Life in the diversely talented family of Georgia Jessup-Luck has been alternately enjoyable, irritating, enriching, baffling, and, always, challenging. Being a Jessup has meant competing with an artist mother, a medical illustrator daughter, a painter daughter, a sculptor son-in-law, and two hard-driving musician sons.
"The family does make a statement, maybe just because we are prolific in so many ways, but maybe a statement in reverse, because we are hidden. That's one treatment of minority artists," says Jessup-Luck, 52, as she prepared for the family's first group show. The matriach sat in an easy chair, her tall, full body almost lost in its cushions. The story of her family's ups and downs has not marred the serene beauty of her broad features.
"Family Re-Union," an exhibition of drawings, paintings, and sculpture opening today at the Market 5 Gallery and continuing through July 27, affords a capsule yet stimulating look at this family:
Jessup-Luck, a native Washingtonian arts teacher, ceramist and painter of abstract urban commentaries:
Her daughters, Marsha Jessup, 34 a medical illustrator, and Rose Jessup Auld, 32, an arts teacher and creator of black heritage canvases and silk screens:
Son-in-law, Mike Auld, 34, a college arts professor and sculptor of contemporary and mythological themes.
In addition, Jessup-Luck's sons, Juaquin, 24 and Miklos, 22, will play at an opening party tonight at the Gallery.
Sitting in the parlor of the Auld's home, filled with the art of the family and its culture several Jessups discussed their family's separate lives but common outlook.
"My vision of my mother was as an artist first, later as a mother," says Rose Jessup Auld. "I was a romantic, so I thrived on her different approach. How the colors of food were important. She let us do the ordinary things but we went beyond that to a quality I guess we could call freedom."
"I always felt the family was special," says Juaquin Jessup, a tall, handsome, freckled man, who for two years played with Mandrill. "Other people's houses were all the same. At home our mother painted, sometimes had us sitting for hours. At one point I guess I was about 9 years old, she had me doing block prints. And I would hurry and then go play baseball.
"Yet at some point I became callous, the creativity around me because routine. But no one stopped me from using music as my expression."
What the family has is a mutual admiration society, an element that discourages any infighting and jealousy.
"And I guess because of our different styles and areas, we don't compete," says Mike Auld, a Jamaican who married into the family in 1966. For five years Auld taught at Sidwell Friends. He now teaches design at Howard University.
"What I still can't get over is that there are no weak people. Everyone is sure of themselves, know who they are and where they have been. "It's an absolute warmth that keeps them from competing."
The cantor and intrepidity of their personalities is duplicated in their work.
Jessup-Luck, the acting supervising director of art for the D.C. public schools, has both a coy demeanor and a dragon's straightforwardness and has the wit and self-confidence to show both freely.In her canvases, she expresses her maternal fear at her sons' bad experiences with managers and her frustration at the displacement of the poor, who peek from the sewers at the capital's monuments.
Marsha Jessup's medical drawings, because of their purpose, are void of any sociological statement but her entry into the field marked a break-through for black artists.
In their art, the Aulds freely express their pan-African political views, as well as respect for their heritage. Rose Auld, an arts teacher at Eastern High School, has done a bright and complicated series, based on the Jamaican religion and lifestyle, Rastafarian. Besides his sculptures of steel and etched plastic, Auld has also painted on a unique Caribbean canvas, goat skin.
Despite this collective talent, the family artists have rarely broken into the gallery mainstream. The world of art arbiters is still plagued by clanishness and trends, and art teachers always carry a stigma. These factors circumscribe the recognition of the black artist even more.
"There are many prolific black artists in the city who are not getting exposure," says Jessup-Luck, who has learned to live with the pain of inattention. She adds quickly, "I had shows at two Georgetown galleries in the 1960s, then have been represented in juried shows, but for the mainstream galleries it's been mainly tokenism in a few group shows."
Her earliest influences were her mother, who wanted a theatrical career but took the practical route of hairdressing; Herman Walker, a WPA artist who worked at the 12th Street Y in her childhood neighborhood, and teachers at Dunbar High School and Howard University.
Because she fought hard for her education, attending Howard from 1943 to 1959 as she raised her family, Jessup-Luck fights hard for arts education in the schools.
"The validity of having arts early in the schools in proven," she says, "and the connections between art and reading skills have been supported by all kinds of scientists. So I will continue that fight."
A sense of struggle also occupies her children.
Rose Auld is worried about the commercialization of her themes. "I am not a church-goer but I do believe in African deities and those symbols appear in my work," she says. "And I have decided I can't cheapen the art by selling it publicly."
Juaquin Jessup is wrestling with a similar question of commercialization."Subconsciously I want to do music that will catch on. But I am making myself stop and think, Do I really want to tell black men to shake their butts?" says the musician.
After coming to his own career crossroads, Miklos Jessup has decided that making money shapes his goals. "I realized I wanted to be a serious musician the first time I played for money and saw the response. It was at the Moonlight Inn in Southern Maryland," says Jessup, who since he was 14 has played bass guitar behind Rufus, Millie Jackson and Martha Reeves, among others.
"Now in the last three years I have decided to develop my voice and go back to the University of the District of Columbia to get my music theory down. To me money is important. I have been affected by the family's politics, but it hasn't involved me that much. And they keep encouraging me to do what I am doing."
The amount of encouragement her family credits her with has cost Jessup-Luck several opportunities. "Many, many times I was offered scholarships, the opportunity to travel to Paris but turned them down because the family came first," she says.
But she didn't heap any regrets on her children. Rose Auld explains: "As children, we never heard her complain. The if I could have been, if I weren't tied to you." But when we were older she did explain how tough it was, but again, not complaining, but as a lesson. And she let you know that in a family that's creative, you couldn't be a slouch.
"And that has worked." CAPTION: Picture 1, Georgia Jessup-Luck with one of her ceramic bowls and a self-portriat; by Linda Wheeler - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Sculptor Michael Auld and artist Rose Jessup Auld, husband and wife, with some of their work in the family show at Market 5 Gallery; by Linda Wheeler The Washington Post.