An Interview With Photographer Janet Matthews

Photo courtesy Janet Matthews

Janet Matthews doesn’t just make art, she teaches it too.

After volunteering in local schools, the longtime area resident earned a degree in art education at the University of Maryland and went on to teach art and photography at Montgomery Blair High School.

She is now a working artist at Pyramid Atlantic Art Center.

“There is a very supportive artist community here, and the center promotes the artists through open studios and other events,” said Matthews. “All in all, this is a creatively nurturing environment. I have been able to complete several bodies of work since the opening of Pyramid Atlantic.”

She spoke with the Hyattsville Wire about her love of art and teaching.

How did your interest in photography (or other forms of art) begin? 

As a child, I always enjoyed drawing and making things. There were always art and craft supplies available at home when I was growing up. I also dabbled in black and white darkroom photography as a young adult, but my focus was primarily on drawing media. I went to the University of Maryland and studied Studio Art. During the period in which my children were growing up I became very involved in volunteering at the local schools. I decided to combine interests in art and education and returned to the University of Maryland to get a second degree in art education. After receiving my degree, I was hired to teach art and photography at Montgomery Blair High School. As it had been many years since I had worked in the darkroom, I started taking continuing education courses in photography at Maryland Institute College of Art. Between teaching photography and relearning photography, I grew to love working with this medium. 

How long have you lived in the Hyattsville area? 

I am originally from the Midwest, born in Chicago and grew up there and in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri. My family moved to Bowie while I was in high school, and I have been in the area ever since. I have lived in Cheverly, a neighboring town to Hyattsville and also listed by the Post Office as Hyattsville, since 1979.

What is your connection to the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center?

After I started teaching in 1995, I began to focus more on my own artwork. I found a studio in Riverdale (coincidentally in the same building that once housed Pyramid Atlantic) and worked there for several years with a small community of artists. As I became more involved in photography, I began working with alternative and historic photographic processes and image capture. In recent years I became very interested in working with photogravure, an intaglio printmaking process. The main hurdle in working with this process was the need for a printing press. When I learned that Pyramid Atlantic was moving from Silver Spring to Hyattsville, I immediately applied for studio space. I moved in the first summer that they opened.  

What about the art center has contributed to your success as an artist?

It has been exciting to see this area blossom as an arts neighborhood, with so many new businesses opening during the time I’ve been at Pyramid Atlantic. Being only 10 minutes from home, the center is very convenient to “commute” to and I enjoy having access to printing presses and other equipment. There is a very supportive artist community here and the center promotes the artists through open studios and other events. All in all, this is a creatively nurturing environment. I have been able to complete several bodies of work since the opening of Pyramid Atlantic.

Are there any local spots you enjoy photographing? 

Until recent years, I mostly photographed studio still life projects using vintage objects to explore psychological themes such as memory and fears. But I’ve become interested photographing landscape subjects as well, triggered by several trips to Ireland. This past year I have been making images of tangled vines and branches found in woodland areas. I have visited both Lake Artemesia in College Park and the Governor Bridge Natural Area in Bowie a number of times to shoot for this project.

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