Artist Janice Haynes with her painting chosen for this year's Agricultural Fair poster. Photo by Susan Safford
Artist Janice Haynes with her painting chosen for this year's Agricultural Fair poster, at the West Tisbury home of her parents, Bill and Betty Haynes. Photo by Susan Safford

A poster flush with fairtime memories

By Hermine Hull - August 10, 2006

The design for the Agricultural Fair poster is probably the single most recognized piece of art on the Vineyard. The competition is announced in January and applications come in to be judged with all the secrecy of Yale's infamous Skull and Bones Society. This year the Fair committee chose Janice Haynes's entry and it is fabulous. The theme, "Best Under the Sun," is depicted by an arching sunflower that blazes across the top of the painting, above a tabletop array of blue-ribbon winning exhibits. Outside, through a filmy window, the Fair goes on.

Janice began thinking out this painting two years ago. She had wanted to do a Fair poster for the past 10 years, and images of the exhibits and the barn and the carnival were all tacked up on the bulletin board in her studio. She looked at old Fair posters. She thought about old Fair posters. She sat in the Ag Hall in the evening, watching how the light moved across the boards and how the scenery looked outside each window. She "sketched it out" in her mind.

Being quite detail oriented, the thought of an 18- by 24-inch painting was quite daunting. But all those little sketches kept refining Janice's thoughts and they kept going up on the bulletin board. Finally she was ready to begin by sanding a board and applying three coats of gesso, sanding again between coats till it was silky smooth.

Knowing what she wanted, the architecture of it needed to be straight. Janice drew a grid onto the gessoed surface, making sure all the proportions and details were correct. She began painting the scene outside the window, laying in thinned-down acrylic washes.

"As I get more detailed, the brushes get smaller and smaller," she said. As she tightened the image, she worked from back to front throughout the composition, from the carnival outside to the window frame to the grained barn board surround, the walls and the knots and the stains coming forward, the structure of the table and then its cloth and objects placed just so.

It has been my dream for 20 years to win the Tallest Sunflower entry at the Fair. Every year those bushel baskets filled with soil, an impossibly straight stem shooting skywards and ending in a yellow-ringed head that's maybe two feet across, seem to me the pinnacle of my agricultural fantasy. The tallest, most perfect sunflower is in Janice's painting, shaggy, leonine, graceful, and enthusiastic. Its energy is a perfect contrast to the darkly paneled interior with its mysterious view beyond.

I learned a lot about painting talking to Janice Haynes for this article. We sat together, two painters, two girlfriends, drinking coffee in my studio, our feet tucked up under us on the sofa, talking about what we do. Although our work couldn't be more different, our conversation floated along in painterly images and synchronous language. All those intangibles are what it's all about. "I don't see a tree, " she said, "but colors and shapes and light."

Janice was born here on the Island. As a child, she said she wanted to draw her own pictures, not color in someone else's images in coloring books. She was always looking for unlined paper and got into trouble for drawing on the endsheets in her parents' books. She always had a good eye for color. She graduated from the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, having studied Graphic Design.

The love of color and design is apparent in all Janice does. Her house - shared with her husband Jeremiah Brown, their black lab Berman, and two new kittens - is painted in blues and greens, all so subtly different as though there was always light moving through the room. There are painted flowers along the banister and fanciful details in each cabinet panel. The gardens surrounding the house are not only beautifully laid out, but incredibly lush. It all seems to have been there forever. I bet Janice Haynes could win the blue ribbon for the Tallest Sunflower if she put her mind to it.

Janice's original painting is hanging proudly in her parents' dining room. It was her gift to her father Bill for his birthday this past June. The family home on State Road belonged to Bill's mother and Bill and Betty have lived there as long as I have known them. Both are creative; Bill's sculptures are placed around the lawn and Betty sews better than anyone I know.

I think Betty and Bill have forgiven their daughter for tearing the endsheets out of their books all those years ago. And I know Janice is quite proud of herself, too.

Hermine Hull is a landscape painter, dog lover, and The Times West Tisbury correspondent.