For the birds

Collage artist Genevieve Jacobs exhibits at the West Tisbury library.

This piece uses maps as collage material. —Genevieve Jacobs

Looking for a bit of seasonal inspiration? Then check out the current art exhibit at the West Tisbury library. “Spring Is for the Birds” features a wondrous aviary of paintings and collages by local artist Genevieve Jacobs.

The selection of bird renderings is far from your Audubon-style scientific studies. Each painting or collage is a true portrait that brings the birds vividly to life.

After a lengthy career as a registered nurse, Jacobs retired a decade ago to focus on her first love, creating art. Although she is self-taught, the artist’s work shows serious talent, professionalism, and a keen observational eye. She also displays a real flair for imaginative renderings of her subjects.

Using maps, fabric swatches, handmade papers, and other materials, Jacobs brings nature alive by building up intricate, layered collage images. The acrylic and oil paintings feature birds displaying surprisingly apt personalities set against bright solid-colored backgrounds. One of the things that clearly marks Jacobs as far more than an amateur artist is her remarkable composition skills and her talent for posing her subjects in interesting ways. You don’t have to be a serious bird lover to appreciate these striking works of art.

The artist’s clever titles further anthropomorphize her bird subjects. For example, a collage image of a crow couple dealing with a brood of hungry chicks is titled “How About Next Mating Season, We Take In a Movie And Call It a Night,” while the intense gaze of an Eastern screech owl inspired Jacobs to compare her subject to a hypnotist, with the title “You Are Getting Verrry Sleepy.”

The artist has long been fascinated by birds — their instincts, their personalities, their wide range of physical beauty, and their skills, as well as the ability for flight that makes them unique in the natural world.

“I’ve really been watching them for years,” says Jacobs. “Birds are something that I’ve always been interested in. Their lives are so pure, unlike ours. They’re just driven by their needs and instincts, and they’re brilliant architects. When people say that someone has a birdbrain, that should actually be seen as a compliment.”

Jacobs was inspired to explore the collage medium when faced with the challenge of creating a portrait of her husband, Dr. Michael Jacobs.

“After puzzling over how best to represent Michael, I decided to use his writings and maps of the places that he has been,” she says. “It turned out to be the perfect way to depict him.” Jacobs’ first effort at collage proved to be so successful that the portrait won the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s first “Island Faces” competition, in 2012.

Since then, the artist has used a similar technique, adding in other materials to depict a variety of subjects, including sheep and other four-legged creatures. She has also continued to paint in both oils and acrylics, with a focus on the natural world. Although she has since completed three other human portraits, she notes that the process is physically demanding. The last one (a commission) required so much standing and stooping over that the artist wound up in physical therapy.

So for now, Jacobs is focusing on birds and other subjects inspired by her surroundings. A few years back, she and her husband moved to a small farm in West Tisbury that they share with nine sheep and various other critters.

“I’ve always wanted to have a vegetable garden,” says Jacobs. “When we saw this place, it was like a dream. We jumped right in with both feet. I’ve just learned so much, and it’s been a really great life.”

Last summer, Jacobs joined a group of a dozen artists in establishing the MVCVA Art Gallery Cooperative on Dukes County Avenue in Oak Bluffs. This year, she decided to take time off to work on her garden, focus on her artwork and, most important, spend time with her grandchildren.

In the past she has shown her collages and paintings at various venues on Martha’s Vineyard, and has taught a Drawing from Nature class at Polly Hill Arboretum. Jacobs has also done illustrations and cover art for a number of publications.

She works in her home studio every day, and finds the work both rewarding and absorbing. “It’s intensive work that requires all of your concentration,” says Jacobs. “I really enjoy that. When the war in Iraq began, my son spent 16 months there. My artwork was the only thing that distracted me. With all that I was going through emotionally, I found it very helpful to focus on something else for awhile.”

Traditional artwork is not Jacobs’ only creative outlet. She also designs and hooks rugs, is learning to knit, and loves working with power tools. “My creative juices are flowing all of the time,” she says. “I’m just enjoying a creative life. What a dream.”


A reception to honor the work of Genevieve Jacobs will take place at West Tisbury library on Saturday, May 5, from 3:30 to 5 pm. Jacobs’ work will be on display in the library’s Community Room throughout the month of May.