By Amy Tsurumi
The Beacon Hill Women’s Forum welcomed back neighbors to its fifth season on September 12 at the Hampshire House. The main room was overflowing with members eager to hear Julia S. Powell speak about her complex life journey from high-achieving scholar/athlete during her school years to Stanford-trained New York City corporate attorney to relocating back to Boston and eventually acting on her true passion: becoming an artist. Julia “was pigeonholed” during her youth, she recounted. In her inspiring talk “The Pull of Passion: from Lawyer to Artist to Happiness,” she shared her “four ingredients for success” – Encouragement, Hard Work, Luck and Timing. BHWF members enjoyed interacting with the prominent local artist in a cozy setting—and her mother, too, was in the audience.
In her amateur days, Julia took great pleasure in painting for her family and friends; her first commissioned work was a set of invitations for her older brother’s wedding. As an aspiring writer, she once set out to publish a novel she believed would be a best-seller, just to experience numerous rejections that put her on the brink of depression. Her life took a turn about three and a half years ago, when her middle brother gave her an easel, canvas, and oil paint as a Christmas gift, despite her having asked for a J.Crew sweater. Along with the gift was a note encouraging her to continue to exercise her passion for painting, but to switch to oil painting, as he believed that watercolor, often associated with craft artists, might limit her from being taken seriously. Three months later, Julia produced her landmark painting, “Yellow Barn.” Her close high school friend and famous television actor/comedian, Mindy Kaling, visited her studio (a make-shift space in her parents’ Cambridge home) and bought it for $500 – not knowing how to price her work at the time, Julia had initially offered it for a mere $50. Shortly after, it was featured in the television series The Mindy Project and Julia received Boston Magazine coverage. Instagram was an effective means by which her work was disseminated widely, and Sowa’s Abigail Ogilvy Gallery found her soon after. Julia said that being named MFA’s VIP Benefit Print Artist for the Summer Auction earlier this year marked her transition to viewing herself as a professional artist. She attributes her experience in law and her analytical training as the key to success in the business side of her art.
Having been raised immersed in New England landscapes, wood and water are key elements in Julia’s work. She tries to “be present” when she is in nature and to convey the mood she feels there into her paintings. Artists who have influenced her the most are Van Gogh and Wolf Kahn, a contemporary painter based in Vermont and New York City – both men, she pointed out, as she discussed her desire to break the barriers and become a prominent female artist. Gallery showings can be arranged at Abigail Ogilvy and prints can be purchased at juliaspowell.com.
To view her work on Instagram, use #juliaspowell10 and for Ella Fitzgerald, her dog art critic sensation, #ellafitzgerald10.