Jean Spence is originally from Chicago, Illinois, USA and received her Bachelor of Fine Art in 1972 from the Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois. She moved to London with her husband, Canadian archaelogist Michael Spence who took up a position in the Department of Anthropology at Western University. Jean continued her studies in the print-making department at Fanshawe College from 1973-1976. She received a Bachelor of Education from Western University in 1978.
In 1988, Marnie Fleming curated a solo exhibition of her works based on her time spent in Mexico for the London Regional Art Gallery (now Museum London). In the exhibition brochure, titled Teotihuacan: Place of the Gods, Marnie wrote: "Throughout her career Jean Spence's art has served as a way to reconstruct and preserve what is important in her life. For her, Teotihuacan in Mexico is important. For some 24 years she has been returning to this site with her husband, an archeologist and researcher. In this recent body of work she now seeks to recover knowledge gained from her experiences at the site and surrounding area, and in so doing introduces us to the circumstances of contemporary daily life in Teotihuacan."
Jean Spence an early supporter of artist-run centres, joined the collective of the Embassy Cultural House in 1986 and participated in organizing exhibitions and programs, including The Body & Society and International Women's Day exhibitions. During the past 4 decades, Jean Spence has contributed to fund-raising projects for many local initiatives addressing issues of social justice and presenting her work in community spaces, including the Cross-Cultural Learner Centre which addresses immigrant, minority rights and refugee issues. In 2006, she teamed up with Jamelie Hassan again to organize the London/Port Stanley Connection which was a group exhibition where London artists were invited to present their artworks in diverse local sites in Port Stanley, a small fishing village and summer destination near London on Lake Erie that many London artists had connections with. This exhibition was then installed at the Thielsen Gallery and Forest City Gallery in London, Ontario. For this exhibition Jean painted a series of landscapes that presented the views of the environment of Lake Erie as this area has experienced much change and growth over the last decade.
Characteristic of many of Jean Spence's artworks was the combining of her outstanding skill with embroidery and stitching techniques within her watercolour paintings. She also developed a series of still-lifes that intricately inserted found materials into her paintings creating a layered affect.
Her solo and group exhibitions were presented at Forest City Gallery and other regional galleries including the Art Gallery of Windsor's Biennial. Jean Spence has participated as well in exhibitions in the USA and Mexico. Her works are in the public collections of Museum London, the McIntosh Gallery, Western University, the London Regional Cancer Clinic, Victoria Hospital and St. Thomas-Elgin Gallery, St. Thomas, Ontario. She is also the recipient of awards from the Ontario Arts Council and the purchase award from the St. Thomas-Elgin Gallery.
Email from Jean Spence on October 19, 2020:
I was re-reading the statement that you so generously wrote on my behalf.
I have been disengaged from art, but hearing your enthusiasm and seeing Tariq's results has warmed those sensibilities.
We watched "The Trial of the Chicago Seven" on Netflix last night, bringing back early memories of living through that tumultuous era. Tanya, like Kamala Harris, sat in a stroller while we marched against the war and for civil rights. The choice to move to Canada, raise a family and, for me, to become a Canadian, followed. Judge Calder at my ceremony spoke to me in chambers. He assumed that I made the choice to become a Canadian for Mike's parents, but I told him that it was a good fit for me.
Canada gives me hope. I am grateful to you for connecting with the project "Hiding in Plain Sight" and including me. I feel passionate about the struggle.