A steady stream of Upper School students entered Room 614, quickly filling up the art studio. As they found seats around the large table, some bringing in extra stools from the room next door, the eager group turned its attention to a special guest.
“We’re so thankful and honored to have Margaret Zox Brown visiting us today to talk about what it’s like to be a real-life artist,” Middle and Upper School Art teacher Duane Neil said in his introduction, adding that Ms. Brown is also a Chapin alumna from the Class of 1976.
For the next 45 minutes, this warm and unassuming professional spoke to the students – members of Mr. Neal and Marianne Brand’s art classes – about her creative process, how she broke into the art world, and the challenges of marketing and selling her work. She also shared her thoughts about Chapin and the education she received.
“The beauty of Chapin is that it exposed me to writing, literature, science and history, all things that have helped me in my career,” noted Ms. Brown, who wore an olive-green T-shirt and simple jewelry, her short hair styled in soft waves.
Although she enjoyed her art classes at Chapin and remembers her finished pieces gracing the walls of the School, Ms. Brown didn’t consider attending art school or becoming an actual artist until much later.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Trinity College in Connecticut, she returned to New York City, unsure of her next steps. An early job as a graphic designer left her unfulfilled. “I yearned to be messy,” Ms. Brown recalled. So she enrolled in an oil painting course at the 92nd Street Y, the first of her incredible 29 years of studies at that renowned institution.
Gradually, her confidence grew along with her skills, and the idea of making art a full-time vocation no longer seemed far-fetched. “I thought, wow, maybe I can do that. It took me a long time to realize this,” said Ms. Brown, who described herself as a “shy person.”
Today, Ms. Brown is an accomplished, evocative painter who captures a range of subjects from fruit and flowers to people and animals. She told the students that she loves rich, deep colors, interesting textures and unexpected juxtapositions of both. She also favors extra-large compositions, requiring her to climb a ladder to execute.
As she spoke, she displayed a few samples from her far-reaching collection, including pensive portraits, vibrant still-life works and a layered floral piece that had until recently been on view in the Ethel Grey Stringfellow Case in Chapin’s front hall.
The students also observed a variety of images from Ms. Brown’s website (margaretzoxbrown.com), which she projected on the studio’s smart board. Paintings of public figures like Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, everyday individuals who make up the fabric of New York City, and her two children filled the screen.
A number of these works, Ms. Brown explained, are part of her current series that celebrates the ordinary people who have touched her heart, from the porters in her apartment building to the woman from whom she buys her morning coffee. “I look for an emotional connection,” she said, adding that she focuses particularly on representing her subjects’ faces and hands.
Though she paints predominantly in oils on canvas, she also likes to use conté crayon, which is made from compressed powdered graphite or charcoal mixed with wax or clay. “I fell in love with that medium,” remarked Ms. Brown, who sometimes combines this technique with oil paint on paper, resulting in especially striking pieces.
Making art, however, is just one component of a professional artist’s myriad responsibilities. To remain vital, Ms. Brown told the students, a strategic marketing plan is essential, and she must continuously envision new ways to promote herself. In addition to ongoing commissions in restaurants, commercial lobbies and private homes, she holds quarterly tours of her Garment District studio, maintains a large mailing list and is active on social media. “It’s a 24/7 job,” she said.
Clearly, as her inspiring and informative talk demonstrated, Margaret Zox Brown ’76 has distinguished herself as a talented, determined and innovative artist, and a generous role model for Chapin students, including those who were fortunate to spend a recent afternoon in her midst.