Jody Wright Article:
Jody Wright -Artist To The Animals

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This Article is from the magazine Wonderful West Virginia, December 2006

The magical realism of artist Jody Wright’s style captures the individual personality of a favorite pet so perfectly that the viewer scarcely notices the trio of kittens are magenta and bright yellow or the sad-eyed chihuahua is purple. “I want the animal’s soul to shine through the fur,” said Wright. “I’m after their spirit and usually don’t follow the ‘traditional’ colors that nature dictates.” Maybe it was growing up almost next door to Disneyland that set her path. “When I was a child, I wondered why the Great Maker of life didn’t design dogs in vivid blue. Today, as an artist, I realize that was left to us.”

Scores of people contact Wright to immortalize their companion animals. The process can take up to a couple months and begins with photographs, preferably head shots taken from eye level with the animal. Wright has several conversations with the owner about their pet: what they are like? Are they are lively or quiet or sweet?
She then sketches a line drawing and sends it for approval. Once she has enough information about the
animal’s personality, she begins painting.

“For high energy dogs I would use red. Happy pets are yellow,” explained Wright about her general palette. “Sweet and loveable animals get lavenders and other soft colors while outdoorsy and bold ones are purple. I
also try to use the owner’s favorite color if it fits,” she said. “This is someone they love. They will treasure the painting for a lifetime.”

Once she starts painting, she often works non-stop in her studio on the second floor of the Victorian she and
her husband, sculptor Carl Wright, rescued in downtown Martinsburg. She uses acrylics instead of oils because they dry immediately permitting her to change her mind about a shape or shade in an instant. “I am excited by
the animals,” she said. “And I love the creative chaos. I don’t relax well.” One rare creation was the portrait of a golden Labrador retriever in shades of purples and blues where the paints and colors just flowed and the portrait was done in a day. Best of all, it sold immediately.

While commission work on specific animals makes up most of her business, Wright also does speculative portraits, selecting from photos she likes of particular animals. These are turned into prints in limited editions of 200. She has some wildlife paintings but connects best with the companion animals.

Wright’s most popular and heart wrenching series of limited prints is “Not Forgotten,” portraits of animals abandoned at a local shelter. She does more than just paint the animals; a percentage of all her sales is
donated to their care and feeding at the Briggs Adoption Center near Rippon in Jefferson County. The no-kill shelter has been operated by Mrs. Anna Briggs since the 1930s; she is 96 years old and still visits the shelter now run day to day by her grandson Jim Taylor. Wright also created a large mural for the Briggs Center
portraying the resident animals. Inspired by her generosity, galleries where she shows her art often contribute a portion of the sales commissions to their local Humane Society.

Although she began painting at 18, she never believed that painting could support her. Both Wrights had traditional jobs in the Washington, DC area. They met through Jody’s mother who worked with Carl. They
decided in the 1980s to abandon hectic city life and find something they could do together. “We were tired of seeing each other only briefly after work,” she said. They took stained glass classes and migrated west, finding their way to Martinsburg where they produced prized stained glass for 15 years.

“I was nearing 50, had said everything I could say in stained glass and decided it was time to do only want I wanted to do,” said Wright. “It is important to bring passion to art. I knew I had to decide what was next.” The moment of truth came one day as she was watching her three dogs. “I loved them so much and thought how happy I would be if I could do something with my dogs. A lightbulb went off.” Companion animal art was born.

The Wrights are now down to two dogs, both older, both originally strays. “Carl has rules. The collective weight of all the dogs cannot be more than 200 pounds and you cannot have to bend down to pet them,” said Wright. The couple also have a cat.

One of their dogs -- Zeb -- is featured on Wright’s popular teeshirt. “He had been following us on our walks for about two weeks,” she said, telling the story. “It was very cold weather. We already had two dogs so we were not encouraging. Then one day he followed us home, went into the yard and kissed all the Nativity figures. We had to let him stay.”

