Artist gave up law to pursue her interest in the creative process

By Lynn R. Parks

Ever since she was a small child, Gabriel Jules had created art. "I illustrated books for my mother before I could write," she said. "I would give her the pictures and then would tell her the stories and she would write them down for me. "I had one doll that sat on a shelf and one stuffed bear, but I didn't play with them. I didn't do the Barbie thing. I was doing art instead." But in the 1980s, for the first time in her life, Gabriel Jules wasn't producing anything artistic. She was one of two women in a family law practice in Fairfax, Va., and working for her clients took every bit of energy that she had. "Practicing law just wiped me out," she said. "I was earning a living but I was not creating anything. I was utterly wretched." Jules decided to close her practice, a process that took two years. She took classes at the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C., to refresh her skills "Doing art isn't like riding a bicycle," she said. "You just can't up and start again after years of not doing anything." And she was introduced to the centuries-old art of etching by family friend and City College of New York professor William Behnken. "I was in Provincetown, Mass., visiting my brother, when Bill, who is a master printmaker, came in with a prepared etching plate," Jules said. Behnken handed her the zinc plate, already covered with a waxy "ground" into which the artist draws a picture, and a stylus to push a picture into the ground. " 'What do I do with these?' I asked him," she said. " 'Draw,' he told me. So I drew an arrangement of flowers in a bowl that was sitting on the table." Behnken helped her produce a print from the drawing that she made. "And I was hooked," Jules said. "It was magical, a wonderful experience." Today, Jules, 66, produces etchings and monotypes in her Hearn's Pond studio near Seaford. Her work is on display in the Washington Print Makers gallery in Silver Spring, Md., and her etching of lady slippers, "Midnight Orchid," will be featured on the cover of the gallery's upcoming quarterly magazine. Jules is preparing for an April exhibit, Connected to Nature, at the Dorchester Center for the Arts in Cambridge, Md.; opening reception is April 10. She will also participate in the Delaware By Hand fifth annual members' show May 29 on the grounds of the Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes. Etching wasn't a totally new experience to Jules when Behnken, in her brother's house, urged her to explore a different medium. Her mother, Rita Albers, was an accomplished etcher who stopped working when she married. Jules has several of her works hanging in her house. And her father, Mervin Jules, was a painter and master printmaker who taught at Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and headed up the art department at Smith as well as at City College of New York.

Jules has several of his lithographs prints made from a drawing impressed into stone, usually limestone, instead of into metal and woodblock prints hanging in her home. Many of her own etchings that line the walls of her studio come from nature: a forest fire, black lines surrounded by red, yellow and orange flames. The large, furry face of a bear. A pine tree, as seen from the ground looking up along its rough bark. A small pond. A heron, in greens and blues. But there are faces, too, old men, babies and children. And dogs, including a small white canine standing next to the gnarled roots of a large tree. "I'm more or less pleased with my work," Jules said. Jules grew up in Northampton and went to the Stockbridge School in Interlaken, Mass. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, N.Y., in 1965 with a bachelor's degree in literature and social sciences. After graduation, she took some art classes at the now-defunct Columbia Schools of the Arts in New York City then, as so many young people were doing then, traveled to California. She came back east and ended up in Florida, where she had an art and framing business and earned a teacher's certificate from Florida Atlantic University. Teaching wasn't for her, though, and when her then husband landed a job in northern Virginia, she went to work in client services for American Medical Laboratories in Fairfax, now part of Quest Diagnostics based in Madison, N.J. While there, she earned her law degree at George Mason University in Fairfax, attending classes at night after working all day. After giving up her law practice, Jules moved to Sussex County to be near her son, J.J. Simon, Delmar. She married Erroll Mattox, who is an organic farmer, in 2009. Their three-acre farm, where Mattox raises Katahdin sheep, is called Elysian Fields in Greek mythology, the final resting place of the heroic and virtuous. In addition to working on her art, Jules is interested in giving art lessons and in sharing her enthusiasm for etching. Recently, she welcomed several members of an art class at Seaford High School into her studio and walked them through the steps of creating a print from a piece of metal and a stylus. Jules attends the occasional area art show and fair, where she sells her works. In addition, her etchings and monotypes are available for sale in her studio. "I am not interested in having the largest collection in the world of my own work," she said dryly.

For your information Artist Gabriel Jules can be reached at 628-0471. Her Web site is gabrieljules.moonfruit.com

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