Auburn artist Dawn Jordan lives and breathes art.
By day, she works full-time at MacKenzie-Childs in Aurora as a professional artisan, hand-painting unique furniture pieces in their signature style. Jordan has worked at the iconic home design company’s bucolic compound near Cayuga Lake off and on for a dozen years.
After “office hours,” she creates her own art in an unusual home studio. Jordan lovingly restored a condemned building (formerly a pizza place) in 2008 as her living and creative space. Best known for large work heritage murals, Jordan has produced so many she’s stopped counting. The artist also creates fine art paintings, designs theatre sets for local school plays and constructs string puppets.
“If your art is your passion, you can make a living as an artist,” says Jordan.
Many of Jordan’s family members are working artists of various genres: fine art, caricature portraits, pottery, graphic design, wood-working. Her own creative journey began at age 10. Jordan discovered a 1929 vintage craft book, Marionettes: Easy to Make! Fun to Use!, in her grandparents’ attic and then saw a live string puppet show.
She started making marionettes and it literally changed her life. “It was my way of telling stories with art,” Jordan says.
Her captivation was cultivated by her grandmother, a prolific fine art landscape artist who taught her how to sew puppet costumes; and her grandfather, a boat builder, who built a puppet stage. Jordan still loves creating marionettes. She has over 50 now, all about 30 inches high, made of papier mâché and cloth.
Most comfortable out of the spotlight, Jordan enjoys pulling the strings as a puppeteer behind the curtain. She writes and produces shows which include making puppets, stage and sets, and recording music and narration. Her newest, Dragon of Junkshire, debuts in September during Auburn’s Tomatofest.
All in the family
While Jordan appears to have inherited her creative genes, she has two associate degrees and did formally study art. After graduating from Auburn High School in 1978, she attended Cayuga Community College and, as an exchange student, studied art in London at Ealing College of Higher Education.
In 1981, she moved to Florida where her sister Cheryl Schoonmaker, also an artist, was living then. Together, they attended The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. She moved back to Auburn in 1985 and worked as a graphic artist at Cayuga Community College designing catalogs, brochures and posters. In 1989 she married Roger Jordan and the couple raised their sons Oliver, born in 1990, and Abraham, 1992, in nearby Weedsport.
Jordan, who is now divorced, worked from home while her boys were growing up. She started a graphic design business and got her first commission to paint a mural at the American Legion in Moravia, New York, in 1995. Another artist had started the mural, a historical depiction of foreign war scenes, and suddenly died. When Jordan’s grandmother was asked to finish the project, she suggested her granddaughter instead. Jordan, with no large-works experience, embraced the challenge.
She was immediately comfortable with big scale painting. Ten years and many murals later, Jordan produced her largest mural, a 33-foot-wide by 22-foot-tall image of former Erie Canal Lock 52 in Port Byron featuring her sons as models.
Art preserving history
Jordan uses premium-quality exterior latex over a quality primer, and then coats with a sealer for ultraviolet ray protection. She has painted directly on brick, cinder block, concrete and wood but her next mural will be on Evolon, a strong synthetic fabric like a flexible canvas, later affixed and permanently sealed to a surface.
Her project, commissioned by the Montezuma Historical Society, will depict the Richmond Aqueduct, a “water bridge” in Montezuma that carried the enlarged Erie Canal waters over the Seneca River. It was partially dismantled in 1917. Jordan is painting the mural in September at a Mural Expo (under a large tent alongside other muralists commissioned to create heritage murals during the 10th Biennial Global Mural Conference in Fairport).
The expo, a week-long conference feature free to the public, is organized by Amy Colburn, an accomplished Bristol muralist. Colburn knows Jordan’s work well. “She has extensive experience painting historic structures like buildings, barns and boats,” says Colburn and “excels in her ability to create realistic details, especially in these circumstances where historic reference material is lacking.”
Hosted at the Woodcliff Hotel, the conference theme is “Preserving Heritage Through Community Art” and the large works, utilizing 16-foot-wide by 7-foot-tall rolls of Evolon, will highlight the historical significance of the Erie Canal. The finished murals will be installed in the communities that sponsored them.
When completed, Jordan’s mural will be displayed in Montezuma Heritage Park, another magnificent and enduring illustration of our region’s rich cultural history. Murals are a public art trend in the Finger Lakes and have become Jordan’s distinctive hallmark as an artist.
Art in Motion!
Dawn Jordan’s Dragon of Junkshire, an original comedic marionette show for all ages, will be performed during the 31st annual TomatoFest in downtown Auburn on Friday, September 9 and Saturday, September 10. For details and show times, visit cnytomatofest.org.
Watch Jordan, and other muralists from all over the world, create new heritage murals at the Mural Expo tent during the 10th Biennial Global Mural Conference at Woodcliff Hotel & Spa in Fairport, New York, on Monday, September 19 through Thursday, September 22 (8 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and Friday, September 23 (8 a.m. to 9 p.m.). It’s free and open to the public! View art in action, visit vendors, browse art booths and enjoy refreshments.
For more information, visit gmc2016.com.
To visit Dawn’s website, go to www.streetsmartart.com.
by Nancy E. McCarthy