Eyes of Eau Claire: Jean Accola

Local painter combines interests for science and art in one place

More stories from Elizabeth Gosling


Photo by Kar Wei Cheng

Jean Accola has been in Eau Claire since 1985 and coordinates events along with being a professional painter.

Through the combination of art and science, a local artist lives the best of both worlds as an artist in the Chippewa Valley.

Although she said she’s always been drawn to art, Jean Accola studied science at the university level and learned to put the two together.

“You’ll have, sometimes, reactions of one pigment to another because they’re different chemicals,” Accola said. “Some of them will kind of clump onto each other and some of them will resist each other.”

Accola owns her own gallery in Durand, Wisconsin, about 40 minutes southwest of Eau Claire. Her daughter, an architect, helped her redesign the gallery she used since 2006.

In her early stages, the professional artist worked in a small railroad depot in Durand and transformed it into a gallery. The makeshift studio lacked plumbing, but had wood heat, she said. Although she started selling paintings to galleries before opening her own in 1985, the new space allowed her to continue pursuing her passion for art.

Accola grew up in a working-class family, and said she felt discouraged from going into higher education but did nevertheless. Her passion for art, existent since an early age, was pushed to the wayside while she studied science.

After finishing college and having children, Accola said she decided to go back to painting and rented out the small railroad depot with another artist.

“I wasn’t doing anything related to my university study, but I was going back to what I really wanted to do, which was art,” Accola said.

The Dubuque, Iowa native paints in a variety of styles, including acrylic, watercolor and oil paints.

“It is pretty sensuous, like when I paint with oil paints, the oils are like painting with colored butter,” Accola said.

Although she paints a range of subject matter, her art focuses on plants and natural wildlife, such as flowers, ferns and other elements in nature.

Over the summer, Accola coordinated GO Paint! Chippewa Valley, a painting competition and series of events all related to the art form. Additionally, she coordinates and participates in the Fresh Art Tour at different galleries in Western Wisconsin.

According to WPR, the art tour involves many different art forms, including textiles, pottery, jewelry and other art forms. There are 17 different sites and visitors may be able to try out different techniques throughout the tour.

Linda Day, a fellow artist specializing in clay, met Accola during the late ’80s and coordinates the tour in the fall with Accola. She said her travels are a significant part of her work and is versatile with her skills.

“Her work is never static, she isn’t afraid to try new things and take classes and grow and paint in different ways,” Day said. “For her, always finding new directions and kind of working with different materials too, is something that she has always done and is really good at.”

This past spring, the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire showcased Accola’s work with the exhibit “Book of the World,” showcasing art she made while abroad in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and the Caribbean.

During her travels, Accola began making books of art and taking longer trips to paint. She said while she is not working, she can focus more on her art and less on the administrative side of things. Although business is part of an artist’s job, she said it takes a lot of time away from art.

Accola said cities with a deep appreciation for art can be few and far between, but Eau Claire’s culture is unique and natives may be shocked to leave it because of the creativity the city embraces.

“Eau Claire, as everybody knows, is booming creatively, and that’s really awesome,” Accola said. “It’s just wonderful to be in an environment where the public gets it, that they appreciate the creative culture.”