Janet Turner Biography

Janet Turner



Painter, printmaker, and art professor Janet Turner was born in Kansas City, Missouri, on April 7, 1914. Her parents James and Hortense Turner raised Janet on a six-acre farm and sent her to a nature camp in Cape Cod during the summers, two factors that she credits with her early interest in both biology and art. She eventually pursued botany at Stanford University, while also taking courses in drawing and painting. However, the biology course was dropped and Turner switched her major to Far Eastern history, earning her BA in 1936. She then traveled to China, Japan, the Philippines, Manchuria, and Korea.

Upon her return she enrolled at the Kansas City Art Institute, where she studied painting under Thomas Hart Benton and earned a degree in 1941. She began exhibiting her work and took up an teaching position at Girls' Collegiate School at Claremont, working on her graduate studies in painting under fellow Missourian Henry McFee and Millard Sheets. There she earned her MFA in 1947.

After graduation she moved to Texas to work as an assistant professor in the art department of Stephen F. Austin State College, where she would remain until 1956, continuing to pursue her work as a fine artist. This was when she began experimenting with printmaking, applying her love of fine detail and methodical technique to the plates and blocks of the newfound medium. While most of the art world had trained its eye on the trendy movements within Abstract Expressionism, Turner remained true to her roots in classical realism, creating detailed depictions of nature that spoke to both her interest in biology and natural beauty. She remained steadfast in her desire to eschew popular recognition in favor of teaching and creating what she loved, and she continued to exhibit within a quieter sphere.

Her breakthrough into the exhibiting world took place in 1950 when a tempera piece, "Pelicans", was accepted into the 50 Years of American Art show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, after which she participated in major print and watercolor biennials and annuals hosted by the Brooklyn Art Museum, the Print Club of Philadelphia, the Society of American Graphics Artists, the National Serigraph Society, the American Color Print Society, and the Library of Congress. She became a member of the National Association of Women Artists and the American Color Print Society, and was elected a member of the Audubon Artists of New York. In 1952 she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, which she used to travel to the Gulf Coast to study linoleum blockprinting and serigraphy using the local flora and fauna as her subject matter. Turner returned to New York in 1956 to study at Columbia University, earning a doctorate in education in 1960.

Overlapping the end of her time at Columbia, Turner was offered a job at Chico State University in 1959 teaching art. She accepted and upon graduation moved to Central California. There, she would make her mark as both a professor and an advocate for fine printmaking. Over her thirty-three year career at Chico State she was pivotal in upgrading the fine arts department. She also helped to design a printmaking facility to rival those she visited throughout the U.S. and abroad. She would eventually become the first Chico State professor to be awarded the California State University's Outstanding Professor Award (1975).

She continued to exhibit prolifically, eventually securing space in both group and solo international exhibitions in Italy, England, France, Poland, Israel, and Japan, among others. Additionally, Turner was an avid collector of fine prints, beginning with a women printmakers' print club in which she traded and critiqued works alongside her contemporaries. She expanded her collection to include works she found along her travels, and she did not discriminate between popular and obscure artists. In 1981 Chico State opened the Janet Turner Print Museum on the campus, which includes the 4,000 prints in her personal collection as well as a selection of her own works.

Janet Turner died in Chico on June 28, 1988. Her work is included in museums and galleries throughout the U.S. and abroad.