of every notebook I had. I doodled patterns and designs. Little did I know then, these doodles would help me have the courage to switch majors in college from psychology to art. These doodles gave me a clue that maybe I could design wallpaper and gift wrap and fabric.”
After high school Whitehead attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. After graduation she earned an internship to design wallpaper at Imperial Wallcovering in Cleveland. There she learned about mixing and matching colors because she had to make sure the strike-offs (wallpaper test sheets) matched the artwork. “Because the mill workers weren’t artists, I would have to say, ‘Can you add a bucket of white or a half of bucket of yellow?’ instead of asking them to make a color ‘cooler’ or ‘warmer’,” Whitehead said. “When the strike-off looked just like the artwork, I would yell, ‘Run it!’ and they would run 10,000 rolls of wallpaper. It was very intimidating, but I really learned about color that year.”
After working at the wallpaper company, Whitehead became an art director for Hallmark Cards. She worked with the editors, artists, and the marketing staff to create new card products, gift wrap, party patterns, and stickers. “I learned so much from watching all of the artists paint,” Whitehead said. “Every one had a different style and used different mediums, like watercolors, acrylics, oils, pastels, colored pencils, and even crayons.”
After seven years, Whitehead left her job at Hallmark Cards and decided to write and illustrate children’s books. She has written and illustrated “Holiday Stew” and “Lunch Box Mail” and she has illustrated “Punctuation Celebration.”
Whitehead’s presentations will focus on the importance of creativity, the artistic techniques she uses when painting and illustrating, and the writing process she follows when writing a book.
For more information about her visit people can contact Kruse at 785-713-2077.