Asheville – What happens when kids are encouraged and supported in their creative efforts? In the case of the Voorhees family, you end up with an entire family of artists and artisans, each in their own unique way. Edwin and Mildred Voorhees believed that nature and nurture were important to the creation of art and artists, and their kids are living proof that it works.
For the past 24 years, the Voorhees family has held an annual family art show in November, but this year there is another very special exhibition. The North Carolina Arboretum is hosting Nature & Nurture: The Voorhees Family Artistic Legacy, May 28–September 5, 2022, at the Baker Visitors Center. This summer art exhibit features multiple Voorhees artists who work in various media. Their legacy honors their parents, Edwin and Mildred Voorhees, who instilled an artistic spirit in their children. Featuring work by Edwin Voorhees, Mildred Voorhees, Susan Voorhees, David Voorhees, Jane Voorhees, Amy Cusick Voorhees, Molly Sharp Voorhees, and Chad Voorhees.
“Many people are open to being creative, and then it gets squelched by someone else,” said Jane Voorhees. “In our family, we were lucky. My parents exemplified that it was okay to be an artist, and it was lots of fun. ” Voorhees explained, “Part of what we’re trying to share is that whole process, the opportunity we had by being supported. It’s not a unique thing; anybody can do this.”
The Largest Grouping of Paintings on Display by Edward and Mildred Voorhees
Pulling this show together was a huge undertaking. Many of Edwin and Mildred’s paintings had been gifted or sold to different family members along the way. These paintings were shipped from all over the country. They then had to be curated to determine which works would be in the exhibit. The family is very excited to see this show because this is the first time this large amount of their parents’ art has ever been shown. Even the family had never seen the artwork all together before.
Mildred (Millie) Voorhees studied art in college, but left school to marry Edwin (Ed). “Dad had enough of an inclination towards art, even at the time that they met and got married, that my mom sent him off on his tour in the navy with a book about painting,” said Jane Voorhees. According to Susan Voorhees, “Daddy was a pilot and photographer in the Navy, and he also painted the pictures on the sides of the navy airplanes during WWII.”
Ed’s job after the war was in Manhattan. It was there he had the opportunity to study art at the Art Students’ League. “He’d go to class after work, and then take the train home, explained Susan. “Mom tried to do this at one point, but with six kids it didn’t last long. One got a broken leg, another got the measles, and mom knew it wasn’t going to work. It was in the late 1950s, when her father gave her the Famous Artist’s Correspondence Course, that mom got her beginning.” The Famous Artist’s School was founded in 1948 by Norman Rockwell, Albert Dorne, and America’s 11 most famous artists. You’d receive books in the mail, study the lessons, do the exercises, and then mail your artwork back to the school where it would be critiqued by these very famous artists.
The Move to North Carolina
Ed and Millie made a complete change in their lives, and the lives of their family, when they chose to move to Morehead City, North Carolina. Ed could then become a full time artist. The love of family and love of art merged into one when they made this move and began a tradition of fine art-making. There, Ed and Millie enriched their lives and those of their children. They had more time for family and more time for art. Ed became well known for his watercolor seascapes. Millie began painting in watercolor, and developed a distinctive style of colorful interiors.
In addition to Ed and Millie’s artwork, four of the six kids, and two spouses, are showing their work in the exhibit. There is a family area where there is a notebook representing other family member’s artwork who are not in the show. Jane gave examples, “Kirk, our older brother, was a cabinet maker, and he did all the woodwork for Union Station, and also cabinetry for Smithsonian displays. Also represented in the book are nieces and nephews, Susan’s daughter, and anybody who has participated in the annual family art show.”
Nature & Nurture
Some might say that creativity is a matter of genetics, passed down from one generation to the next, and the Voorhees family is descended from Joseph DeCamp. DeCamp was a founder of the Ten American Painters, a group of American Impressionists. Millie and Ed might agree if they were here, but they would make an even stronger argument that it is through nurturing the creative spirit in each child, allowing that inclination to develop and grow strong, that makes a family of artists. In choosing to pursue their dream, Ed and Millie inspired and nurtured the artistic spirit of the entire family, one that continues to reverberate through the next generation of Voorhees.
In this exhibition, the Voorhees family celebrates the artistic legacy begun with Ed and Millie. Their belief that the creative nature thrives when nurtured is exemplified in the artwork displayed here by David, Susan, Jane, Chad, Molly, and Amy. Encouraging children to follow their hearts and their art fearlessly, like Ed and Millie did, could create not only a family full of artists, but might even fill the world with them. This is the Voorhees family’s legacy.
Talks and classes
Artists and siblings Jane, David, and Susan Voorhees will be giving gallery talks at the Baker Visitor Center Gallery throughout the duration of the show, and they are working on some classes. These are planned for July, August, and September. You must pre-register for the talks, which will be advertised through the Arboretum. For more information, go to https://www.ncarboretum.org/nature-nurture.