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Art from the Heart ... June Payne Hart
by Karen Reider

Last year, when Christmas shopping for a fellow animal lover, I came across a wall of paintings that captured my heart. A menagerie of creatures, great and small from kittens to cougars, puppies to wolves beseeched me to take them home.

Finding too many “favorites,” my senses overflowing, the voice of reason spoke up . . . “You can’t afford that!” Quickly I began analyzing what I could do without and considering that if I purchased one, could I bare to give it away.

As the battle raged on, I glanced over at my son, Pat. With two prints tucked under his arm, he was flipping through a huge assortment of the less expensive and smaller reproductions.

The voice assured me the wolves wouldn’t be there as Pat handed me the print, saying “Aunt Diney would like this.”

She truly loved it, and so did the others that received prints from us that year.

I remember thinking I’d like to meet the artist, June Payne Hart, as I viewed her work. I felt her love for animals in every painting I observed and thought she must be a wonderful, loving person.

When I recently came across an entire room covered with her remarkable paintings at Sedona Artists Studio, I was delighted. Not only could I meet her, but I could watch her do her magic right there in the studio. Then taking it one step further, I was given the opportunity to meet and talk with her.

I love this job!

Hart was very much what I imagined she would be. Cheerful, easygoing and quick to laugh, we fell into conversation effortlessly. Offering me a spot of tea in her English accent set the stage for the first question.

Hart grew up in Stratford, England, where Shakespeare was born. She is just one of many in a family of impressive artisans. Remaining very close, even across the great distance of countries, Hart returns to England whenever possible. She spoke quite fondly and proudly of her mother who worked for the Shakespeare Theatre in England. Working in the wardrobe department, she was in charge of the fabrics for the costumes. Hart’s mom created the magnificent ruffs for the Elizabethian costumes. She also made many of the costumes for such famous actors as Charles Dance and Timothy Dalton, whom she adored.

Hart’s dad retired and became a framer. Smiling broadly, Hart claims him to be “the best framer in the world!” One brother, Harry is a gilder and framer and currently lives in Santa Cruz, California. Creating frames in an antique style using gold leaf, they are as much a piece of art as the paintings they hold.

Hart’s other brother, John in England is also an incredible gilder. Some of his gold leafing is found in palaces in the Middle East. In recent years he has become a writer and painter. Hart is very proud of him as well.

Hart’s first artwork was done on her pussycat when she was just three. She literally painted him in thick green paint. Her brother in England is writing a children’s book on that very subject. The Adventures of the Green Pussycat, which Hart is going to illustrate. When visiting England in June, Hart met with her brother’s friends from the Writers Guild who are also wanting to employ her talents for books they are writing. Hart said this is one of her many future projects.

Hart attended the Birmingham College of Arts in the Midlands for five years. She studied all forms of art from throwing a ceramic pot to interior design. During this time she also studied in Sweden and one of her favorite places, Italy.

Frequently, Hart visited the Birmingham Museum. There she would study the old masters, and found their detail and brilliant use of color intensely inspiring. As Hart spoke of this art, an ocean of feeling opened in her. I felt as though I had intruded on some private moment, spying on unspoken thoughts. Seeing my quiet observation, she clasped her hands and laughed, “I’m a helpless romantic!”

In England, Hart worked in the family gallery that sold antique paintings. Here, she had some of the “most beautiful paintings” come through her life. From French impressionists to 18th and 19th Century English watercolors, Hart was deeply moved and inspired by these masters.

This inspiration soon led to her own paintings. She began by imitating the old masters. Then she met another artist that was also a dealer and he said, “June, that’s all very well, what you’re doing, but become yourself. Do what you really feel.”

So she thought to herself, “Well, what is really me. I really love animals so I painted my first few and showed the dealer.”

“That’s it!” he said.

Hart began painting birds and had one hanging in the window of the gallery. A greeting card publisher came in, saw the painting, and asked if she would be willing to design greeting cards. Hart soon became their top designer.

When a close friend from college moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, Hart came to visit. Liking it, she returned again and again.

In 1980, Hart moved to Scottsdale and opened an English Antique Center. When her first marriage failed, she began doing art shows by herself.  Venturing into her fine art career, she put together her first art show. Selling several originals, Hart was encouraged and motivated.

The artist’s move to Arizona inspired her even more. She fell in love with the beauty of the Southwest and spent hours sketching the desert wildlife. She even conquered her life-long fear of spiders. Now spider webs grace all of her later paintings.

In 1983, cupid struck at a show in Scottsdale, when Hart met Ron Hart. Soon married, they began working together. Ron retired from his company and became very much involved in Hart’s art business. “I couldn’t do what I do without him. He is very much my soul mate,” she said.

Hart visited Sedona in 1976 and fell in love with the red rocks. Having traveled extensively, she believes this to be one of the “most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.”

As a result, the Harts moved to Sedona in 1996.

