Of all the influences Jamaican-born artist Juliet Thorburn-McIntosh brings to her watercolor and oil paintings, the most unexpected may be the landscapes of the Delaware Valley.
For an artist whose creative journey began with a childhood in the Caribbean—with stops in Italy and Florida to study art and design—settling down in Centreville seems a surprising choice. But Delaware has been both home and a source of inspiration for Thorburn-McIntosh since 2008.
It all started at a party.
“I went to a party—Jamaicans love to have parties—on the north coast of the island, and I met this tall, dark and handsome man through a mutual friend,” Thorburn-McIntosh says. “We immediately connected.” A physician with an interest in art, Karl McIntosh is also half-Jamaican. The two married after what Thorburn-McIntosh calls a “whirlwind courtship.”
McIntosh brought his bride home to Delaware, where she began a new life. “He’s an established physician here in Wilmington, and so I naturally moved here. It’s not something I thought I would end up doing, but I’m really glad that I did,” Thorburn-McIntosh says.
Much of her art has an unmistakable island vibe. There’s her collection of paintings of old churches in Jamaica that she turned into a coffee table book called A Watercolour Tribute to Historic Jamaican Churches.
The “Mystical Madonna” series evolved from her time studying at an art school in Florence, Italy, and glows with color and energy. “These incredible images of Madonnas came into my mind one evening and I just started sketching away,” the painter explains. Lush Caribbean landscapes, vibrant fruits and flowers, and an intriguing set of abstract works she calls “Ethereals” demonstrate her watercolor and oil painting skills and wide range of inspirations.
Thorburn-McIntosh, 54, was born in St. Andrews, Jamaica, to a Jamaican father and an English mother. Her maternal grandmother, Barbara Parsons, was an artist, and she brought her granddaughter art supplies when she visited from England, along with a love of nature. Thorburn-McIntosh says watching her grandmother paint in the family’s garden encouraged her to begin painting and drawing as well.
After graduating from high school, Thorburn-McIntosh got her art career off to a practical start by studying advertising design at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in Florida. By the time she made Centreville her home with her husband, Thorburn-McIntosh had exhibited her paintings in Jamaica and the United States and was focusing full-time on her fine art projects.
In 2019, she presented a series of works that melded the natural beauty of the First State, her love of Caribbean color and a touch of magical realism in an exhibit called Caribbean Impressions of the Delaware Valley at the Delaware Center for Horticulture. The pairing showcases the region from a fresh perspective that is both familiar and unexpected to anyone with an appreciation for the Delaware countryside.
“Of course, the foliage is completely different from Jamaica, and that was something I had to get used to, but it has its own beauty,” Thorburn-McIntosh says. “Finding inspiration is not difficult here because where I live in the Brandywine Valley region, it’s so beautiful, full of these magnificent, tall trees and rolling hills. Especially around the spring and the fall, I find that the light and the colors are just fascinating.”
Infusing local landscapes with Caribbean color came naturally. “I didn’t try to make it that way, it was either what I saw or what I wanted to see,” she notes.
These days, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thorburn-McIntosh says she’s busier than ever, showing her work online and taking on commissions. It may be a while before she is able to visit Jamaica, but in the meantime, the beauty and warmth of her birthplace remains close at hand in her art.