Twenty-eight years after her death, Jacqueline Kennedy’s style, grace, intelligence, strength, and beauty continue to hold sway over American culture. It can most recently be seen in the country’s oldest continuous artist colony, Provincetown, where Jo Hay made Kennedy the subject of her latest painting in her Persisters series.
Since Hay started the series six years ago, Persisters has served as a significant body of work, magnifying female changemakers in society. At a tumultuous moment in our country’s history, Hay has been using her voice as an artist to paint portraits of women that provide hope, comfort, and understanding of the world we’re living in and the complex events that are unfolding around us.
“I think it is our job as artists to shine the lights into things that aren’t so easy to discuss or look at,” said Hay. “Whether it’s through painting or poetry or music, whatever we do kind of gets into those difficult corners.”
Hay’s creative trajectory began after the 2016 presidential election and has coincided with the modern feminist movement which she has amplified in the women she’s painted – Rachel Maddow, Kamala Harris, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Elizabeth Warren.
Hay has painted a total of 18 such women in her distinct style – starting with Hillary Clinton – as part of Persisters. With the completion of her latest, Jacqueline Kennedy, Hay has no plans on stopping now as she considers the series her life’s work.
“They were paintings I made to save myself initially,” she said. “And then they seemed to begin to help other people, which was another wonderful part of making these paintings.”
Her art has not only been healing, it has also allowed her to make a tangible difference in our world. In March, she auctioned off an original painting and sold over two dozen prints of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, raising more than $5,000 for the Save the Children’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund.
Earlier this year, Hay was selected as the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod’s (AFCC) inaugural Artist of the Year. The award recognizes a Cape-based artist whose work shapes thought, inspires change, and creates a deeper sense of connection in the community.
As the 2022 Artist of the Year, Hay completed the Jacqueline Kennedy portrait which was unveiled at the end of April at the Chatham Orpheum Theater. The painting will be auctioned off in-person and virtually at the AFCC’s Prelude to Summer Gala at the Hyannisport Club on Thursday, June 9, with a portion of the proceeds going to the nonprofit’s mission to support, promote, and celebrate arts and culture on Cape Cod.
To register for the auction, which is open to the public, click this link.
During the unveiling, she was presented with a citation from the Massachusetts State Senate by State Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro) which recognized Hay “for her vital work, her achievement, and her contributions to the arts in Massachusetts and here on Cape Cod. … Jo’s work recognizes people in this world who are making a difference for the greater good and serves as a beacon of hope during these challenging and divisive times.”
Vintner Joseph Carr, founder of Josh Cellars which sponsored last month’s event at the Chatham Orpheum, spoke of the impact that strong women – his grandmother, mother, sister, wife, and nieces – have had in his life. “This theme of strong women [is important],” he said.
Hay moved to Provincetown in 2005. Originally from Newcastle, England, she received her Bachelor of Arts from Middlesex University in London in 1983. She received her MFA from the New York Academy of Art in 2010.
She was the recipient of the Lillian Orlowsky and William Freed Foundation Grant in 2010, as well as the New York Academy of Art Portrait Scholarship in 2011. Her portrait from the Benders series, Dodger, was a semifinalist in the BP Portrait Award 2015 at the National Gallery in London. Her Persisters portraits of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vice President Kamala Harris were exhibited in the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM) in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
Her work has been exhibited throughout the country, including the Provincetown Commons; Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art in Wausau, Wisconsin; Miller Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina; the Lionheart Gallery in Pound Ridge, New York; and Carolyn Kramer Gallery in