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Jacqueline Altman’s love of art, talent blossoms

Artist Profile

September 15, 2017
By STEVE LESTER , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - How do some people become artists?

With Jacqueline Altman, it began as a small child emulating her mother, who liked to doodle, she said. She lost no momentum when her father would order her to stop drawing because she was "making noise" while he was watching the Yankees on TV. During fifth grade it gained steam when her art teacher told her she had no ability because she was left handed. Then it became unstoppable beginning in seventh grade, when she had the first of two teachers who actually encouraged her all the way through graduation, and then some.

"One even gave me art supplies at the end of the school year," she said. "I still have some of them."

Article Photos

Photo provided — Steve Lester
Jacqueline Altman

Ms. Altman, a compulsive talker who laughs easily and often, mentioned some other influences who were a little more positive than her first art teacher in fifth grade.

"There was my very favorite Uncle Moishe, who purchased a paint-by-number set for me as a Hanukkah present when I was probably in about seventh grade. I never followed the color instructions but mixed my own colors and used the leftover paint to make my own pictures on sheet inserts of cardboard from shirts that had come back from the dry cleaners," she says.

"And my dad would drive me to the Jewish Community Center every week to take art classes taught by Irene Mitchell. I still have two of those first paintings on canvas board at home in Pennsylvania. One is of my dog, Frisky, and is dated 1957. My grandfather would also have me make signs for his tailor shop window. And ..."

OK, we get it.

Among her many favorite topics of conversation include two area artists who, like her "very favorite Uncle Moishe," were very influential and encouraging during numerous classes and workshops she had taken with them. One is Robert Plumb, a former art teacher from Massena whose three-day workshops cost only $15. Another is Robert Whitney, a retired art teacher from Lake Placid Central School District and "the official designer of the 1980 Olympic poster," she said.

"But first it was the naysayers," she said, "who made me want to do this."

After her first year as an art education major at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia, the head of the art education department went to all the new sophomores and asked, "Why do you want to be an art education major?"

"Because I want to prove to my elementary art teacher I can do it," she told him.

And so she has.

She taught art in Radnor, Pennsylvania, in suburban Philadelphia for 33 years, has an award-winning watercolor, "Babbling Brook," for sale at Studio 46 on Main Street in Lake Placid, has a number of other watercolors on display in Keene at the Barkeater Inn, and is one of 15 members of the exclusive Adirondack Artists Guild who only get to join after receiving an invitation.

A native of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, she first came in contact with the North Country in 1964, when she was 22 and looking for her first teaching job, she said.

Dr. Robert L. Workman, then the Saranac Lake Central School District superintendent, was looking to fill an art teacher vacancy, she said, when his wife, also a native of Wilkes-Barre, suggested he try calling Wilkes College there.

Even though Ms. Altman had never attended Wilkes College, the official in career placement who took the call happened to be a friend of her father's and was aware that she was looking for a job, she said, adding that he had no issues with conflicts of interest because by this time all of the Wilkes College graduates had been placed.

Dr. Workman soon invited Ms. Altman to an interview at a hotel lounge where he was staying during an overnight visit to Wilkes-Barre, she said.

"When my parents found out he wanted to interview me in a bar, they said, 'There's no way you're meeting him alone!' And they both came along and sat through the whole interview," she said.

By this time her father had stopped ordering her to quit drawing while watching the Yankees, having become among her most ardent supporters, she said. He nevertheless woke up crying the day after learning she'd gotten the job because, "I'm sending you to Siberia."

She said there wasn't much civilization to look at during her first trip to the area.

"Between Wilkes-Barre and here, we didn't even see a town. Nothing! We were in the middle of nowhere," she said.

But that feeling of desolation soon converted to one of fondness, and she has never let go of this area, even though she only taught in Saranac Lake for two years before pursuing graduate studies and winding up in Radnor.

"I've returned here every summer," she said. "I either rented a place or stayed with a friend."

Now she owns a condo on Harbor Lane in Lake Placid, where she says she lives for four months of the year. For three days beginning Sept. 29, her residence will be open for public view between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. as part of an area studio tour.

When asked what brings her back every year, she pointed to the view of Lake Placid through her sliding glass doors and said, "This!" with an ironic laugh because her normally resplendent view of the lake was obscured by a backhoe and a huge mound of dirt it had piled up recently.

She also enjoys the camaraderie of the Artists Guild.

"It's a wonderful, wonderful group of people. The most supportive group I know now," she said.

And then there are various other "good friends who put up with me," she added.

Her paintings are usually watercolors of Adirondack scenes. According to the Adirondack Artists Guild website, she "uses watercolor to capture the essence of the landscape and to hold on to its memory and her emotional responses to it."

Her works are on display year round at the guild's gallery on 52 Main St. in Saranac Lake, next door to Ampersound music store.



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