Acclaimed Denver artist, Martha Jean (Jeannie) Butler Pear (97) passed away peacefully at home on October 26, 2020. Born in 1922 in Las Vegas, New Mexico, Jeannie’s maternal and paternal grandparents homesteaded on the eastern plains of the New Mexico Territory and her father was at one time a working cowboy. Her family moved to Denver when she was three and, for the most part, Denver was her home for the next 95 years. It has been said that Jeannie’s soul was as “deep and wide as the New Mexico sky, and she expressed it through her paintings of the people, places and animals she loved.”
Jeannie is survived by her devoted daughter Melissa Pear of Denver and Melissa’s loving partner of 30 years Lawrence Allen (community theater actors Jeannie proudly followed); her brother Chester Butler of Pueblo; her nephews Steve Butler, Jeff Butler, and David Devitt of Denver; her niece Jane Gnojek of Lawrence, Kansas; her niece Elizabeth Russell of Lutz, Arizona; and her caretaker for the last seven years, Anita Ortiz. She was preceded in death by her husband of 62 years, Bertram Lincoln Pear, M.D., their son Joseph Jeffrey Pear, and her sister Mary Ann Devitt.
Jeannie’s first art teacher was the renowned painter, Vance Kirkland. She later studied at the Colorado Women’s College; the Corcoran School of Art in Washington D.C.; and the University of Denver. While her husband was in medical school in Washington, D.C. in the late 1940’s, Jeannie worked as a fashion artist and became the Art Director for a major Washington, D.C. department store. She and her family returned to Denver in 1950.
By 1963 Jeannie was painting professionally and over the next decade completed many commissioned portraits of women and children. Of this work, she said, “I have always painted my inner world beginning with the need to speak of children. I hope to paint them without sentimentality of illusion but with the knowledge that they are confronted with the vicissitudes of life that we all face, but without the armor and techniques we acquire as we mature.” Jeannie always said that a highlight of her career was being the illustrator of two children’s books by Gian Andrea Bachigulupa, “A Good and Perfect Gift,” and “The Song of La Guadalupana.”
In 1974, Jeannie was one of 13 artists (and the only woman) the Johns Manville Corporation invited to paint the western ranch life found on its 10,000-acre Ken-Caryl Ranch. This experience “seduced” Jeannie into Western Art. “I was hooked,” Jeannie said. “The sleek haunches of a Black Angus bull—the power and control of a fine cutting horse—the old fashion courtesy of a genuine ranch hand was all I needed to turn my preoccupation with women and children to a new group of ideas to express new textures, and new emotions.” Five of her paintings from this experience are in the Johns-Manville Ken-Caryl Heritage Collection.
Much of Jeannie’s Western Art focused on the landscapes and ranch life of the New Mexico of her early childhood. She said, “it’s part of me. It’s in my molecules.” Jeannie’s work is included in “Western Painting Today: Contemporary Painters of the American West” by Royal B. Hassrick (Watson-Guptill Publications, New York, 1975); “Contemporary Western Artists” by Peggy and Harold Samuels (Bonanza Books, New York, 1982); and “An Encyclopedia of Women Artists of the American West” by Phil Kovinick and Marian Yoshiki (University of Texas Press, Austin, 1998.)
In the mid-seventies, Jeannie’s friend, Father Stevens of Sante Fe, needed a silk banner for the Feast of Angels. Jeannie said this “was the beginning of many liturgical banners, paintings, alter paintings, and illustrations for religious poetry and prose. Again, a new theme truly exciting for me—loaded with the kind of power and emotion that I love to paint.” Jeannie’s religious work culminated in her one person show in 2014 titled “Visual Prayers to the Trinity” at the Calvary Church in Golden, Colorado.
For decades, Jeannie was a key member of a progressive group of local artists who called themselves “The Nine” Their annual shows, either at the Arapahoe Tennis Club or Kent Denver School, were wildly popular, and Jeannie treasured her memories of The Nine and their days in Cherry Hill Village among goats, chickens, and horses everywhere.
During her long career Jeannie exhibited at Southern State College, Pueblo; Denver Art Museum; University of Denver; and Studio Galleries of Denver. She also had one person shows at the Colorado Academy, Denver; International House, Denver; and Frightened Owl Gallery; Laurel Seth Gallery; Amparo Gallery; and Miguel Antonia in Santé Fe, New Mexico. She also illustrated books of poetry by her New Mexico friends Peggy Pond Church and Father Stevens. Her institutional collectors include the Denver Art Museum; the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art; First Colorado Bank and Trust, Christ Church; and St. Joseph Hospital; all in Denver; and Mountain Valley Bank in Conifer.
Jeannie was a tiny woman with a mighty wit. She passed through life reaching out with love, acceptance, generosity, humility, grace, and a gleeful laugh at her own pranks and silliness. She could, at times, be coaxed into pulling out the Herndon Davis (painter of the Face on the Barroom Floor, Teller House, Central City) portrait of her as a young woman. Jeannie was a communicator above all else. As she once said, “Pick up the brushes and forget time, forget words. Here is the real stuff of communication…. To strip away as much façade as you can and find the real person you are painting. Sometimes the phenomenon of painting them as they will become.”
Jennie’s passing marks the end of an era. Of her life’s story she quipped, “take whatever is helpful and dump the rest.”
Services were held at Calvary Church in Golden Co. on November 2, 2020. Her internment at Fort Logan National Cemetery, Denver was November 3, 2020.
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