A curator and artist interested in ‘the confluence of science and art’

“I’m an observer,” reveals St. George resident Jane Bianco,” who has always been interested in the confluence of science and art.” In fact, Blanco’s professional experiences in graphic design, science illustration, electron microscopy and art history have uniquely prepared her for her present position as curator at The Farnsworth Art Museum and as an accomplished artist in her own right.

Like many artists, Bianco traces the roots of her curiosity and creativity to her childhood. Born in Cambridge, England to an American soldier and his British war bride, Bianco traveled the world as her father transferred from military base to military base. Her mother, an avid reader, encouraged the young girl to learn everything possible about where they lived. Frequenting local libraries, reading fueled her curiosity and led her to thoroughly research a wide variety of topics­­—a skill important to her future role as an art curator. Bianco’s father was a resourceful and creative man who engaged in photography and a myriad of other creative endeavors aside from his career in the military and, later, as a lab administrator at a hospital. From her parents, Bianco learned observation, creativity and how to use her inner resources. She began drawing at the age of two and painting in oils by the age of ten.

By the time Bianco was 16 years old, the family had moved to Massachusetts, where she worked part-time in a fabric store. Her acquaintance with a professional graphic designer encouraged her to create a fabric collage that became the cover of the Doubleday Christmas catalogue. It also inspired her to continue in the visual arts, so she enrolled in Massachusetts College of Art to study graphic design.

Eventually, Bianco met and married a medical researcher from Venezuela, and moved to Caracas for a time where she created scientific illustrations and graphs for his published papers, but also provided statistical analyses for his work. “The technical part was kind of exciting to me,” she remarks. Maintaining her individual creativity, Bianco also found time daily to engage in still-life painting. Eventually, the couple moved back to the U.S., where her twin sons were born.

A little over 18 years ago, after she and her husband divorced, Bianco earned a graduate degree in art history from the University of Wisconsin. She also met and married Jason Engelhardt, a skilled printmaker. Engelhardt encouraged Bianco to pursue fellowships and grants to further her career and eventually Bianco was awarded a fellowship that led to a museum position at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wis., where she researched so-called “outsider” artists and art environments. “Outsider artists,” she explains, “are self-taught, outside the mainstream of art school, galleries and the business world. Often poor, they create their own environment and want to beautify their surroundings. Their art cannot be contained—it spills from inside their homes to the outside.”

Bianco’s graduate thesis, based upon her research of outsider artist Mary Nohl (1914-2001), gave Bianco the rare opportunity to conduct intense research while she lived in the artist’s home and transcribed her diaries. This allowed Bianco to chart the sequence of Nohl’s artmaking and her thesis eventually became part of the documentation that placed Nohl’s home on the National Register of Historic Places.

By 2008, Bianco had made the leap to the Farnsworth Art Museum as an associate curator, and now as curator. She loves the work because she enjoys being in the background to create scenes that feature the works of noted artists. In particular, Bianco likes conceptualizing the space for an exhibition, working with a collaborative team and interviewing living artists. In particular, she gravitates toward artists of bygone eras. “The past is alluring,” she says. “The ability to transport yourself elsewhere is a gift from my mother.” Over the past decade, Bianco has curated two notable exhibitions, one featuring the works of Jonathan Fisher and a new exhibition which will open this October 5th entitled “Maine and the Index of American Design.” She was also part of the collaborative team that brought the Marguerite Zorach exhibition to the Farnsworth last year, and wrote the catalogue for that exhibition. “We map out exhibitions five years in advance,” she explains, “and the process is very democratic. Everyone on the team has a voice.”

As an artist, Bianco is inspired to draw with pencil and ink, and also paint with watercolor. She explores color and makes detailed observations that help her understand “the way things are made.” Once a member of the Guild of Natural Science Illustration, her work demonstrates her expertise in that area. But she is also open to non-objective experimentation, which allows her intuition to take over. She says she finds that the St. George community of artists encourages this freedom of expression. “It’s inspiring to be surrounded by such creative people who are supportive,” she explains. “This community is conducive to making things. It gives people the freedom to express themselves, and they are supported.” —Katherine Cartwright

[Cartwright adds this personal note: Bianco’s final statement is a perfect summary of the arts community in St. George. Because this is my final article of the summer season, I would like to reflect her sentiments in my own words. It is because of the generous support of artists and patrons alike in this community that I have thrived as an artist over the past 15 years. Thank you all!]

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