Teacher Spotlight: Joy Buell Creates Comunity. Anywhere and Everwhere.

April 1, 2015 by Laura

joy buell drawing class

Article by Jack Hile. 

I thought I had graduated and my time as a student was over – that is until I started talking to Joy Buell.  When I entered The Umbrella Community Arts Center to interview Joy for our latest spotlight feature, I had no idea I was in for a personal drawing lesson and enough material to ponder for a month.  Joy first prompted me with seemingly simple questions about my Poland Spring water bottle, starting with its combination of shapes - “spheres, cylinders, cones and cubes” she laid out.  This is how Joy teaches all her students in her beginning drawing and painting classes offered at Umbrella.  Being a complete beginner, these shapes were my first step in looking around the room from a new perspective - that of an artist.  A lifetime art teacher and mentor, Joy’s passion for educating, however, is only a surface detail compared to the multiple narratives we discussed.  From throngs of small monkeys to feeding hundreds working out of a kitchen, Joy is fascinating.

Our discussion began in the Umbrella theater.  Ironically enough the high ceilings mimicked a jungle canopy, similar to the ones Joy spoke to me about from her trips to Costa Rica.  Full of color, noise, and life the jungles seemed too much like a utopia for her class trips not to have an ulterior motive – I asked:

“So, what is the primary purpose of these trips?”  

“To draw and paint!” She stated matter of factly and with a wry smile.

And the beautiful depictions of rainforest in the most remote regions of South America quickly morphed into one about a cacophony of howler monkeys.  Joy described twenty four howler monkeys vying for her artists’ attention in the middle of the rainforest, epitomizing the true essence of their natural setting.

After a brief geography lesson, some stories of the cultural customs of the people and of course an introduction to the beautiful Ketzal bird, I was able to tell that Joy had many, many more stories to tell.

We made our way into the kitchen to peruse some of Joy’s archived scrapbooks, bursting with postcards, flyers and pictures.  Amidst the controlled chaos were Joy’s experiences with women’s groups, Native Americans, and her travels all about the globe.  An incredible humanitarian, Joy finds a way to weave a greater purpose into each one of her pieces, interlaced with personality from each of her adventures.  As widely travelled as she is, it makes sense that Joy possesses an endless passion for culture and livelihood.  She has travelled from France, to Egypt, to South America and has now ended up in Gloucester.  Despite her extensive explorations however, Joy embraces each new place as an opportunity to, “create community wherever (she) go(es).”  No matter the immense differences in region, culture or geography, community seems a universal language.   After getting to the root of Joy’s passion, I finally began to discover a common thread - unexpectedly, via an iPad.

“This (pointing to the iPad) helps to create a lonely kind of life,” Joy remarked, “as we become mechanized, we are not as connected to one another.”  Joy’s profound statement on the kind of civilization we had been and the kind we are becoming helped me to understand that her artwork was not simply for shows and sale, but rather served a greater purpose to enlighten audiences and create community.  

“Everyone you touch is your community”, she explained, and upon hearing these words I realized,  

“Your art must be all over the globe, do you ever think about how many people have been impacted by your art?”  Yet with the most humble intonation Joy replied:

“No, actually – but that’s a very nice thing to think about now.”


Joy has spent nearly three years at The Umbrella, following a move from deCordova in Lincoln, MA.  While she has created her own art and continues to paint and draw with her students, Joy said, “It feels extravagant to create art”.  Extravagancies imply self-centeredness - something Joy’s art will never reflect.  Joy’s passions lie in her teaching, what she can instill in others, which perhaps explains why she identifies as a teacher and always will, “(it’s) who I am” she concluded.

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