“Art is the one thing I get so excited about that I forget to eat,” she laughed. “I’ve never enjoyed anything that much, and believe me — I love to eat and cook.”
Sitting down with Buckner, one immediately notices how shy she comes across. For an artist who puts her soul onto the canvas for the world to see, and perhaps critique, she avoids eye contact, keeps her bangs held low over her eyes, with conversation darting around until a comfortable subject of common ground is found.
“I have a very short attention span,” she confessed modestly. “I’m all over the place. I’m already thinking something else as I’m talking to you and looking around the room.”
And yet, the statement itself pinpoints Buckner, in style and in persona. As a painter, she constantly changes up her technique, almost as if to cover up her tracks before others can find her and pigeonhole who she “really is” as an artist. It is that unrelenting work ethic and internal drive of “catch me if you can” over a course of years which has resulted in Buckner becoming one of the most sought after painters in the Southeast.
“A painting creates an emotion just like a story does,” the 49-year-old said. “As long as you’re emotionally involved somehow, you’re going to keep on reading, you’re going to keep looking, keep being drawn into the story, into the painting.”
The road to Haywood
Growing up in Brevard, Buckner didn’t have art classes in her high school. She had a keen interest in art, and even thought of herself as quite creative. But, between the lack of school funds for programs and a haphazard mindset when attempting projects, Buckner simply put any aspirations aside, for now.
“I was always interested in learning how to do all kinds of things,” she said. “And I was somehow good at a lot of things, but never great at one particular thing.”
Buckner studied horticulture at North Carolina State University and had initially wanted to become a veterinarian. She even pursued a graduate degree in the major. But, that all changed when she fell in love with a friend from high school (who also went to N.C. State) who soon became her husband.
“I love plants and animals, but I decided that it wasn’t a career I wanted to do,” she said. “My husband went on to medical school at Chapel Hill, so I started working odd jobs there to get him through college, then we had two children, and I stayed home, becoming a housewife.”
And for a while, that life suited Buckner. She had a great family and a happy existence. But, everything changed when her husband was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. The traumatic revelation rocked her family, ultimately placing Buckner at an emotional crossroads. It was at that juncture when everything changed.
“I was really depressed and I had this dream one night that God wanted me to paint,” she said. “So, the next day I got some paints and started painting, and within a month I had placed third in a national contest — it really was a miracle.”
As if struck by a lightning bolt from above, the epiphany opened up a whole new world to Buckner. She had discovered an emotional, spiritual and professional outlet connecting to the world around her — she had found her calling.
“After the ‘miracle,” I’d cry after finishing my first few paintings. It was so special to me,” she said. “Even now, I’ll say a prayer before I start each painting, just so that God will be with me when I’m painting.”
Awakening the canvas
Bucker was 33 when she began putting paint to a blank canvas. She remembers how scared she initially was to approach the Twigs & Leaves Gallery in downtown Waynesville to see if they’d be interested in selling her work. She’d never tried to put her creations out into the world, but as they say, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
“It’s all about getting in that first gallery,” she said. “And now, I’m in galleries around Western North Carolina, Atlanta and Palm Beach — I feel very blessed to be able to do so.”
Atop either winning or placing high at regional and national competitions, Buckner on a whim recently entered a floral painting contest put on by International Artist Magazine, a prestigious worldwide publication. To her surprise, Buckner’s painting “Timeless Pink III” was chosen as a finalist to be featured in their February issue.
“There were finalists from Ontario, California, Iceland, France, New York and British Columbia, and then you turn the page and there’s little Jenny Buckner from Waynesville,” she chuckled.
Now headlong into her career, Buckner aims to give back to the youth of her community. Beyond the encouragement of an already robust and supportive artisan collective in Haywood County and beyond, she looks forward every year to the WNC Quick Draw. A popular event where folks from all artistic mediums come together to create a work within an hour, the evening serves as a fundraiser for art education in public schools and scholarships for graduating students pursuing art-related college majors.
“I would have loved to have had art when I was in school,” she said. “And this is a great cause to get those funds and materials into the hands of the students.”
Even though Buckner never had any formal training in terms of learning how to paint, her story is a testament to the will of those who push ahead with their dreams, no matter the situation they’re in, no matter the judgment by others, no matter if at first you have no idea what to do, and how to go about doing it.
“You don’t have to go through the motions to get to a certain point. It’s a freedom to know that everyone has that chance, that you don’t have to go to art school to become an artist,” she said. “With anything in life, the hardest part is simply getting out the door.”