Artist Spotlight: Georgia Mills Jessup—Right as Rain

It’s all in the family? You be the judge. Although artist Georgia Mills Jessup doesn’t believe in this “gene theory stuff,” she is one of twenty-nine family members with a profession in the arts from writers to musicians to dress designers. Both of her parents were artists as well as her daughters and brothers (she was thirteenth out of eighteen children).

Georgia Mills Jessup, Rainy Night, Downtown, 1967; Oil on canvas; 44 x 48 in.; Gift of Savanna M. Clark

Born in Washington, D.C., in 1926, Jessup demonstrated an artistic bent early on, apprenticing under the Works Progress Administration artist Herman L. Walker as a teenager and even exhibiting two of her paintings at the World’s Fair in New York in 1939 when she was just thirteen. She went on to study painting at Howard University in D.C., where she received her BFA in 1959, and then earned her MFA in ceramics and sculpture at Catholic University also in D.C. in 1969. Later, she continued studying at American University and at the District of Columbia Teachers College.

A self-described “melting pot” for her mixed heritage, being both African American and Native American (a descendant from the Pamunkey Tribe of Indians of Virginia), Jessup could apply this term in reference to her mastery of several art mediums. An accomplished painter, collagist, ceramicist, muralist, and sculptor, she has created a myriad of artwork from decorative and functional stoneware to abstract and representational paintings. Jessup served as the first artist-in-residence at the Smithsonian Institution’s Anacostia Neighborhood Museum, and her artwork is part of its permanent collection as well as in many other private collections.

Georgia Mills Jessup with her painting Rainy Night, Downtown

In her 1967 painting, Rainy Night, Downtown, part of the NMWA collection and on view on the third floor, Jessup celebrates the urban landscape on a rainy evening. Through vivid abstractions and stark lighting contrasts, she creates an energetic “hustle and bustle” mood. Despite Jessup stating that this could be a night scene in any U.S. city, the identifiable signs for “Trans-Lux Theatre” and “St. H N.W.” keep this painting close to home in D.C. Not only was the Trans-Lux Theatre once located a mere block away from NMWA, but it is also where Jessup grew up, raised and mothered her children, and worked as an art educator, arts advocator, and artist. It is even the city where, after leaving the Pamunkey reservation, her grandfather arrived by foot.

–Laura Hoffman is the Education Intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts and a graduate student at The George Washington University.

Works Cited

Cornell, Susan. “The World According to Georgia. Columbia Magazine. Spring 1989, 49-52.

3 thoughts on “Artist Spotlight: Georgia Mills Jessup—Right as Rain

  1. Georgia, a prolific fellow artist, is my mother-in-law. Since I was born in Jamaica, I could never fully understand the concept of a “melting pot” by leaving out European ancestry. She is tri-racial and not bi-racial like President Obama. Her father’s last names (like his siblings) was Fairfax Mills, a descendant of Lord Fairfax (of Fairfax County, Virginia) who had children with a local Native American woman. They also have many relatives in Virginia’s Pamunkey (Reservation), Rappahannock, Mattaponi (Reservation), Upper Mattaponi, Patawomeck and Tauxenent Tribes. The family had extensive land holdings in Fairfax County for centuries (Tyson’s Corner, CIA property, Madeira School, etc.). Artistic “genes” run deep in the family with one of her grandsons, who has been an arts lawyer for Lawyers for the Arts in New York City and CBS Radio.

  2. Mrs Jessup taught me and was my home room teacher at Eliot Jr High School. I look at her as one of those teachers that every child has as having a profound and positive influence on my life. She is one of the ones that has so much to do with who I am today. I will never forget how encouraging she was to me in terms of my creativity and pushing me to be the best person that I could be. She stands out in my mind as being one of those special and significant teachers. Thank you Mrs. Jessup!

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