Artist to Presidents: Seton McGlennon

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” Oscar Wilde

Cary, N.C – Oscar Wilde may have been wrong.  At least in the case of Seton McGlennon.  She has made a living of telling people’s life stories through art.  I visited her in her Cary studio this week.

I was greeted at the door like I was visiting my sister, or an old friend.  She was warm, animated, high energy, and full of compelling stories.  The same as her artwork.

Life Stories

Her specialty is capturing people’s (and sometimes pet’s) life stories in “gouache” – a water-based medium. “More opaque and textured than water colors”, she informed me.  She has painted on stones and canvas and driftwood and Christmas ornaments and more.

What sets her apart is that she has been commissioned to do this not only for ordinary folks, like you and me, but also for U.S. Presidents and celebrities.

“I love to paint detail”, Ms. McGlennon told us.  “I got that from my father, who was an orthodontist and a good artist in his own right.”

She went on to tell us that she was a reluctant artist, kind of  “falling into it over time” with the constant encouragement of her sister Nan.

Realtor Turned Painter

Seton was raised in New Jersey, becoming a Realtor® while raising two children.  In time, she found herself in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, buying, fixing up and selling houses in the 1990’s.  As a gift to her buyers she would paint a picture of the house on a Christmas ornament.

The housing market began to lag and she found herself spending more time with her art, painting  candles and driftwood and the like that she was able to sell in the Outer Banks.   Although she has no formal training, her artwork is distinctive and full of expression.  Some of it is realistic, much of it is almost caricaturistic.

Cary Bound

“Ten years ago, I got a map of North Carolina.  I closed my eyes and landed the finger on the map.  The Triangle is where my finger landed.  I had a friend in real estate in Cary.  So here I am”, she told me with a big grin.  “It was providence.  I love it here.  I am close to the airport.  And it’s safe and pretty.  There’s lots of other newcomers.  I love my neighbors.   And it’s great for my business.  I have nothing bad to say about Cary, period,” I was told.

A Trunk for Oprah

In 1998, Ms. McGlennon decided to put the story of Oprah Winfrey’s life on a small trunk and send it to her as a gift.

A year later, she got a call from Harpo Productions’ producer to fly to Chicago.  She was to be one of four artists featured in one of Oprah’s famous “favorite things” segments.

“At first, I was thinking…’oh I don’t know, I’m so busy’ and then it hit me – THIS WAS OPRAH WINFREY!  So off I went that same week,” she said.

1600 Pensylvania Avenue

In 1999, she was asked to paint a Christmas ornament for the Clinton White House Blue Room.

In 2004 she was commissioned to paint Christmas ornaments – 925 of them- to be given as gifts by the Bush White House.  Again in 2006, she was called back to do 1000 more for the Bush’s holiday gifts.

Seton is almost giddy telling us about her visits to the White House and Ms. Bush’s hospitality and warmth.  Her art was shown on Regis and Cathy Lee.  It goes on and on.  Her studio is full of priceless momentos of these and other brushes (sorry for the pun) with celebrity.

Everyone Has a Story

Seton McGlennon’s business is mostly built on everyday people asking her to capture their wedding, their anniversary, a vacation and other meaningful life events.  She gets photos from the subject, understands their story and tells it with her brush.  Her business is solely “word-of-mouth” she informed me.

Seton’s own life is already quite a story.  One day, hopefully, she will find the time to “capture hers” in her art.

CaryCitizen photographs by Hal Goodtree.