Jean and Gordon Perry of Saylorsburg are known in certain circles as the "Canal Artists."
They enjoy visiting various canals of Pennsylvania and New Jersey where the waterways played an important part of American history.
When they visit, the Perrys feel compelled to preserve the canals' histories through their art. They are both photographers and Jean is also a paint artist.
Their passion for canals began several years ago while enjoying hiking and nature walks along the Delaware Canal, and taking photographs on their jaunts. Jean paints canal scenes from her photographs.
"I loved painting flowers as a kid. I've always liked nature and history, just like my father. We lived in Clifton, N.J. near a river, the shore and the mountains. I spent a lot of time at all these places, and I enjoy trying to recreate what I see on canvas," says Jean.
Her father was an artist and encouraged her to major in art in college. She earned a B.S. degree in art education from Kean University and has a certification in interior design.
"As an art major, you do everything. At that time, acrylics became popular. We were told it would become a universal medium. And they were right. Acrylics and watercolor are now my favorite mediums to work in," she says.
After college, she worked in insurance for 20 years. During a lay-off from her company, she got back into painting.
Jean and Gordon met in 1985 and shared a love of the outdoors and photography. They married in 1989.
Gordon is a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University for the last 47 years. Jean accompanied him to a faculty picnic and through a conversation with the head of the art department, she was asked to teach an art appreciation class. The class did so well, she developed and taught other classes on women artists, American Impressionists, Spanish Art and Art Appreciation of Sports at Fairleigh.
"Through my research of canals, I became very interested in Pennsylvania impressionists like Edward Redfield, Walter Baum and Fern Coppedege and gave several lectures on them," says Jean.
She is also a continuing education art instructor at Northampton County Community College, where she was hired to start children's art classes. She is an art instructor for the Pocono Arts Council, Chestnuthill Park, Long Pond and conducts classes in her home.
"I never dreamed I'd be teaching art appreciation," she says.
Jean says her philosophy and inspiration comes from the natural beauty around us and the belief that art should express the individual from within.
Gordon believes "serious photography is an art form that temporarily removes one from the everyday world and provides inner peace.
"Photography also forces one to critically examine and appreciate the intricate beauty of nature or to be drawn into events of an earlier time."
Gordon's interest in photography developed in 1956 on a cross country family vacation while visiting numerous national parks and historic sites.
Then as a junior at Fairleigh Dickinson University, majoring in business management and marketing, he took a biology class.
He did a lot of technical drawing of microscopic specimens for his class. The pencil drawings had to be precise and he found he enjoyed it.
Gordon also worked part-time in a local camera shop. He started taking photos with a single lens reflex camera (SLR.)
He purchased an adapter for a microscope so he could photograph the specimens he was viewing. He did it all for his own school use.
Word got back to Fairleigh's director of Health Research Institute, Dr. Smith, who was working on cancer research in regards to asbestos. Dr. Smith asked Gordon to take some photos of slides of lung tissue for him, which led to other photos.
Through this experience, Gordon decided to change his major to biology with a minor in chemistry. A big decision, but one he never regretted.
As a student, one of his professors asked him to conduct a class.
"I was very hesitant but I did it."
The professor sat in the back of the room and later told Gordon he should consider teaching. He did at Fairleigh, starting in 1965 on a full-time basis in a non-tenure teaching position as soon as he earned his B.S. in biology.
He went on to earn his masters in biology with concentration in plant biology. He earned his doctorate in plant pathology at Rutgers University.
Gordon has developed several courses over his career, wrote a 400-page lab workbook and has also continued taking photos for his courses, including close-ups of flowers and animals.
"It was like I created a monster. I never could use all the photos I had taken. So, I just kind of stopped," says Gordon.
It wasn't until after he met Jean that he picked up the camera again.
"When we would be out on our nature walks, she encouraged me to take photographs along with her," says Gordon.
"We'd be taking pictures of the same thing. I would focus on something particular of a subject and Jean would be taking a picture of the same thing but from a different angle or different focus. I'd look at her photographs and think how boring mine were.
"She has helped me to be more creative," he says."
Gordon also thinks because he was taking photos with a film camera, he was more rigid, trying to get the best photos he could with as few frames as possible.
"Two years ago we started taking pictures with digital. It has freed me up and is easier and cheaper," says Gordon. He loves his Nikon D60.
Gordon has won several photography awards over the years and recently had one of his photographs as the cover of the Warren County phone book.
Jean has had several of her photos appear in magazines and designed the cover for the Arthritis Foundation dinner years ago.
Both have done very well at the annual Skylands Scenic Beauty contest in New Jersey.
Jean thought they should do something with all their photographs and paintings of the canals they visited, like a show at a gallery.
"I think we had Canal Fever," she laughs.
They decided to concentrate on the canals of New Jersey for their first joint venture.
They contacted and joined different canal societies and Gordon did a lot of research.
"I thought it would be important to relay a little of the canals' histories and include maps with the exhibit," he says.
He adds that they were very lucky because they got all their photos taken before Hurricane Ivan struck in 2004.
"It had destroyed a lot of the scenes we had photographed before it hit," says Gordon.
Their first canal show was in 2004 at the Antoine Dutot Museum and Gallery in Delaware Water Gap.
"We got the nickname of 'Canal Artists,'" says Jean.
They have had several shows since including at the Wayne Dumont, Jr. Administration Building, Frelinghuysen Arboretum, Tamaqua Railroad Station and the Palmerton Frame and Gallery, where several of their pieces are currently on display until Nov. 28.
Their work is also featured at Dale's Café on Rt. 611 in Bartonsville.
The Perrys are members of several organizations, including the Pocono Arts Council, Pocono Mountain Arts Council, Warren County Arts Council, Pennsylvania Canal Society, Canal Society of New Jersey, Palmerton Area Historical Society, Palmerton Camera Club, Allentown Art Museum and the James A. Michener Museum.
The couple also share a love of antiques, collecting textile memorabilia and traveling. Spending time with their son, daughter, granddaughter and Gordon's 97-year-old mother, tops their list.
Jean believes that there is something in art for everyone because it is everywhere.
For the Perrys, that is especially true about canals. They wear their title of "Canal Artists" proudly.
Gordon and Jean are currently working on their next joint exhibit on barns. Maybe they'll earn the title of "Barn Artists."
Canals, barns, nature scenes, plant life to insects.
The Perrys' artistic subject matters are limited only by their imaginations. And so far, they never seem to run out of creative ideas.