Artists Inspiring Artists: Meet Jean Sobon

Artistic Evolution

When Jean Sobon talks about her childhood in Clintonville, Wisconsin, the excitement in her voice paints
a vivid picture of those early years. “Childhood was an adventure!” she exclaims. “We would ride ponies
through open fields, and my dad built a sandbox around an apple tree where we would dig and play. Oh,
and we’d climb trees and look down at the world below. There was so much freedom.” However, she
goes on to explain that there were times when she felt as though she didn’t quite fit in. “In a very
religious family that followed the rules, I was the rule breaker. I was the oldest of four kids, and I was a
tomboy and really curious. I asked a lot of questions – many people said I asked too many questions. Art
gave me the opportunity to think about those things deeply.”

By the time she was a teenager, Jean says that she was shy and used art as a way to escape social
pressures. Eventually she became an art teacher. Having felt like an outsider at times made Jean very
sensitive to the needs of her students. She says, “Art can help children find their voices, and art classes
can help kids address learning needs that aren’t being met in typical classrooms.” Using creativity to
maximize the potential of every child became Jean’s objective, and while working on her master’s
degree, she focused on child-centered art education. This approach allowed her students to use their
inventiveness and imaginations to guide their own creations.

When Jean retired from teaching in 2003, she had more time to commit to her work. Her art gives her
the freedom to be herself, challenge the status quo, and contemplate difficult topics, just as it did in her
youth. “At 80 years old, you start to feel the pressure of time. Life pulls me in a lot of directions, but for
as long as I can remember, I’ve felt the call to create.”

Preferred Medium

Jean works primarily in collage. She fastens clippings of text, drawings and paintings to canvas, cradled
board, or paper using acrylic medium. “I use a slow and tedious process as a form of exploration. I let
the work talk to me, rather than having everything planned in advance.” As she’s creating, Jean plays
with space, symmetry, shapes, and color. “My work often explores patterns in nature – that’s something
that really excites me.”

Artistic Influences

“I’m drawn to artists who take an idea, free associate with it, and then use concepts and media to create
something thoughtful and expressive. Some of my favorites are the Dadaists, particularly Marcel
Duchamp. He challenged me to think conceptually and explore new materials.” Jean has also been
inspired by Jungian Dream Analysis, German Expressionism, Symbolism, and Surrealism.

Current Challenge

“Right now, making time to do things that are creative is my biggest challenge. I’m my husband’s
caregiver as he goes through cancer treatments, and as anyone who’s been through this will know, it’s
very demanding. Even finding the time to get upstairs to my studio is very hard. When I do get there, I
completely lose track of time.”

Current Celebration

Jean currently exhibits her work with Milwaukee Area Teachers of Art, Wisconsin Visual Artists, and
Members of Walker’s Point Center for the Arts. She recently took part in the WVA online exhibition,
Abstraction. Right now, you may see her artwork in two group shows: the MATA Membership Exhibition
which runs April 11-May 20 and is on display at the Milwaukee Public Library Central (814 W. Wisconsin
Avenue); and at the San Camillus Gallery (10100 W. Bluemound Avenue) which runs through July.
WVA’s new monthly blog feature, Artists Inspiring Artists, is intended to connect our visual arts
community by sharing members’ personal stories of artistic evolution, creative processes, struggles, and

Each month, blogger Mara Dučkens will highlight a different artist. Have you got a story to
share? Please reach out to Mara at to be featured.