Watercolor and Pastel Artists at CHAW
Our great friend and teacher, Gina Clapp, died on March 12. She was, quite simply, wonderful, and her loss is deeply felt by all of us.
When I first suggested writing our memories of her for the blog, I thought of it as a way we could share a tribute to her. But as people sent their memories to me, each one so personal, so thought through, I realized everyone was not just writing a memory or a tribute to Gina. We are grieving, and these memories are a way for us to do that.
Gina was an extremely talented artist who shared that talent with others very generously through her teaching. She believed in “community” and created a special one around art and friendship.
When I first came to her class at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, I had lived in the neighborhood for almost 20 years yet knew few people, since work was my life. Through Gina, I was given the gift of art–which I called my “sanity oasis” each week in class. It grew into a sustaining presence, especially during my retirement and the recent pandemic. Gina took art seriously and knew its value. She encouraged me. Always with praise when earned and the “try doing it again” when equally earned. And boy, did she preach proper art framing. After all, if we put so much work into creating a piece, surely we would want to frame it properly.
Her greatest gift, though, was her friendship. A treasure. Gina was a force of nature. She gathered people and encouraged them to connect with one another. That is why the Wednesday Studio lives on.
I’ve never had a better teacher. Ever.
At the time I began taking Gina’s class, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. In the hours spent in doctors’ waiting rooms, and between treatments, I nattered about Gina and the class. I showed Mom my squares, and graduated washes, my first leaves, and the apples Gina assigned us. I told her I was angling to be the teacher’s pet
Both during class and between, Gina kept track of my mom and offered friendship and concern. When Mom was well enough, I brought her to an opening to meet Gina. During the evening, Mom told Gina about my scheme to be teacher’s pet–heads together, they laughed and laughed.
My mom died, and Gina helped me find my way through the grief with painting. She encouraged me to exhibit, made me join the Capitol Hill Art League, and supported me as I launched an art career.
Last summer, Gina closed one of her emails to me with: “You always were the teacher’s pet, but I didn’t want to tell you or you might get spoiled and develop a bad character.”
Gina was an especially caring and giving person. If you needed help, she rounded up the troops and marched them to your side. She could always be counted on.
Gina—a Renaissance woman in so many ways: artist, chef, great wit, inspiring teacher, a lamp unto my feet.
I celebrate and honor her life.
Gina Clapp is one of the most generous, caring, talented, creative, witty people I have known. She always gathered people around her and cared for and nurtured them like a mother hen. She is family to me, and she changed my life!
First, she taught me to be passionate about watercolor painting, and I have been painting under her tutelage since the early 1990s. Second, she introduced me to Deer Lake, Pennsylvania. When she found out I had a new boyfriend in 1998, she urged me to take my “young man” to her place at Deer Lake for a weekend getaway. We fell in love with the Laurel Highlands and, once we were married, we bought a house at Deer Lake. We spend many holidays there with the Clapp family and friends–July 4 and Thanksgiving in particular–and have been together for Art Camp for decades now. She is truly a treasure. So many DC area artists will miss her artistic advice, sardonic humor, and the twinkle in her eye when she tells stories.
When Gina was demonstrating watercolor techniques, she would wet the brush and then flick it all over the room, sometimes connecting with her unsuspecting students. It’s a gesture I’ll always associate with her.
Bob and Kay Fuller:
Bob and I remember time spent with Gina at her home at Deer Lake. We would paint by day and party at night. We dined together in local restaurants or had potluck dinners at her house. It was a wonderful way to immerse ourselves in the ambience of the artists.
For a year and a half, starting in 2007, I called each semester to enroll in Gina’s Wednesday morning class , but I was told the class was full. I talked to Gina’s neighbor Roberta, who said she would tell Gina about me.
A few days later Roberta told me to bring something that I had painted and to meet Gina during the class. I showed Gina my Chinese paintings that I had painted 30 years ago. She asked me why I wanted to paint in watercolor. I told her I liked the vibrant colors in contrast to the dull colors typical of Chinese paintings. Gina invited me to join the evening beginners’ class, but I told her I have to work in the evenings. I asked if I could come to the Wednesday morning class, not knowing it was an advanced class.
Gina introduced me to the rest of the students and told them about my past experience with Chinese painting and my eagerness to learn new techniques. That was in the fall of 2008.
I am so grateful to have known Gina. She taught me how to express my emotions with watercolor, as well as how to paint.
