Jean Hess: ‘Master artist’ and ‘master gardener’

Susan EspirituFountain City, Our Town Neighbors

Jean Hess is well known in our area as a local artist with some of her work in the permanent collections of several museums including Knoxville Museum of Art and the Knoxville Convention Center, but she has also attained the certification of Master Gardener, which is evidenced by her beautiful residence studio.

Hess and her husband, Kevin Keller, renovated a period Craftsman bungalow originally built in the early 1900s. Over the past 23 years, Hess has transformed the remarkably untouched acre-plus into a lush haven of meandering paths that take one through stands of birches, oaks and evergreens to shady sitting areas rich with mosses, ferns and other natives. A fishpond and raised beds in the more open spaces showcase Kevin’s beehives and workshop.

The studio building attached to the home has a history of its own. It began as a small garage, but well-known potter James Darrow, who lived there after the original owners, added a generous addition for his pottery studio, with a screened porch for the kiln. This Kevin and Jean have transformed into a sunny studio for Jean with tall ceilings, skylights, a smaller gallery space that opens to a patio, and a sunroom leading to the back deck and gardens.

Hess is mostly known for ethereal collage paintings that combine multiple layers of paint and resins with various elements such as paper ephemera, plant material, minerals and dry pigments. She also creates a wide variety of other kinds of work. Hess creates pendant “cascades” of beads and bric-a-brac that look like gigantic wind chimes although most remain inside due to the delicacy of the components.

Finally, Hess says she likes to relax by hand-stitching old fabrics into quilt-like panels that are intricately worked, rich in color and surprisingly nuanced because “I like to incorporate accidental rips, crumplings and frayings into the surface with snarls of thread and ribbon.”

While Hess’s paintings, small talismans and textiles have been in exhibitions, and the paintings in commercial galleries such as Pivot Point here in Knoxville, the hanging cascades, jewelry and larger sculptural assemblages are best viewed here at the studio. That is why Hess decided to open her studio to the public by appointment. She says, “I am planning workshops and by-invitation receptions for shows of my work and that of friends whose art I admire.”

All of us have a story and I want to tell yours! Send them to


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *