Joan Herre Erwin was born in Harrisburg, Pa in 1948. From the time she was a tiny girl, according to her mother, she loved painting and drawing. When she was five years old, she distinctly remembers her mother's best friend pointing out to her that nothing is really all one color. Joan says, “She showed me that what appeared to be a green lawn was actually a combination of greens, blues, yellows, and browns.” This had a profound impact on her, even as a small child, and she never saw anything as one simple color again!
This wonderful woman, affectionately named “Aunty Jean,” encouraged Joan to draw and to look at things closely. During her teens, Joan also had two art teachers who inspired her: Mr. Willis, and Mrs. Marvonicholas. Her stepfather too, supported her artistic talents and especially influenced her to experiment with lots of bright colors.
Although Joan took art classes throughout high school and showed artistic promise, when she went to college, she focused on more practical studies, graduating from Emory University with a B.A. in History in 1969, and later, graduating from Duke Law School in 1974. Joan passed the North Carolina Bar Exam the same year and was hired by the NC Department of Justice in 1975. She worked for The Attorney General's Office in the criminal division for 25 years before retiring in 1999. Although Joan had a very satisfying and successful career, she jokes that, “I like to refer to myself as a recovering lawyer now.” Joan says she realized she needed to reconnect with her artistic side when she started sketching a cartoon of Chief Justice Rehnquist while waiting her turn to argue a case in The U.S. Supreme Court.
Today, Joan lives just outside Apex on a farm with her husband Bob, 6 dogs, 2 horses, and 4 cats. Joan has an art studio in her house and enjoys doing pen-and-ink drawings, cartoons, and painting in an impressionistic style with acrylics. Joan is interested in creating scenes that feature a juxtaposition of nature and man-made things; an interior with flowers in a vase, a house plopped in the middle of a garden, or a city scene with a river flowing through it.
Artists who have inspired her include Charles Addams, Dr. Seuss, The Limbourg Brothers, and all of the Impressionists. Joan says, “I like the Impressionists because you can tell what the subject matter is, but the painting is about the colors used, not rigid accuracy of representation.” Joan also says she feels artistically energized every time she visits The North Carolina Museum of Art. “I think it’s so wonderful that a state would put together such a great museum for its citizens.”