Drawing, Painting and Beading from Life
September 2020 Issue
By Cynthia Robinson Photography by Mike Force Photography
Although self-taught watercolorist and beadwork artisan Jodi Gregory grew up “doodling,” and loving art, she never thought it would turn into a career.
“I’ve always had papers and pencils with me. On Sundays, my mom would give us paper to draw on during church, since we didn’t have children’s church then,” said Jodi, who was born in the old Gilman Hospital in St. Marys when her dad was stationed at the naval station in Jacksonville.
While still a small child, Jodi’s family moved from Jacksonville to Pensacola, then to San Diego, where her father was stationed at Miramar, the home of the “Top Gun” training academy and also the subject of the Tom Cruise movie of the same name. The family remained in the area through Jodi’s fifth grade year.
“My dad, being on an aircraft carrier in the Navy, was out to sea a lot. My parents divorced while out there, and that’s when we moved back to St. Marys. My grandparents had a small farm in the Mush Bluff area—cows, chickens, ponies, a huge garden, a small pond. I spent a lot of time there even as a young adult until they sold it,” said Jodi, who now lives in Old Town Brunswick with her husband, Tommy Gregory, a law enforcement officer. “It was our playground, along with the surrounding woods, marsh, Crooked River and Crooked River State Park. Here in Brunswick, now that I’m older with grown kids and grandchildren, I’m so thankful to be so close to them.”
Jodi’s creative mind got a jolt when she inspiration and direction from one of her high school art teachers in St. Marys. “Mr. Herman would set you in the right direction, then let you go.” She graduated in 1985 and headed for college. After a brief stint, she declared college was not for her. So in search of who and what she wanted to be, she bounced between jobs for sometime. Her most memorable one was working for local attorney, now turned best-selling author, Steve Berry. “I really liked working for him as a legal assistant, but I had not really found what I wanted to do.”
It wasn’t until after a failed marriage that life begin to get on track. She met “her best friend and love of her life,” Tommy, who saw her talents and encouraged her to move her artistry toward a full-time job. Interestingly enough, this is a journey that began with, of all things, learning to belly dance.
“I mentioned to Tommy I had always been fascinated by belly dancing. We were living in St. Marys with no groups there. One day Tommy came across an ad in the local paper for a new belly dancing group in Fernandina Beach, knowing I would be interested in it,” Jodi said, laughing.
She joined the group, which practiced Tribal Fusion Belly Dance, a modern western form of belly dance. “I tried it out and loved it. I stayed with the group for a number of years until we moved to Brunswick. We made all our own costumes, so that’s how I got into beading. The aesthetic of it really drew me in. We had 25-foot skirts and bras made of different elements, including coins, and we wore big headdresses. Much of the jewelry came from India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The form pulls from different dances, including the African coast and Spanish Flamenco with moves bigger and bolder than traditional belly dancing. It’s a nice mixture.”
It was while on a shopping trip for costume materials in Jacksonville, Jodi found a beadwork book and was hooked. “I would make my own (belly dance) belts and really enjoyed it.” The book also inspired her to start drawing and painting again. With the encouragement of Tommy and her mother, she finally began her creative career full-time in a small home studio.
“An exhibit of Jodi’s artworks is on display at Creative Frameworks on Gloucester St. in Brunswick. She also sells online through her website, www.jodigregoryart.com, where one can peruse her wide-range of works from watercolors of sand dollars, to acrylic pet portraits, renderings of a single manatee drifting in crystal clear water and elaborate hand-sewn beaded jewelry. “Most of my work sells through word of mouth. I also love to paint custom pet portraits. I get a lot of orders for those around the holidays.” Last year, she also did her first custom drawings of someone’s newborn grandchildren. “That was a lot of fun!”
When talking about her art, Jodi is drawn back to dance. Some of her best memories are from that time. “We had a great sisterhood, all so supportive of each other. We fed off one another’s creativity in music, choreography and costuming.”
Currently working on a large, intricate beaded wall piece, Jodi explained, “It’s a large wall hanging of an armadillo and a sugar skull. The idea came from my husband. We both love sugar skull artwork and, he collects armadillo figures, so I thought why not?” As for what she’ll create next, “It could be most anything!”
Children/Grandchildren: “Tommy and I have four children between us, but we consider all four of them ours and we are now up to eight grandchildren. I love that they all live nearby.”
Light and Dark: “I am drawn to contrast and playing to the light and the dark. One current artist I like is Morgan Weistling. I have a print of his “Kissing the Face of God.” It shows Mary kissing the cheek of baby Jesus. It is probably my most favorite painting.”
Fur Babies: Min Pins, Mimi Allen and Murphy Brown as well as a Chihuahua, Stinky Tink. “I can’t imagine not having a dog in my life.”
Born to be Wild: Jodi and Tommy loved riding motorcycles along back roads and the “Dragons Tail” in the Great Smoky Mountains with its 318 turns in 11 miles. It is a fantastic, hair-raising ride. We still love to go, but since with have three dogs now, we take the car.”