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The art of Jamie Winter.

Artist Jamie Winter is part Native American, and her paintings are strongly influenced by her roots in Wisconsin's Ho-Chunk tribe.

She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 15 and immediately hospitalized for 2 years, but that didn't stop her from painting. "They didn't have art in the hospital, but there was a person there who taught crafts. A nurse would take me to the arts and crafts room, and she would steal paint and brushes for me. So I kept painting while I was there," she said. "My psychologist even bought my canvasses."

Today, Ms. Winter, 53, works on up to 14 pieces at a time, and opts not to take medication that would control her mania, believing her manic phases aid her work.

Despite incredible odds, she was able to earn two master's degrees in social work and art from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Ms. Winter has successfully sold her art online and through various galleries and charities. Recently, she was chosen as one of five winners of the 2006 Adult Art Collection Award by VSA arts of Wisconsin. Many of her pieces are currently displayed on the Web site of the Disabled Artists Network (

These days, besides working on her paintings and other business pursuits, Ms. Winter teaches art classes, conducts research, and helps to care for her daughter and her grandsons.


Associate Editor

RELATED ARTICLE: The Artist's Reflections

I come from a family of artists. On my mother's side, this includes theatrical performers and painters--all visual arts--and musicians. I have cousins who play instruments and sing, and have performed at Carnegie Hall. It's really a very talented and crazy family on that side. Out of nine kids that my mother had, I am the only one that is an artist. One's a detective, one's a lawyer, and one teaches college. My dad was a businessman and a rancher. I grew up in Wisconsin. We ran beef and horses. I grew up on horseback in the country.

My mother was really involved in the civil rights movement. And I was named after a black woman that she knew. The nuns were always getting my mother and this other student out of jail because they wouldn't sit at the back of the bus. My mother was this superradical. She encouraged that in me. I blame everything I am on my mother; it's genetics.

When I was a kid, I did a lot of drawing with a lot of India ink. I went to a Catholic school, and we didn't have an art program or a gym. That was it until I got to high school, where there was an art department with art classes. I went "Wow!" I was introduced to oil paints and all of this stuff, like wheels for pottery and clay?! I was an advanced student. I had dyslexia really bad, so I couldn't read. Whatever I heard I could repeat verbatim. I still have problems with reading.

In the 1970s, the federal Disability Act gave disabled people the right to go to college without having to take the SAT, so that's what I did. I was tested by a vocational rehab program. They tested my IQ and my [dyslexia], which they said was so severe that I would never make it through. The teachers were very unhappy when I showed up with a copy of the Disability Act because they didn't want to accommodate me. I really got involved in the fight. I found somebody to take class notes for me, and I found somebody to read them into a recorder, and to read books into a recorder. I could learn it all just by hearing, because if I hear something, I'm going to remember it. I got straight A's. Now I use a library for the blind and visually impaired, and all my books are taped.

My parents were really freaked by my first break at 15. My whole family didn't understand the disorder. I had a crazy grandpa who was in the Veterans Hospital after the war, and they thought I was going to be crazy like him. Instead I went to college and got two different degrees and did art. The only ones who ever accepted me were one sister, one brother, and my mom. I have seven brothers, and six of them to this day won't talk to me. I was completely ostracized because I was crazy. My dad just died, and I never got an answer from him on why he didn't love me. My mom was really confused by my behavior, and didn't know what it was but didn't stop loving me because I was different. I don't think a mother can do that.

I studied more than the minimum on color theory in college. I see colors, and they're really important to the creation of my composition and the balance of the composition. Color has a lot of spiritual meaning. All of my paintings have a meaning to them. All of my art has got a reason. I painted rodeo series where all of these cowboys were getting bucked off of horses, and the message is: "Get back up." You get thrown off a bull, well, that bull is going to kill you, so you better get back up. That's basically how I see life.

Health challenges? Heck, I might as well get it all. I had a stroke because I had no clue what my family's health record was. I don't weigh very much, and when I get "manicky" I'm always trying to gain weight, and I had no idea about my high cholesterol and that it's genetic--and then I stroked. That was about 5 years ago. I was alone when it happened. At the time, I was already on disability for mania. I've been hospitalized on many occasions, never for mania, but for severe depression.

Awhile back, I was sick, and I went to the hospital for a sinus infection, and it was really bad. My doctor was gone. When I said I was manic depressive, they started to check to see if I was oriented to time and place and person. I'm like: "Wait a minute. I'm not here because I'm suicidal. I'm not here because I'm depressed. I'm here because I'm sick." They talk down to you. They were asking me if I was hearing voices. I told them: "The only voice I'm hearing is yours, and it's not addressing the fact that I have this severe sinus infection, and that my blood pressure is 138 over 120 or something."

I have no clue how much work I've done. I sold a lot when I was younger, because I worked all over the place. I worked in Key Largo, Florida, at the old Post Office art gallery, and I taught there. I sold a lot of art down there because you had a lot of drug runners, and they had money. I sold a painting yesterday. I sold two pieces in Ireland. I'm in some galleries and up on different Web sites. I like doing art, and I want to do more, and the vocational rehab place here suggested I put in a business plan to see if I can get a computer with a special software program that makes letters massively big, so that I can see better.

I paint every day. I get these ideas when I'm manic. They come to me, and I just keep drawing on canvas and watercolor paper and boards. Even in cars, I'll draw on paper. I see them--I can picture them finished. A lot of my work is of Native Americans. I lived on the Ho-Chunk reservation for 14 years.... I felt safer on the reservation. I didn't have to explain myself to anyone. People knew I was an artist. There are a lot of incredible artists who are Indians. I just felt at home there.

Right now, I'm doing a survey for a grad student who's doing a paper on the correlation between disabilities and artists, which I think is important. I'm working on the business plan, and I just had cards made of my art, and I'm working on paintings, and I'm teaching three classes. I was offered a permanent position in teaching art at the community college, but I thought it would be too much for me. Yeah, it sounds busy, but I'm manic. I'm not busy--I don't have enough to do.

As told to Deeanna Franklin by Jamie Winter.
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Title Annotation:biography
Author:Franklin, Deeanna
Publication:Clinical Psychiatry News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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