Jackie Briscoe started teaching art at age 20 when she took on the students of a friend who was moving away from Decatur. The teaching continued for more than a half-century.
“I’ve had some (students) 50 years,” Briscoe said. “I taught four generations in one family and three generations of lots of families.”
Now 74, Briscoe began scaling back her classes this past summer, to only home-schooled children and adults two days a week. She ended up retiring this month after 54 years of teaching, when concerns about COVID-19 were making it difficult to safely continue her classes.
“I loved doing it,” said Briscoe, who found it fulfilling to see her students, both children and adults, realize their potential. “It’s my life.”
The number of students she taught was always changing, making it impossible to say just how many students she taught in her career.
“I know it’s in the thousands,” said Briscoe, who taught private lessons to children and adults in her home, took on commission work and, during her career, also taught art camps here and in Dallas and was an artist-in-residence at Chestnut Grove, Eastwood and Walter Jackson elementary schools in Decatur.
“At times, I would teach 14-hour days,” teaching in schools then coming home for three back-to-back classes, she said. “I taught six days a week for years.”
Her students ranged in age from 4 and 5 years old to 100.
Briscoe, a Birmingham native, starting drawing as a child, and her mother encouraged her appreciation for art and museums. Briscoe’s father was a career Army officer, and the family moved around the country and in Europe, giving her an opportunity to experience art treasures in Italy and Germany while living there.
“It’s like a passion with me,” Briscoe said.
She was a visual design major at Auburn University and took more painting and art history classes at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and Alabama A&M University. She also had private lessons in pottery, stained glass and encaustics, a mixed media technique that involves adding colored pigments to heated beeswax.
At age 20, “I was a new bride and a good friend was moving to Birmingham and said, 'Why don’t you take my students?'” Briscoe said. “I started teaching three students in my living room, and that’s how it started. It grew from there.”
Among Briscoe's former students is local artist Lee Nabors, 59, who took lessons off and on as a child, starting in elementary school and continuing until she was in high school. At the encouragement of her husband, she took lessons as an adult for about two years.
“It helped rekindle my love of painting and art,” Nabors said. Briscoe has “always been quite an inspiration to me.”
Nabors would eventually take adult education art courses at Calhoun Community College and launch her own business.
“She has such a magnetic personality,” Nabors said. “She has a way of teaching that makes you feel successful and understand where your gifts are.
“She helped instill confidence in all her students,” regardless of their level of talent, Nabors said.
Some former students would become art teachers themselves, like Beth Young, an art teacher at Austinville, Eastwood and Walter Jackson elementary schools, who has taught in schools for 21 years.
She had classes with Briscoe one day a week after school, from the third grade through high school.
“I have lots of happy memories” of those classes with Briscoe, said Young, who’s 53. “She was a special teacher.”
Briscoe offered every medium in her classes, but Young’s favorite was watercolor and drawing. Her teacher didn’t have a cookie-cutter approach to her classes, but allowed her students to be creative and express themselves with art.
Young’s father died when she was in the fifth grade, and Briscoe “just let me go” in her artwork. “It was a great outlet for me.”
“She always inspired me,” Young said. “My goal is to be the type of teacher she is, kind and very encouraging.”
Not done with art
Briscoe’s paintings are in oil, acrylic, watercolor, pastel, pen and ink, mixed media and encaustics and, through her career, she’s had one-woman shows at the Carnegie Visual Arts Center, Grisham-Cornell Gallery and Perceptive Designs in Decatur, and also exhibited her work at galleries in Atlanta and Dallas. Her murals are on display at the Meow Mix corporate headquarters, First Baptist Church in Decatur and the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Huntsville. She also painted the backgrounds for animal displays at the old building for what is now the Cook Museum of Natural Science.
Her commissioned paintings are in permanent collections locally at the Decatur Public Library, Morgan County Courthouse, restaurants, banks and private homes.
“I don’t have a favorite (medium),” Briscoe said. “I’ll go with one medium and paint my heart out, then I shift gears and go with that medium, with whatever my idea is.”
Though she’s retired from teaching, she continues to paint and is ready to exhibit her artwork again.
She and her husband, Bill, traveled to Africa in the summer of 2019, taking part in numerous safaris, and she plans to exhibit the 27 oil pieces she painted after that trip at the Princess Theatre.
Another project in the works involves taking two watercolor paintings she’s already completed and cutting them into long ribbons, then weaving them together to create a single painting, with an abstract, mystical look. Briscoe plans to exhibit that artwork in a show in Dallas.
“I’m still painting for sure,” she said. “I continue to push myself. At some point I may do a workshop, but I’m free now to not be on a schedule like I have been.”