Student brings artist's legacy to light

Mar 30, 2017

Most people who knew Jean Parsons, will tell you— she was tough and expected a lot from her students.

Jean never married, and didn’t have any children. So, she spent her days pouring into her art and investing in her students. 

Now, one of her students has created remembrance of her in the Benzie County village of Lake Ann.

Robin Crocker was a student at Interlochen Arts Academy who met Jean was in the late 1970’s.

Jean was leaning up against a wall with her arms crossed against her chest, wearing 1950’s cat-eye glasses.

“You just looked at her and thought, 'she is going to be demanding,'” remembers Robin. “I thought, ‘that’s who I need to study with because I’m going to learn something from that woman.’”

When Jean Parsons died in 2000, she left behind her home and 86 acres of wooded property in Lake Ann. It’s now owned by Eastern Michigan University, and is used as an artist’s residency.

Robin Crocker learned from a blog that a bunch of Jean’s personal belongings were also still inside one of the closets in Jean’s house. So she applied for the winter residency to create an exhibition remembering Jean Parsons.

Robin wanted to highlight the life of Jean Parsons as an individual, an artist and an educator. Since much of Jean’s finished work was sold after her death, the exhibitions are mainly photographs.

A new exhibit highlights the career of artist and educator Jean Parsons, in Lake Ann.
Credit Robin C

Another reason Robin was inspired to remember Jean is because she thinks the visual arts, like ceramics and sculpture, often don’t get the recognition that other art forms get.

“I often was kind of offended when musician friends of mine would say, ‘Oh, I wish I had time to take a pottery class,’” says Robin. “It was so offensive because I thought, ‘Oh, I wish I had time to go sit down and just play the violin for a couple hours. But the rigor of my study is just as complex and demanding as yours.’”

While searching through Jean’s belongings, Robin came across a handwritten note. It says, “Compromise reduces the boldness of an idea.”

Robin feels like we’re living in a time when ideas and intellect are being dismissed.  But she says those are the most important things we have.

“Our ability to recognize the qualities in life and to celebrate them and express them and enjoy them,” she says. “If we don’t have that, we are not much.”

An opening reception for Robin Crocker’s exhibit of Jean Parson’s life and work will be held this Saturday in Lake Ann, from 2pm - 4pm. More information about the Jean Noble Parsons Center for the Study of Art & Science can be found here.