Chamblin's has been a staple in Jacksonville's literary scene since 1976. Patrons can lose themselves in row after row of new and used books at either of Chamblin's two locations, Chamblin's Bookmine, located on Roosevelt Blvd, and Chamblin's Uptown, located in the heart of downtown Jacksonville. If you're familiar with Chamblin's then there is a strong possibility that you're also familiar with one of their employees, Jennifer O'Donnell.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Jen moved to Jacksonville in 1984. A used bookstore was the first thing Jen looked for once she settled in Jacksonville, and that pursuit led her to Chamblin's. Jen became a weekly customer of the literary haven and in 1999 she transitioned from merely a customer to an employee of Chamblin's Bookmine. She worked at the Roosevelt Blvd location until 2008, at which time she relocated to downtown and started working at Chamblin's Uptown.
Chamblin's has long been a supporter of local artists, both literary and visual. Jen in particular believes strongly in supporting local artists. She exhibits this belief by saving money throughout the calendar year and, as a Christmas present to herself, she purchases a larger piece from a local artist. These pieces are added to Jenn's personal collection, but patrons of Chamblin's can view local art as they wander throughout the store and search for their next book to read.
Not including Jen's personal collection, Chamblin's Uptown has a selection of local art available for sale. They are located at 215 N Laura Street. Additionally, many of the artists that Jen mentions in her interview will have their work on exhibition at the CoRK Art District open studios, scheduled for Saturday, November 19 from noon until 8:00 PM. The open studios tour is a great opportunity to experience first-hand Jacksonville's vibrant art scene.
10 Questions with jennifer o'donnell
What year did you begin growing your art collection, and what artists currently comprise your local collection?
My mother gifted me art 25 years ago. It was a landscape painted by Vernon Wood, an artist from Pennsylvania. It was a painting of a landscape. Landscapes aren't my favorite, I'm more into abstract, but the painting evoked an emotion in me. To this day it is one of my favorite pieces. It depicts a place in New Hope, PA, an area I have always enjoyed visiting. So, that is what started my collecting. It wasn't until the last 10 years that I began aggressively purchasing art.
As I look at my walls, the artists that I currently have are:
This town is rich with talent across so many artistic disciplines. I also buy a lot of books written by local authors.
What first prompted you to collect art, and what effect does surrounding yourself with art have on your mood and performance?
I started collecting art because I love color. I love the process and appreciate the work, the emotion, and the blood, sweat and tears that I realize, after becoming friends with these artists, go into each piece. I collect art because it makes me happy.
The aesthetics add so much to my surroundings. I grew up outside of Philadelphia and my parents were always taking us into the city, into Manhattan, into New Hope, and other places where we were exposed to not only the visual arts but also performance art, music, dance, opera, and plays. They encouraged us to appreciate beauty. Having beautiful visual art (and children's drawings) on the walls in Chamblin's adds to the ambiance, but more so, it makes me appreciate my surroundings and look for the beauty that these wonderful and talented individuals have the eye to see.
When adding to your collection, do you prefer to commission a piece of work or do you select an already existing finished piece from an artist?
Generally, I buy from the heart and not commissioned because it is the emotion I feel that prompts me to buy. I have had Steve Miller do a piece for my mother,a painting of my daughter. He is a fantastic portrait artist, as is Tony Wood whom's work I admire deeply. Such talent!
How do you determine which artist you will approach to make a purchase?
I do a bit of prospecting at openings and galleries. I also look at friends' collections, Instagram, and Facebook to see what local artists are doing. When I see a piece that really touches me, I research more about the artist and their work. Two years ago at the CoRK open house I was enthralled by the work of Jeff Luque. I knew I had to have one of his pieces.
Throughout 2016 I followed the work of Hiromi Moneyhun. The more pieces I saw the more I knew that this year it was going to be a piece by her that I added to my collection. It's really that simple for me.
How have you seen Jacksonville change in recent years, as it relates to art and culture?
Watching Chip Southworth a few years ago promoting peace and love with his "Keith Haring's Ghost" pieces really made me appreciate the lengths at which these souls go to in order to produce works that make people think. I also see in people like Chip this need to create. Chip was a pioneer (Someday I'd like one of his pieces as my budget allows) as is Mac Truque, in that they go to great lengths to bring art to the forefront in our city. They are very public figures and have had to cope with public scrutiny when putting their work out there. I admire that greatly.
I think Chip's arrest really opened Jacksonville's eyes to Art in Public Places, an official program that Director Christie Holchek has worked hard to develop and promote, as did her predecessor, Amy. There are others, such as Hope McMath and Dolf James that push the topic, as well.
You are a proponent of public art. What developments would you like to see in Jacksonville’s downtown core?
Murals and pop up art are great additions to the core, and we need more. We have so many empty buildings. Murals and public art will attract more people to the core. Large scale murals clustered together will increase foot traffic and hopefully encourage more businesses to come into the core. With the addition of more public art, I'd like to see public art walking tours organized, which would give our local, and extremely talented, artists the recognition they deserve.
You work at Chamblin’s Uptown. In 2014 Shaun Thurston painted a mural on the exterior wall above Chamblin’s storefront. How has that mural impacted Chamblin’s?
Our mural by Shaun Thurston is photographed several times a week. This says something. People appreciate beauty. People ask who the artist is when they come in and then I watch them Google his name. I love seeing Shaun get more recognition and I do whats within my control to make that happen.
For those individuals who may also be interested in building a personal art collection, but may feel they aren’t able to afford doing so, how do you budget for purchasing art and how do you quantify the value received from owning art and supporting local artists?
To someone that would like to start buying art, start with prints that you enjoy. Frame them nicely. That's an affordable way to start. Also, buy what you love. It's not for the financial return, it is for the love of art and a love for the process.
I set aside a few dollars weekly, saving throughout the year, and towards the end of the year I buy myself a Christmas present, an original piece of art. Hiromi Moneyhun will be my next acquisition. Her talent is amazing. The time and effort she puts into every piece, emotionally and physically, is evident in the beauty she creates.
I have a list of artists that I am budgeting for over the next few years, including Franklin Matthews, Tony Aiuppy, Chip Southworth, Robert Leedy, Tony Wood, and Pam Zambetti. And I have at least 20 more years, hopefully, to acquire more. With the growing talent base in Jacksonville, I cannot wait!
As for local artists, I support them whole-heartedly. They allow me to know them through their work. The relationship you develop with an artist as a supporter is something that cannot be measured in a monetary way, but rather having these people as friends, their pieces on my walls, well... that makes them family to me.
Would I like a Picasso someday? No, not really. Will I continue to purchase from Jacksonville local talent? Absolutely. As well as as a few Philadelphia artists that I have come to admire over the years while growing up there. Again, it's an emotional investment for me, one that I highly recommend for everyone.
How do you describe art’s role in society?
Studies show that children exposed to art think better and they have better problem solving skills because they are able to think outside of the box. Read the book "A Whole New Mind" by Daniel H Pink to find out more about how large corporations are looking to hire candidates with arts degrees, opposed to Science degrees.
Do you view art as an investment? What resonates more with you, subject matter/medium or the artist creating the piece?
Artists put their souls on canvas. They struggle financially, all to create. They deserve to be celebrated and recognized.
I would love to see more art festivals that encourage people to visit the local galleries. I buy what appeals to me, what I feel in my heart. What evokes memories and emotions. I don't buy art for the financial investment but rather for the emotional investment. Art should be purchased for this reason. Should my pieces increase in value, well that's nice but they are for me currently and later for my children, both of whom appreciate the art and artists.