Brian Jekel, born in Wisconsin in 1951 and raised in Minnesota, recalls many a long winter day being devoted to drawing. “You can only stay outdoors in subzero weather for just so long, and we only had one channel on TV, so drawing was the only option that interested me.” However, in high school science and sports became his focus and he then graduated from college with a degree in physical education and sports medicine.
In 1974, Jekel moved to Australia to teach physical education and coach. After 3 1/2 years there he moved back, did some substitute teaching which left him disappointed in the public school system and decided it was time for a career change. Jekel remembers travelling through Denver and decided to check into the art schools there. “I liked the smaller school, the Rocky Mountain School of Art (RMSA), and its thrust in figurative work. Phil Steele was the director of the school and was also a student of George Bridgman of the Art Students League in New York City. Bridgman was legendary in his approach to artistic anatomy which was devoted to construction, mass, form, and movement. It went beyond basic anatomical knowledge of memorizing the skeletal and muscular systems and their movements. Bridgman gave information that allowed the student to go creatively beyond the mere copying of what is in front of their eyes. After one year at RMSA, Jekel was asked to teach in the figure drawing and painting classes as well as the watercolor landscape class.
While at RMSA, Brian met Marlene, another art student, and two years later they married and moved to Lacey (near Olympia) Washington. The two struggled to make a living that first year, but it was at a church friend’s home that Brian discovered that a small christian college in Pensacola, FL was looking for an illustrator and art teacher. Since 1981,Jekel has been teaching commercial and graduate fine art students at Pensacola Christian College. He and his wife have raised seven children there. Of their art program he confidently says, “the Lord has sent us fine young students who are not only talented, but dedicated and focused as well. It has been a privilege to help these kids to realize their dreams in life.”
In addition to his teaching, Jekel has illustrated well over 1200 paintings of the Bible for the college’s publishing company. “It’s been an education in itself to really get into these events of the Bible and to study them as I try to create an illustration that attempts to bring it to life. There are so many great stories, awesome in scope and importance, but the life of Christ has been the most humbling and sometimes burdensome experience. There are times when you can feel the weight of it all.”
In his personal work, Jekel has found that he needs to explore the life of Jesus in a more personal way. He adds, “I’ve only begun to find what I need to do and there seems to be so little time.” Another interest is in the life stories of those who immigrated to America through Ellis Island, a small island next to the Statue of Liberty. “My grandparents are of Swedish and Irish stock and they came through Ellis Island. For these people America was their promised land. There’s so much to do, another lifetime would be a start, so I better get busy.”