I wish I had known Gina personally, but I feel that I knew her a bit through my classmates many stories over the years. Hers was truly a life well lived and one that lives on through all of her students and all that she accomplished.
Lynne Mallonee Schlimm:
Here is a quote from Gina’s handout for the “Beginning Watercolor” class: “This class is about learning. It’s about seeing. It’s about looking with new eyes. It’s about stopping in front of a blossoming flower and having the sight of its beauty take your breath away. And, it’s about painting and drawing.”
This was from Gina in another class, in 2000-2001: “Most people think the ability to paint and draw is a gift reserved for a few. Not true. Any adult can learn to express himself or herself articulately in paintings. The question is, would you rather do than be done for? I would rather dance the tango, however badly, than watch it live, no matter how well the pros dance. Interest is a real gift, so try!”
I first met Gina in the fall of 2003. I had been taking a botanical drawing class at the Corcoran but had to drop out due to a serious injury. By the fall, I was desperate to have an outlet for my need to express myself, and by my great fortune, I wound up taking a drawing class from Gina.
This was a game change for me, though I didn’t realize it at the time. First, Gina taught me, and many others, to observe in detail the concepts of line, shade, angle, etc., and to understand how to convey these through pencil, charcoal, pastels, and ink. She taught us how to really use our eyes to observe, and to use our talents and art materials to express what we had seen through various media. She was absolutely superb at persuading us to see things differently, and to convey what we saw.
The second gift Gina gave all of us was a sense of our community as a group of artists , friends, and neighbors. We learned to learn from each other, to support each other, and most of all, to enjoy each other, and what each of us brought to the group.
Even now, so many years later, I treasure the lessons she taught us about making a work of art, but most of all I treasure the friendship and support we have given to each other through the years. She made us a group of friends and supporters, and all of us owe Gina a debt of gratitude for what she gave us.
Judith Davis (two poems):
Save us a Seat: An Ode to Gina Pierce Clapp
At the end of January, I wrote a poem about our watercolor classmate, Linda, who left us too soon. The last line of the poem was: “Enjoy God’s painting studio and fabulous palette, Linda. Save us a seat!”
God’s watercolor palette gained a brilliant, new color today, a fabulous green, and my palette became dulled with loss and grief.
I thought a long time would pass before any of our watercolor class would need that seat, but our dear mentor claimed it today.
If you live long enough, you lose those you love too soon.
Now almost half of our Capitol Hill watercolor class has left us.
Gina could paint green like nobody else. Her greens jumped off the watercolor paper; mine became like mud.
Her last painting a couple of months ago was “The Last Green Painting 2020.” How fabulous it is and how green!
How well I remember all the times we painted en plein air focusing on greens.
I remember my first painting retreat with Gina and our class at Deer Lake in the Laurel Highlands. We went to a lovely waterfall and sat on the rocks and painted. Gina’s painting was awesome; ours, not so much.
Our painting retreats were such incredible adventures–at the National Botanical Garden, the National Gallery of Art, the West side of the US Capitol, Deer Lake in the Laurel Highlands, and best of all, Denmark.
The dozen of us had a fabulous week painting in Denmark at Annegreta’s farmhouse. Gina was the best art critic at our daily happy hour critiques.
That trip will always be close to my heart and soul; our painting, our bonding, our adventure, our being family. Susie, Linda, and Gina were there and now they are numbered among those we love but see no longer.
For Gina, on seeing a photo of her final painting
The threads of her painting were brilliant colors from her watercolor palette.
She stitched Sap Green, Emerald Green, and Viridian Green into a forest that seemed as tall and yet as deep as a glacier.
I could walk into that forest in the huge three-foot by five-foot painting as its trees, like sentinels, would guide me through.
She named the painting “The last green painting 2020.”
Gina painted greens like nobody else. Mine were dull and lifeless.
Hers jumped off the paper! Her trees were like beacons inspiring us with hope after she drew her final breath,
Inspiring us to paint on with her as our muse, as we live into spring–loving each new green leaf and seeing each one as if for the first time.
I was Gina’s student for only two years before she moved away, but from my first semester in her beginner’s class, I loved her sassiness. Because that was my first art class of any kind, I didn’t realize how superb her teaching was, but I now do. I realize how much she helped me and taught me, even in that short time.
A few weeks after she died, when we in the Wednesday Studio could talk about her without breaking down, these are some of the fun memories we had:
Below are a few of Gina’s paintings, with apologies for the reflections in the glass.
We miss you, Gina.