When Norma Jean Rollet was 12 years old, tragedy struck her family: her eldest sister was diagnosed with terminal lupus. For the next six months, her sister spent all but two weeks of her remaining life at the hospital. Norma took on the responsibility of looking after her five younger siblings and helped her mother, who was at the hospital daily, with household chores.
That Christmas, Norma received a Jon Gnagy “Learn How to Draw” art set — and quickly put it to use as a cathartic tool during this difficult time. In a time that required so much of her strength, it was art that helped her get through it all. “I still believe to this day that the drawing set was my salvation,” she said.
At a young age, Rollet learned the power of art. “My ultimate goal was to be a fine artist and paint someday.” So, she pursued art. She took art classes and eventually went to college, majoring in graphic design. Though her dream was to be a fine artist, graphic design enabled a career and stable lifestyle. And, for 35 years, Rollet worked in the graphic design field, during which time she moved to Vermont and married her husband, Tim R. Rollet, and had two children.
One fateful day, Rollet was unexpectedly laid off from her job — but, the event was a blessing in disguise. She decided to build an in-home art studio and pursue life as a fine artist. Her studio featured two large windows to allow in natural light, perfect for painting. Rollet was experimenting with pastels and made that her focus. Since that time she has become an award-winning artist.
Rollet paints with both pastels and, as of 2015, with oils. She has a particular fondness for the former.”The intensity of the colors in pastels is amazing,” Rollet says. “It really is the purest pigment.” Pastels are a medium in which almost pure pigment is made in the form of a stick. The pigment used is the same as any other type of painting, but uses fewer binders, making the colors closest to the original.
The purity of her materials is reflected in her chosen subjects: landscapes, farms, and nature. The pastels allow Rollet to get as close to her muse as possible.
Pastels afford other advantages as well. “When I first started painting I was working full-time and busy as a homemaker,” Rollet explained. “With pastels, I could paint and walk away from what I was working on for hours or days and there would be no changes. I could come back and resume right where I left off.”
One particular painting that stands out in Rollet’s mind is “Ablaze with Yellow,” a painting she loved so much that she painted it in pastels and oils. The first version, in pastels was entered into a Pastel Society of American’s New York juried exhibit. Although her piece didn’t win awards at the show, a group from the Metropolitan Museum of Art decided hers was the pick of the show, and one of them purchased it. The oil version painted later is now exhibited at the Bryan Memorial Gallery in their New Vista exhibit.
But it’s not just the medium that gives Rollet the closeness to nature that she craves. Her preferred technique for painting is en plein air, French for “in the open air.” Plein Air paintings are those created outdoors, with nature as the studio. In fact, Rollet credits Plein Air painting as the most important aspect of creating fine art for her, even more important than using oils or pastels. She says that, for painting, “colors in nature are best interpreted by the naked eye.”
As a Vermont artist, Rollet says that Plein Air painting isn’t always possible due to inclement weather. During the winter, visiting the sites of her painting and taking photographs allow her to complete her work a little more comfortably back in her in-home studio. This allows her to create art year-round and still retain the vibrancy of her paintings during more favorable weather.
Rollet’s painting celebrate the vibrancy of life — and we as viewers are enlivened by them.