By Hannah Richardson
To Natchitoches natives and those raised here, the movie “Steel Magnolias”, which we all know was filmed in the area in the late ‘80s, holds a special place in the heart. Artist Jessica O’Neill has breathed a new life in the characters featured in the film with her abstract and inspired art series.
O’Neill, who now lives in Savannah, Ga., spent most of her childhood in Natchitoches. “My family and I came to Natchitoches when I was six and I didn’t move until I left to attend the Savannah College of Art and Design. In all respects, Natchitoches is the childhood home I will always remember.”
O’Neill said that she has always loved art, ever since at the age of five when she received an artist’s table for her birthday. “I sat and colored rather than getting dressed for church… if I wasn’t dressed to go, they couldn’t make me stop coloring! My mother found Mina McCaskill, who was a long-standing member of the Natchitoches Art Guild and we began art lessons. In high school, it was former Natchitoches Central High School art teacher Cheryl Gianforte who truly developed my affinity for art into a passion. Gianforte and my parents encouraged my application to SCAD, The University for Creative Careers, a path I never could have imagined without the Natchitoches Central Art Department,” said O’Neill.
The creation of the 24-piece series of abstract figurative portraits, called “Giving Face,” began this summer when the storeowner and founder of the blog, Waiting On Martha, requested a collection of her work. It took O’Neill roughly eight weeks to complete the series, which ranges from 10×10 to 48×60.
“I thought, ‘Who inspires me? What message do I want to share?’ My mother and her friends, the real women of Natchitoches and the personalities who inspired Robert Harling’s work flooded my head,” said O’Neill. “When we moved to town, everything and everybody was a novelty. By the time I left for college, it was my norm. For twelve years, these characters, the culture and the Natchitoches community informed the kind of woman I desire to be.”
O’Neill describes her art as bold and whimsical. The art collection can be found at https://www.shopwaitingonmartha.com/collections/art-by-oneill.