When Jody left making stained glass to begin her painting phase in 2004, Carl moved on to sculpting. Although they no longer work directly together, Carl does lend his artistic sense to Jody’s work. She may ask him to look
at a painting when it is about 75% done or at a stalled point. He often has a minor suggestion to make that dramatically improves the painting or breaks the logjam. “Carl has a great eye,” she said. “It’s wonderful to have constructive criticism from someone who knows what they are looking at, and who loves you.”

Although Martinsburg, like other Panhandle art hot spots Berkeley Springs and Shepherdstown, has an active arts community, the Wrights simple do not have time. “This is my life,” saud Wright as she waved at her studio filled with easels, brushes and paints. “We do walk downtown for coffee everyday to stay fit,” she said. “I’m sure people see us and think what a great life it is to be an artist.” The public does not see the many hours a day
spent creating the art -- and its packaging. Wright’s paintings are stretched over frames made by Carl . He uses sycamore or poplar for the frame and maple for the edge. “They are painted edge to edge and ready to hang,” she explained.

The 15-room Victorian the Wrights bought in 1986 remains a work in progress. “It was our first real house.” she said. Out back is Carl’s sculpture studio filled with man-sized slabs of stone and his favorite tool -- a person-powered hydraulic lift for heavy pieces. There also is an early 19th century three-story brick smoke house that now serves as Wright Gallery. “We have it open on weekends and by appointment” said Jody.

Wright sells only in galleries and is a popular artist at Tamarack. “Mountain Laurel Crafts in Berkeley Springs
was my first gallery,” she said. “I will always appreciate Chuck Wheeler for agreeing to display my work. He is very approachable and encouraging to artists.” The paintings sold quickly at Mountain Laurel and Wright was
set in her new direction.

Wheeler, in turn, cannot say enough good about Wright and how popular her work is among his customers. “She is very professional,” he said. “We send her many referals from people who see her work in the shop. She
always acknowledges them even when the people do not contract to have work done. When she sells a piece from a referral, she always sends a finders fee,” a rarity among artists, admits Wheeler. “It is a privilege to have her in the gallery.” The other five galleries that offer Wright’s paintings stretch from Florida to California. Wright also has prints at Dickinson-Wait Gallery in Shepherdstown where she occasionally shows her paintings as well.

Jody Wright is savvy about marketing her art. In addition to her paintings and prints, she also produces pet-themed jewelry and illustrated animal books. “The teeshirts with her animal portraits on them are very good sellers,” said Wheeler who stocks them in his downtown gallery. “People are drawn to the image and the opportunity to own art at a modest price.” Wright agreed. “The pet market is huge,” she said, smiling.

One arena in which Wright’s whimsical animal portraits have been a hit is citywide competitive public art. The trend began with the famous CowParade in Switzerland in 1998 and has since spread throughout the United States with everything from mermaids to pandas. Wright has created seagulls for Ocean City, Maryland; a bluebird for Prince Georges County, Maryland; and two projects for Washington, DC. The first was an elephant for the “Party Animal” project that placed art-enhanced donkeys and elephants around the city. The second was
a cat design for “Panda-mania” where Wright was one of two West Virginia artists selected from among 1200 entries.

After attending several colleges, Wright received her BA in Fine Arts from Shepherd University. She praises the opportunities and support West Virginia affords its artists specifically mentioning the West Virginia Commission on the Arts. “I’ve received two professional development grants over the years. The first one helped me take a class to learn how to paint on stained glass, The second was more recent and financed a trip out West to paint wildlife,” she said.

Wright is working hard to produce a body of work for a major show in Richmond, Virginia in March 2007. “The Chasen Galleries of Fine Art has 3000 square feet to fill,” she said. “I’ll need 25 to 30 new paintings.”
That’s a lot of 14 hour days.

Jody Wright’s artwork can be seen online at or call her at 304-263-2391.

Jeanne Mozier lives in Berkeley Springs where she is active in the prominent local arts community. She is
the author of Way Out in West Virginia, a must-have guide of the oddities and wonders of the Mountain State as well as a photo book with Steve Shaluta called Wonders of West Virginia.

Updated 05/04/08
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