Janice James’ daughters see their mother all over St. Petersburg.
Every time Joanne Russell joins family for lunch at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club, her mother is there.
When Kathy McKeithen toured a home in St. Petersburg, her mother was there, too.
And she showed up again when Sandy James first visited her boyfriend’s home.
“That’s my mom,” James said when she saw one of her mother’s watercolors hanging on the wall. “It’s just like that. You walk into rooms – That’s my mom.”
James died Oct. 2 at 96, but the iconic St. Petersburg scenes she captured in watercolor still hang all over town.
James painted images of beloved sites around the city, private homes and well-known businesses. She rendered what St. Petersburg was, and in some cases, still is.
“She always did an outstanding job of capturing downtown St. Pete and all of the special buildings that one remembers over time,” said Tom James (no relation), who founded The James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art with his wife, Mary. He and his wife own several of James’ pieces.
“She was like a memorist,” said Lennie Bennett, the Tampa Bay Times’ former art critic.
James was a community artist.
“She valued where she lived,” Bennett said, “and understood its importance.”
James found art as a 9-year-old and, as an adult, had a career in commercial art. In her 20s, she drew for department stores in Miami. She met her husband at the University of Miami, but didn’t reconnect with him until the day she stepped into the bank where he worked as head teller. They started golfing together on weekends and married in 1955. James sewed her wedding dress and the dresses of her bridesmaids.
The couple had three daughters, Kathy, Sandy and Joanne, and James stopped working to raise them. She turned her talents to making their clothes and her own. She also painted in oils and acrylics, then she found watercolors.
In 1972, Bill James’ career in banking brought the family to St. Petersburg, where James started painting local landmarks, including the Vinoy, the Don CeSar and the Snell Isle Bridge.
Her prints always sold well, said Gilbert Johnson of Poor Richard’s Framing, and he’s sure many homes in St. Petersburg’s northeast neighborhoods still have James’ work hanging.
“It wasn’t just that she was doing the scenes that attracted all of us,” James said. “She was talented enough to be a fine artist who made a living doing what she was doing.”
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James donated her work to nonprofits to auction off, painted for community organizations, sewed the uniforms for her daughters’ cheer and majorette costumes, volunteered, played violin and golf, got every detail of her own outfits just right, doted on her granddaughter, Sarah, and loved a lobster and champagne dinner.
“She did things and we look back now and we’re like, how did she do that?” McKeithen said.
Some artists are introverts, Russell said, happy to escape into their work. That was not her mother.
“She loved to be around people,” Russell said.
In 2004, James and her husband moved to Sun City Center. He retired while James kept painting, sewing and fussing over her outfits.
After her death, James’ daughters found a closet full of her work, including watercolors of the Italian countryside and private homes. They have more than 100 of her original paintings and prints. They aren’t surprised anymore when they bump into their mom’s work.
Throughout her life, she captured the places she loved. Now her work is part of the landscape.
Poynter news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.
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