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Ten Minutes With Jane Seymour

The actress, philanthropist, and designer talks about her side career as a painter.

Photograph courtesy of Coral Canyon Publishing.

She’s perhaps best-known for her Golden Globe-winning portrayal of a pioneering female medic in Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, although she also gained a whole new group of fans with her comic appearances in Wedding Crashers and CBS’s How I Met Your Mother. However, British-born actress and designer Jane Seymour also has a side career as a painter. Her work features in a collaborative show with her son, photographer Sean Flynn, at Bethesda’s Wentworth Gallery and Tysons Galleria this weekend, and she’ll appear in person to talk about her work. The Washingtonian caught up with her to discuss how her philanthropy overlaps with her art, where she finds inspiration, and how she champions her children’s careers in the arts.

When did you discover painting?

I didn’t really pursue it properly until I turned 40. I went through a terrible divorce and I lost everything, emotionally and financially. My mother had always told me that when life is bad and something seems insurmountable, go out and help someone else. I happened to be at a fundraiser for a child abuse agency I had worked with, and I gave the last money that I had, pretty much, to them.

At the silent auction I asked an artist to come to my home and do a drawing of my kids. He saw the finger paintings my children had done in their room and offered to give me free lessons. As usual, out of adversity came an amazing new career, which has completely changed my life both emotionally and financially and allowed me to raise a lot of money for charity.

Are acting and painting similar at all?

When I’m acting I certainly can’t do a crossword puzzle or read a book. I have to really focus on the character I’m playing and stay in character. But I am able to paint when I’m acting. For instance, I can draw or paint and it puts me in a wonderful meditative state. I really do believe painting or drawing helps me when I’m acting; it’s a very useful tool for me. I think when I paint people or situations I see the emotion. I paint emotion. I don’t just paint figures. Whether it’s a mother and child, or a child on the beach, or two girls dancing, or flowers, I find emotion in my subjects.

Do you have a favorite style of painting?

I’ve always loved impressionism, so if I go to a museum I tend to head in that direction first. I do some abstracts—specifically, my whole open-heart collection. That’s an image I came up with many years ago, which comes from my mom’s very wise philosophy that got me into this in the first place: to open your heart and reach out to help other people. I do sculptures; I really love three-dimensional things. If I had more time I’d do a lot more of that.

This is a joint show with your son, Sean. Is this your first collaboration with him?

They’ve shown his work in a few other galleries [with my paintings]. People were quite interested to see what my son was doing. And people have been collecting him. In fact, in Miami, he was selected as an emerging artist. I’m very excited for him. Unfortunately, he won’t be at the gallery, but his artwork will be.

What subjects does he photograph?

A number of subjects. If you go to his website, you can see his recent photographs. The pieces at the Wentworth Gallery are mainly pieces from England, from the house we used to live in with this big red tree. He also has some very beautiful photos, which I call architectural nudes, and he’s photographed Incubus and some other rock groups.

Have you worked with your other children?

My daughter Katie Flynn is an actress. We’ve actually starred in movies together as mother and daughter. So that’s a collaboration. She wrote, produced, and starred in a series that’s online called The Quitters Show. My youngest son is a musician; I don’t collaborate with him, I just support him and go to the shows.

I was very struck that you came to painting through philanthropy. Do you advocate for people to try art for the sake of others?

Indeed, I do. We have a foundation called the Open Hearts Foundation. We just had our second major fundraiser in our home. We honor people who have taken adversity and turned it into opportunity to help others. Multiple Grammy-winning country singer Glen Campbell and his wife, Kim, were recent recipients for Glen’s work with Alzheimer’s. The singer came out publicly and said, “I have Alzheimer’s.” In fact, my husband, James Keach, and I are making a feature documentary about Glen and his final tour, and also about what’s happening in our family. I’m very involved with that. In fact I was just in Washington last week at an event, and I’ll return in a week when Glen will be singing at the Library of Congress.

Have you ever worked in Washington?

Yes, I did. I opened in Amadeus at the National Theatre in 1980.

What kind of reaction would you like to get from your show this weekend?

I always hope to have people enjoy themselves, and enjoy the subject matter. Quite often people see something in my paintings that relates to something in their lives which is meaningful, and that’s always wonderful. And the people who’ve been collecting my work come back because they say the work is full of optimism, it’s happy, it’s not angry or distressing. I think I try to bring beauty and positive energy into my work. And if that’s what people get out of it, then I’m really happy.

Seymour will appear at the Wentworth Gallery in Bethesda May 4, and at the Wentworth Gallery at Tysons Galleria May 5. For more information, visit her website.

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