Hart’s fine animal art has known many medias. Her Snow Leopard, is the most successful piece she has done to date.

She has licensed Snow Leopard (and others) for plates, greeting cards, puzzles, cross stitch, T-shirts and her limited edition prints.

Hart’s African lion, entitled Portrait Of A King, is a combination of two lions. The original inspiration, a majestic lion in Africa, was so beautiful, but his mane was really tattered from endless fighting. Improvising to better portray the lions kingly status, she borrowed the mane from a lion residing at the zoo.

Hart also has created cards for the Humane Society and designed two posters for the Morris Animal Foundation in Colorado. This is very important to her. She likened the foundation to the “Mayo Clinic for animals” studying animal diseases and their cures. They backed Dian Fossey’s (Gorillas in the Mist) study and protection of the mountain gorillas, and are carrying on her work since her untimely death.

One of Hart’s future plans is to create a poster of the Mountain Gorillas to help the foundation raise money.

Previously, for the foundation, she created A Dogs Plea, a collage of every dog imaginable surrounding a touching poem by an unknown author. Following its huge success, she created The Cats Life in a similar fashion. Both have earned thousands of dollars for the foundation and adorn the walls of many a veterinarian’s office. Quite recognizable, most animal lovers have seen it at one time or another.

Besides painting wild cats, wolfs, foxes, birds and other wildlife, Hart also paints cute and cuddly cats, dogs and rabbits. The models for these paintings have often been her own beloved pets. An avid lover of animals, her current precious pups are rescue dogs from Humane Societies or other associations.

Several of the greeting cards I saw had Hart’s very special long-eared bunny, PJ, on them. She delighted me with a story of PJ and his Friends. Wanting to create a background of colorful flowers to surround the rabbits, she purchased quite a few pansies. Encircling the bunnies with them, she went to make a cup of tea. Upon her return, the bunnies had eaten them all. “There wasn’t a pansy in sight!”

When Hart’s painting, Animal Fantasia One, a touching collection of rabbits, deer, squirrels and birds, was made into a limited edition, the first one was gifted to Princess Diana and Prince Charles. The print hangs in Prince William’s room in Buckingham Palace. Hart proudly showed me the royal letter thanking her for the print. Two million brush strokes went into the making of it. Amazing but easily recognized when you view the art piece.

Hart uses three techniques for her paintings.

When attending school, she couldn’t afford oils so she improvised with gouachˇ, opaque water color. Now it is her chosen medium. She loves the colors and finds it to be the medium that best expresses her work.

Hart also uses the method of scratch-board water color. Tres Lobos is a perfect example of this. She begins with a white clay surface, applies water color and then etches with a knife. The result is incredibly life-like. The fur of the animal glows with an energy, an essence you can touch.

Whether Hart has taken a thousand brush strokes or etched with a knife, all of her animals move with the poetry of aware creatures. Distilled spirits portraying life in the desert, jungle or her back yard, Hart portrays their inner beings.

Her third method, which is still developing, she calls rock art. Hart believes her work in England, dealing in antiquities from ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt, have led her to the painting of rock art now.

“I think of it as a continuation of that study.”

Hart has always loved and been fascinated with the Indian culture. So, when she visited the Palatki Indian ruins here in Sedona, “that was it.” She was captivated by the petroglyphs and began studying them extensively.

Often painting an artists impression of these, Hart tells a story in the ancient way. Creating with symbols she has learned, she makes her own creation.

Last year while doing a show in Flagstaff, some Native Americans were viewing her petroglyph art. She became a little uncomfortable thinking they might be offended. Quite the opposite happened - they bought one of her paintings. She was delighted and relieved. She is very aware and careful to be respectful.

Hart also paints scenes that are “absolutely authentic,” like the great hunting scene from Utah she showed me. A stunning piece of art, she explained how it was created.

Most of the rock art is done with collage paper and a modeling paste. She then paints on top of it in gouachˇ. Hart first employed this technique during her college days. A unique effect, this is art you can feel, inside and out!

A work-in-progress portrayed deer amongst the rock art. It was fascinating to see the art in stages. Future pieces will incorporate the red rocks of Sedona and possibly seascapes.

Hart told me that Gerald Brommer from Carmel, California, has “truly inspired my collage work.”

Always on the move to improve, Hart claims: “Artists never stop growing and developing their own style.” She loves her work and “can’t imagine not painting.”

Working in front of an audience at Sedona Artists Studio is no stranger to Hart. She loves painting in front of the public.

Hart has been with Sedona Artists Studio since its inception. She hasn’t liked the traditional gallery scene because it is essential she maintain control of her art. A very independent person, she’s not willing to give that control away. Hart finds the Sedona Artists Studio “very unique and wonderful.”

You can view the work of this internationally known wildlife artist, at Sedona Artists Studio, Hozho Center on Gallery Row, 431 Hwy. 179, or call her at 203-0195.

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