Even if you don’t know her name, you’ve probably seen artist Fay Jones’ work.
She created one of the giant murals on the walls of Seattle’s underground Westlake Transit Station. It's a 10-foot-high, 35-foot-long fantasia of men, women and fish.
Most of Jones’ paintings are not quite this monumental. In fact, for many years her work was small enough to store in a cardboard carton from the grocery store when her four kids got home from school.
Like so many women who came of age in the 1950s, Jones’ career came second to her job as homemaker.
Jones grew up in Western Massachusetts, the oldest of six kids. Her father was an academic; her mother a hotel-keeper. Jones says they were not your typical parents.
"My mother didn't wear underwear, she had a cigarette hanging out of her mouth," Jones says. "I was dying for a mother who wore a lift bra and didn't smoke in the grocery store, and had hands with Palmolive."
Jones’ parents didn’t encourage her to be an artist, but they didn’t discourage her, either. After high school Jones went off to study at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design. That’s where she met her husband, the painter Bob Jones. By her early 20s, Jones had two young children.
She’d put her art to the side, but one of her professors urged her to keep painting. He told her that someday, she’d come back to her art.
“I remember being really surprised that someone took me seriously,” she says.
In the early 1960s, the Jones family moved from Rhode Island to Seattle, so Bob Jones could take a professorship at the University of Washington. Jones stayed home with the family.
But the urge to paint never left her. When the kids were napping or at school, she would pull out her art supplies.
“There was a big table with a glass top; it was supposed to be the dining room table. But that didn’t seem practical with young children,” she says. “So, we moved it to the bedroom. And there were times of the day, when the older children were in school, that I could sit at this table.”
Jones was making art. But that came second to raising children.
Then one day at the beach, she watched her kids scrambling over the slippery rocks. And she had an epiphany. Jones realized that at some point, those kids would be older and scrambling further away from their mother. She needed to establish an identity beyond "mom."
And that's when she launched her art career in earnest.
Ultimately, she widened her sights beyond the small canvases she could store in cardboard boxes. Jones transformed the family living room into her painting studio.
Jones now paints what look like dreamy scenes of people and animals. Many of those works are autobiographical, but you don’t need to know anything about Fay Jones to admire her art.
These days, savvy collectors and museums around the country snap up her work. She’s even created images for the trading card game “Magic: The Gathering.”
Fay and Bob Jones’ children are grown now; the couple lives in West Seattle where they each have their own studio. Jones says she hates to think of the day she’ll have to give away her paintbrushes and paint.