Irene Joslin
Whispers of Color

by Rachel Perry
photo by George Bredewater

When a visitor steps into Irene Joslin’s shop in Nashville, they invariably feel welcomed. “I always say `hello’ to customers when they come in and I always say `goodbye,'” Mrs. Joslin declares. “I want everybody to feel special when they walk through my door.”

Other members of the `welcome committee’ are a small Chinese Crested Dog called `Treedels,’ who sports wispy hair and a face resembling Star War’s Yoda, and `T-Bone Tyler’ the yellow and gray parakeet who observes daily activities from his corner perch.

The aroma of fine chocolate truffles permeates the small shop and tempting homemade shortbread, frosted pretzels and flavored popcorn are among the edible offerings. Displayed in comfortable disarray are various antique pieces, hand-embroidered linens, ceramic fish, miniatures, patterned china and unique jewelry, as well as a small gallery of portraits and landscapes. Irene Joslin reigns over this inviting space behind the truffle showcase where, more often than not, she labors over her weekly cartoon contribution for the Brown County Democrat on her drawing board.

Mrs. Joslin has been creating the editorial cartoon for the Democrat since 1994. “My first cartoon experience was in seventh grade,” she recalled. “I always did caricatures in class just for fun. I was bored one day and the teacher was giving a homework assignment. I was drawing a caricature of her and I put in a little speak bubble and in the bubble I abbreviated the word `assignment,’ using the first three letters in the word. Not thinking a thing about it—totally innocent. She caught the paper and got furious. She promptly sent me down to the principal’s office. He was aghast and couldn’t imagine why I would do such a thing. They would not listen to my explanations. That was the beginning of my career in cartooning. I thought, `Wow, these things really move people!”

Cartooning was only one of several artistic endeavors Irene pursued in her formative years. “I was doing art from the time I could hold a crayon,” she said. “My parents set up a little studio in a utility room.”

Born and raised in Indianapolis, Irene Joslin went to North Central High School. After graduating, she was already doing freelance artwork when she married her husband, Paul. The couple eventually relocated with their three daughters to California in the early 1970s. There Mrs. Joslin implemented an art program and taught in San Mateo.

The Joslins decided to look for a place in Brown County after visiting the Nashville home of Paul’s parents in 1984. Irene’s lifelong love of antiques combined with her artistic projects to make operating a shop a natural. She began by working for Jane Graber, a miniature potter, in Redbud Terrace, and eventually started her own business.

Irene Joslin’s fine art, which has found a place in juried exhibitions such as the annual Hoosier Salon and the Indiana Heritage Arts exhibits, is primarily done using graphite pencil. The tightly detailed portraits and landscapes are occasionally enhanced with subtle tints. “I have enough yet to learn about technique,” she declared. “It will probably take the rest of my life before I tackle color.”

“My work and the way I live are very contrasting,” Mrs. Joslin continued. “This artwork is black and white, leaving people more room to interpret the pieces. I like a whisper of color. But my home has color and texture everywhere.”

Irene Joslin has no problem switching from commissioned fine art to illustrative work. “I do my fine art before the shop opens. During the day I’m really distracted. Cartooning and illustration work I can do while the shop is open.”

The weekly cartoon deadlines are also taken in stride by Mrs. Joslin, who is the only woman editorial cartoonist in Indiana. She became a regular contributor to the Democrat following much encouragement from her husband and the paper’s previous cartoonist, Bob Bainter.

“When I had my studio in the Village Green Building, Bob would come up from time to time. One time when I was laboring over a piece, he said, `Irene, why aren’t you cartooning?…Listen to people. They’ll tell you your jokes. You should do my job.’ I put some cartoons together and sent them to the paper but they said they already had a cartoonist. A couple of years after Bob passed away, I drew a cartoon of something Paul had said and sent it to the Democrat. They printed it and that’s how I got started.”

Visitors can catch the artist at work from “ten-ish to five-or-so” seven days per week in Irene Joslin’s shop on Franklin Street in Antique Alley. “The shop is a labor of love,” she smiled. “I feel like it is the way Nashville used to be, where you see the artist working and items are made locally or very close to home.”