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The psychology of art
One-time psych major unleashes 
her free spirit through art

By LAURIE ARENDT

August 15, 2005

One longtime patron has described Fox Point artist Jill Schwartz as wildly imaginative and strikingly original.


When art patrons call on Jill Schwartz to create a personal masterpiece for them, they know that they can expect creativity, talent and more than just a little magic.

Just ask Brian and Kaare Lotz, who approached Schwartz with the hope that she could create a family portrait for them. A simple enough request, until you realize just how big the Lotz family is. Add in the fact that the Lotzes also requested that Schwartz include their family cabin in the piece.

"They gave me a stack of photos," remembers Schwartz. "I stopped counting when I discovered there were more than 30 people in the photos. I realized there was no way I could do a family portrait with that many people."

Taking a cue from the when-life-hands-you-lemons playbook, in a spark of creative genius — or madness, admits Schwartz in hindsight — she did the next best thing: She cut up the photos and made a one-of-a-kind family photomontage.

"I had all the elements I needed, that was the given," she says of the process. "The solution wasn’t so apparent, but it was there. As the artist, I had to find it."

The view Schwartz created was from the windows of their cabin out onto the lake. The montage of family photos created the landscape of the sky and trees. Viewed from far away, the individual images knit together. Up close, they represent years of memories.

"They didn’t know what I had done until they picked it up," says Schwartz. "Now that I think about it, they could have been quite upset."

Instead, they absolutely loved their new family heirloom.

The Lotz family installed the piece in a high-traffic, second floor walkway in their home. "We purposely placed it there so we could look at it every time we walked by," says Kaare Lotz. "Each time I pass it, I notice something different."

But the Lotzes, as well as all the others who have discovered this Fox Point artist’s work, also receive a little piece of this reluctant artist in each of her works.

"I didn’t actually realize I had any sort of art talent until my senior class night when the art teacher presented me with a design award," Schwartz says. "I actually went to college to study psychology. That’s when I realized that my entire family was crazy, and I switched to art."

Along with innate talent, she also brought to her easel lessons learned during childhood. "I grew up poor along the Mississippi River," she says. "I could swim before I could walk and I would spend my entire summers barefoot."

She developed a deep appreciation for nature. "I learned to appreciate little things that other people took for granted," she remembers. "I was the kid who would stop and smell the flowers or hug a tree. I still do that, too."

While at UW-Milwaukee, she began submitting work to galleries and was accepted to shows as a student. "At one point I was offered a show in New York, but I turned it down."

Schwartz got married before she finished her degree and left school, though she did eventually finish her final coursework. She worked as a designer and manager for Phoenix Design, and became the owner of a small retail shop. During the past few years, though, her focus has been on being a good single parent and a great mom to her middle-school age daughter.

"I realized that my priority has been to help my daughter to be a good person," she says. "Parenthood is a 24-hour job if you want to do it right."

After she rearranged her priorities, she had little time left for her creative passions. But she has over time been able to create, and occasionally people discover and snap up her work.

Longtime patron Barbara Stein says that there are many things that appeal to her in Schwartz’s work. "Jill is wildly imaginative and strikingly original," she says. "She uses vibrant colors, which makes her work very hard to miss."

"She has a real willingness to be herself," says longtime friend and collector Carol Dietrich. "Her free spirit comes out in her work. She’s not afraid to express that part of her. At the same time, she’s very perceptive."

Part of that is because Schwartz’s creations also leave room for her audience. "Though I did try in the past, I never do complete faces in my work," Schwartz says. "To me, that’s too restrictive. When I paint or draw, I want people to be able to fill in the blanks for themselves. I want them to have the opportunity to relate to the work."

Though much of her work is a combination of painting and drawing, Schwartz also works in other mediums. "I realized a long time ago that I need to create or I’ll go crazy," Schwartz laughs. "My kitchen is currently seven different colors."

She continues to create, both for herself and on a commissioned basis. Her work continues to attract attention, both from longtime patrons and new eyes.

"I have quite a few ‘Schwartzes’ in my collection and I show them often," laughs Stein. "In fact, I’d have more if I had the room. That’s how much I love her work."