Big, ‘Boldt’ colors: SHAPE artist distinguishes herself internationally

By Bryan Gatchell, USAG Benelux Public Affairs

MONS, Belgium – A large green dragon has recently made the Arts and Crafts Center its home. Residing on what had been a large, blank wall, the dragon curls through a mural depicting downtown Mons amid splashes of the black, yellow and red of the Belgian flag and a large NATO logo.

The mural is the work of Jess Boldt, a Family member and artist at SHAPE, who has been honing her skills and growing her portfolio since her arrival to the area in 2019.

Boldt and her husband, U.S. Air Force Maj. Jarod Boldt, a staff officer with NATO, moved from California to Belgium in 2019 with two of their four children. Boldt began a one-year program online through the Milan Art Institute before she moved from California to Belgium.

“I brought all my painting supplies,” she said. “Every week I had a class. But it really was helpful, because it kind of just helped give me some sanity on all the craziness of moving.”

She said that her children would often complain of the strong smell of the oil-based paints in their lodging before they found housing.

Boldt is a mixed media artist, combining charcoal, old print, and more. In line with her ambitions as a muralist, she prefers spray paint to other material.

“I like the idea of uplifting people’s moods in everyday life,” said Boldt. “So I plan on being a traveling muralist, going to places and helping businesses bring to light what they do and bringing art to the community – the everyday community – and still bringing fine art to galleries and expos.”

She graduated her one-year program in 2020 and built her portfolio as the COVID-19 pandemic settled over Europe. Her work features charcoal portraiture embedded with French-, Dutch- and other-language magazine print; vignettes of the American West such as horses, saguaro landscapes and mid-20th century trucks; European cityscapes such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris; and more.

She submitted selections of her work to the EuropArtFair, an exhibition in Amsterdam, which took place over the July 4 weekend in 2021.

“That was a really great, eye-opening, great first impression of getting your art out there,” said Boldt. “I brought 16 pieces that were framed – were hanging up – and I sold 10 of them. So that was a pretty big success.”

She partly attributed her success in Amsterdam to her unique national situation – as an American living in and representing Belgium.

Not only was the exhibition an early career commercial fruitful for Boldt, it also afforded her the opportunity to meet several other artists, even beginning a correspondence with a Dutch artist whom she greatly admired.

Additionally, Boldt joined an online art gallery with some of her fellow students at the Milan Art Institute. They now meet weekly via video teleconference, and several took part in the Art Nordic exhibition in Copenhagen.

Her work also gained international attention locally at the library at SHAPE, which, prior to the pandemic, had regularly featured the work of artists on the post.

“We’re always looking for local artists, whether they’re Belgians or military dependents on the base,” said Lisa Steinacker, the library director for the SHAPE International Library. “And Jess came to us before COVID; she was our last gallery display before we shut down.”

The library again featured Boldt’s work when they were scheduled to reopen in compliance with Belgium’s COVID-19 preventive measures.

“She’s got such amazing, bright work,” Steinacker continued. “We thought it would bring the library back to life. It is kind of fitting considering we were closed and dormant for quite a while.”

Boldt’s artwork in the library drew the attention of Shawna Morton, director of the Arts and Crafts Center at SHAPE. The library and Arts and Crafts Center are neighboring facilities and sibling services under U.S. Army Garrison Benelux’s Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (DFMWR).

“I’ve been wanting to put a mural on the wall for the two years I’ve been managing the facility,” said Morton.

Steinacker told Morton that Boldt had been trying to make murals in the community. This opportunity excited Morton.

Morton and Boldt worked together on a design that would be at home at SHAPE.

“We talked about the idea beforehand, we tweaked it as we were going through it,” said Morton. “It was very much a collaborative work in the sense that what we thought would be best for the community as a whole population, keeping in mind our locals, our 30 nations as well as our U.S. parties that are familiar with arts and crafts centers.”

The two decided on a dragon to represent the city of Mons. During the Ducasse de Mons, or “Doudou,” a festival taking place after Easter, a mock fight takes place between Saint George and a dragon in the central square of Mons.

Morton said she has received positive comments, especially from Families with children.

Besides beautification, the mural also draws attention to the Arts and Crafts Center.

“The main goal behind it was to really brand our space,” said Morton. “With there being 30 nations in this community, not everyone has arts and crafts in their military communities. And so I hear oftentimes people will come in for framing or for engraving from other nations outside the U.S., and they do not realize that we have arts and crafts, and they do not know what that is, they do not know what that entails.

“Really the idea behind that mural was to just bring awareness to the arts,” she continued. “It is in the community, and we do have opportunities for people to use space, for people to come in and buy products, to try things maybe they didn’t try before, to take a new class to open their eyes to something they may have never done.”

Boldt’s work also adorns the work offices of Armed Forces Network – Benelux.

This is not Boldt’s first time overseas. Boldt, who hails from Hastings, Nebraska, moved to Germany with her father for five years of her childhood when her father was a U.S. Soldier.

She says that living currently at SHAPE in such a multinational environment has shaped her as an artist. Being able to go to the on-post grocery store and hear conversation spoken in a variety of languages has prompted her to extend her thinking and methods as an artist.

Recently, her work has brought her into collaborative projects, including with her fellow students from the Milan Art Institute while they were at the art exhibit in Copenhagen. A group of them painted a large bottle that was then sold at auction.

She has also curated an exhibition of her fellow students’ work for the SHAPE International Library, which is on display until the end of January 2021.

More of Boldt’s work can be found on her website.

Learn more about the SHAPE Library.

Learn more about the SHAPE Arts and Crafts Center