Jo Ridge Kelley offers oil painting demo

By Eugenia L. Johnson | Sep 25, 2013
Jo Ridge Kelley, Dance with the Willows
Director, Swain County Center for the Arts —

Watercolor and oil painter Jo Ridge Kelley, of Waynesville, will demonstrate oil painting techniques in a naturescape for Art League of the Smokies at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1 at Swain County Center for the Arts in Bryson City.

She will paint a lily pond in her signature soft-edged, expressive style that reflects her emotional response to her subject with the goal of creating a feeling or the mood of the landscape. Sponsored by the North Carolina Arts Council, Swain County Center for the Arts and Swain County Schools, anyone who is interested is invited to attend the demonstration free of charge. This program received support from the North Carolina Arts Council, a division of the department of Cultural Resources.


Jo Ridge Kelley says, “I have only a desire to paint what is my own – wholly and completely from within – along with the offerings of the earth and her daily miracles of color and light. When I begin a painting, I take inspiration from a beautiful light, color, form or texture and then continue working through observation. But the painting soon takes on a life of its own. More often, I end up choosing exaggerated and unexpected color relationships and compositions that reflect my emotional response more so than what I'm seeing in front of me. I find it much more satisfying to be guided as much by my imagination and memory as by my eyes.”


The Appalachians and the Great Smoky Mountains continue to be a source of inspiration for Kelley’s naturescapes that capture the ever-changing atmosphere in her well-known mountain and mist paintings.  She is known for the intriguing contrast between the misty, soft light and the dramatic color in her paintings.  After attending En Plein Air Masters in Canada in 2008, Kelley has been following in the footsteps of Georgia O’Keeffe by “breaking all the rules of art and painting from my heart,” says Kelley. Her painterly interpretations bring together her observations of the visual world and her spiritual response to it through a blend of rich color and organic shapes.


Kelley was raised in the Quaker tradition on a dairy farm in High Point, North Carolina, that was the old home place of her grandparents. This is where she began to develop her sensitivity to nature’s design, light, color and atmosphere.  As a respite from her daily chores, she would grab a sketchbook and sit in a meadow or by a creek to draw the trees, rocks and wildflowers that surrounded her.


Jo Ridge Kelley continued her artistic journey by studying drawing and painting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and graduated with a Bachelor of Creative Arts degree.  Over the past 38 years Kelley’s career has included teaching drawing and painting to high school students and co-owning a studio/gallery with her photographer husband, Ed.  Their business, Ridge Runner Naturals in downtown Waynesville, showcased their wildlife screen prints, original paintings and fine art photography.


Kelley’s artwork has garnered several awards and has been juried into numerous shows, in addition to being held in many private and corporate collections throughout the country and across the globe.  “The Laurel of Asheville” magazine featured her work in an article and on the cover in October 2009.  She was also featured on the Artist Focus page of the December 2009 issue of American Art Collector magazine and again in the May 2010 issue with a show article on her titled “Swirling Around Abstraction.”  The show included several pieces from the artist’s popular “Water Dance” series in which she explores color and light dancing on water using lots of oil pigment.  Such images captured the attention of collectors.


She is a member of Oil Painters of America, American Impressionist Society, Plein Air Painters, and Master Artists.  Her paintings are available at Twigs and Leaves Gallery in Waynesville, NC, Artetude Gallery in Asheville, NC, and at CURVE Studio and Gallery in the River Arts District of Asheville, NC.  Paintings by Jo Kelley can also be viewed online at


Her latest series are Water Lilies painted in oil on linen and canvas, with some of the canvases as large as 24” x 60”, 18” x 72”, and 48” x 48”.  These new water lily paintings will be exhibited at Gallery 86 in downtown Waynesville with The Master Artists show through October 2013.


Jo Ridge Kelley currently shares a studio space, Upper Curve #9, at CURVE Studio and Gallery in Asheville, NC, with her daughter, Keri Kelley Hollifield, a talented jewelry artist.  Jo Kelley was recently asked to create three wine labels for a limited edition gift set through North Carolina Wine Gifts.  She continues to teach monthly workshops in oil and watercolor.  She can be contacted at for more information.


If you would like more information about Art League of the Smokies or to view the exhibits at Swain County Center for the Arts, call Jenny Johnson at 828-488-7843.  Go to to view the current calendar of events.