With pen, pencil or paintbrush, Noel Burgbacher Jordan was prolific as an artist.
Art, as they say, runs in the family.
Her mother, Elsa Burgbacher was a fine artist. Her grandmother designed costumes for Hollywood in the 1920s.
Her daughter, Jeni O’Callaghan, is also an artist, more impressionistic than her mother, sometimes even abstract.
“Art has always been part of me, much like my mother,” O’Callaghan said. “The best advice she ever gave me was ‘make your lines stronger.’ Seemingly a small piece of advice, but often when I look at one of my works, that is just what it needs.”
Nature and water
O’Callaghan said that nature and water interested her as both her parents were always in nature, oftentimes near or on water.
Noel Burgbacher Jordan’s art, O’Callaghan said, reflects how she loved nature.
“I remember her art as just being part of her, part of our family,” O’Callaghan said of her mother, who passed away in 2015 at age 83. “My mom had an art room, like other moms had sewing rooms. During times of stress, the art swept her away from it all. Especially as dementia set in, she still had her art. She could still escape into a world she was intimate with and that protected her.”
From 3-6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 17 at the Clear Creek Church, about 70 of Jordan’s watercolor paintings will be on display at an open house.
Clear Creek Church is at 2910 S. Old Church Road, Camp Verde.
Beginning Oct. 10, Jordan’s work will also be on display through a virtual art show at noelburgbacherjordan.com.
“(Mom) told me she wanted her art to be accessible,” O’Callaghan said. “She priced her art accordingly. As you, my brother, and I celebrate her artwork, we also celebrate the southwest desert where she was inspired.”
All proceeds from this show will support Friends of the Verde River.
An active life
Although self-taught as an artist, Jordan attended Arizona State University – then known as Arizona State College – where she earned a degree in art. Tourists and snowbirds looking to escape the cold would visit Old Town Scottsdale galleries.
“There they would find displays of Noel’s art, perhaps a depiction of a wildcat on a piece of driftwood or a quail on a cactus caught their eye,” according to Jordan’s bio. “A heartfelt and personalized portrayal of Arizona wildlife would then be purchased and find a place of honor in homes throughout the USA and world.”
Pieces of commissioned works became permanent fixtures on display at Turf Paradise. The Phoenix Zoo displayed and valued Jordan’s art, and she became a resident artist. One of her works, Peace Talks, hung in the White House during the Nixon administration.
Jordan’s works were oftentimes used in brochures and magazines. She was in many art shows in both the Phoenix area and Camp Verde, winning awards for her work.
“The massive amount of art created by Noel boggles the mind when one realizes what an active life this woman led,” said Donna Wootan Verslius, a lifelong family friend who now lives in Missouri. “Somehow between volunteer work, water skiing, snow skiing, raising a family, travel, and participating actively in local and national clubs and organizations, she made art. Lots of it.”
O’Callaghan said that going through her mother’s art brought home so many memories of her childhood that it was oftentimes overwhelming.
“I enlisted a team of artist friends to grade each piece on its merits, then combined the scores, getting a total score that would give me some better objective feedback about the art,” she said. “The higher scores were selected.”
O’Callaghan said a few of the exhibit pieces were her mother’s favorites.
“The opsrey was definitely one of her favorites,” she said. “Quail, can we talk about quail? As a child I remembered she painted so many quail. In Scottsdale, they sold like hotcakes. And you must admit with that little topknot thing, they are cute. Definitely birds were a favorite. As she aged and her brain was not as fast as it used to be, the art was still there. As part of her being that allowed her to escape into beauty.”
‘The artist we all wanted to be’
According to Donna Wootan Verslius, Jordan’s canvas would sometimes be planks of barn siding, or even rustic pieces from fallen trees.
“A smile crossed my face just now remembering how she painted on a lunchbox once too which she used as a purse,” Verslius said. “How sad for me that I’d never taken the time to have her instruct me in art. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t learn from her. I would hold in my hands a piece of art she had given my parents, marveling at how this dab of paint or that line of ink amounted to the paw of a chipmunk or squirrel. I also observed in Noel’s technique a determination that nature should be believable. It was from Noel that I learned vividly how an artist achieves realism ... this takes creativity when wildlife is the topic.”
Cathy Conner Jordan recently recalled Jordan’s India ink etchings.
“Her ability to capture the spirit of her subjects in this unique and challenging medium was something that set her apart from other artists,” said Conner Jordan, O’Callaghan’s sister-in-law. “Noel was one of the rare artists who could go out in a field and draw a moving animal with accuracy and precision. She was truly gifted and had an acute ability to breathe life into her subjects regardless of the challenges of difficult mediums or live painting in the field. She was the artist we all wanted to be.”
-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @AZShutterbug42