By Brenda Lange
Jeffrey Reed, 65, who has lived in Chestnut Hill for 25 years, grew up on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in Annapolis, Maryland, where he spent a great deal of his free time outdoors. Sun-dappled waves and storm clouds scudding over the bay informed his choice of subjects when he decided to become an artist and asked himself what he should paint.
“Painting is a way of connecting with the world around me, and I want my audience to have that experience, to have something evoked in them and something they can identify with,” Reed said of why he chose landscapes.
Even as a child, he was interested in art, in drawing and painting the world around him. In high school, he drew a lot and painted a little, and in college he painted as much as he could. Now, decades later, Reed is a respected and admired landscape painter here and abroad. A selection of his works is currently on exhibition at the Gross McCleaf Gallery at 127 S. 17th St. in Center City through Jan. 31.
Many of Reed’s paintings depict the lovely landscapes of Ireland. Not a native or someone with roots in that country, he discovered its lush beauty through the Ballinglen Arts Foundation, a nonprofit organization in the village of Bailycastle in North County Mayo, Ireland. He applied to the fellowship program there and first attended in 1999 with his wife, Shea Cronley, a pediatrician, and their two young sons.
“The people and the landscape there all are just wonderful,” said Reed. “The weather changes constantly, which is a real gift. And I love the light … the way it changes, and it’s always different. You can see a year’s worth of skies in a week’s time”
Reed has returned to the foundation every year for 20 years; his sons attended sports camps, he and his wife have made lifelong friends, and he has taught dozens of students there to see and appreciate the changing light and landscapes as he does. “Every time I go, I see something new and experience something new,” he said.
The Ballinglen Arts Foundation was started in 1993 by Margo Dolan and her late husband, Peter Maxwell, Philadelphians who founded the Dolan/Maxwell Gallery near Rittenhouse Square. Today and for the past eight years, Reed and fellow painter and friend, Randall Exon, run a workshop to raise funds to support the foundation. This year’s two-week landscape painting class runs from June 16-29.
In addition to his passion for art and his family, Reed is passionate about Chestnut Hill. “We moved here from Mt Airy,” he said. “What do we like about Chestnut Hill? It is walkable. There is the train; we live one block from St Martin’s station. And we are at the farmers market once a week. Campbell’s would be the restaurant that we frequent most often. The Wissahickon is a treasure that we make great use of for walks with our dog.
“There is Night Kitchen, Kilian’s, Weavers Way. Artist and Craftsman is one block away. At Woodmere Art Museum, Bill Valerio has done a wonderful job of energizing the museum. I have been in several group shows there. The Morris Arboretum. Great friends and a sense of community. Our sons, Andy, 25, and Matt, 23, went to GFS. I coached them in Little League Baseball here. Chestnut Hill has been a wonderful place to raise a family. I was part of the original build group for the playground at Jenks.”
Fresh out of high school, Reed decided to attend a small liberal arts college, Maryville College in Tennessee, even though he wanted to be an artist. “When I was 17, there was no internet, and I couldn’t find information easily about the lifestyle or career opportunities of being an artist, and I wasn’t confident enough to take the leap.
“I was always most alive when I was outside. I like the idea of the landscape changing and of being responsive to it.” Reed, whose current exhibit features small paintings (8”x10” and 8”x8”, for example) calls his work “modest and intimate in some ways, referring to scale, even though what I paint is fairly expansive.”
After one year in Tennessee — and a fortuitous trip abroad to England, Germany and Russia, where he experienced some amazing artwork — Reed transferred to the Maryland Institute College of Art, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in Fine Art. He then attended a summer program at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, after which he attended the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree in Fine Art.
Reed, who has been teaching painting and drawing at the Community College of Philadelphia since 1987, fell in love with the artistic community he found in Philadelphia and decided to stay in its “wonderful and supportive environment.” He did settle in Bucks County for a short time but soon returned to the more active community in the city where he says his painting “just took off.”