Artists Jean and Mortimer Wilson and their daughter settled in Tubac by accident in 1957. The Wilsons needed to move from New York to a drier climate for their daughter’s health, and were on their way to Mexico when they stopped for the night at the Rancho Santa Cruz, just south of the Tumacácori Mission. Captivated by the beauty of the Santa Cruz River Valley, they decided to stay in Tubac, where both Mortimer and Jean played important roles in the development of Tubac as an art colony. Jean was a founding member of the Santa Cruz Valley Art Association and Mortimer was an early president of the organization.
The Wilsons rented three buildings on Josephine Bailey’s Tumacácori ranch and lived there for 12 years. In 1969, the Wilsons built the two-story studio in Tubac that was later expanded by Lee Blackwell. Jean was originally from Flemington, New Jersey, and attended the School of Design for Women in Philadelphia. She developed a fascination with an art technique called trompe l’oeil, a French phrase meaning ‘trick of the eye,’ which uses highly realistic imagery to create the optical illusion of three dimensions. Jean’s trompe l’oeil paintings were collected by Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen, and Raymond Burr among many others.
Jean Wilson designed the Great Seal of Santa Cruz County. In 1964, the recently incorporated Santa Cruz Valley Art Association was asked to submit designs for the seal, and a committee was formed under the chairmanship of Ralph Humesten. The design submitted by Jean Wilson was accepted by the County Board of Supervisors, and the orientation of the twin peaks of the Santa Ritas looks as if seen from Tubac.
Jean was an indefatigable promoter of Tubac art, and arranged a number of exhibitions to showcase the broad spectrum of talent here. When Jean Wilson died of cancer at age 58 in 1975, Tubac lost one of its most dynamic citizens.
Image: Jean Wilson, “Still Life” Permanent Collection.
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