Georgia Stafford and her mother Jane Lewis (aka “Mama Jane”) have blended their names and imaginative sparks to create a unique artwork brand called Georgia Jane Design. After living in different cities for 25 years, they now reside in Memphis and have teamed up in more than one artistic endeavor. A little over three years ago, they began painting and selling furniture in antique shop booths. In an effort to spice up their spaces with some vignettes, Georgia and Jane began painting on canvas. To their surprise, the artwork took off and they left the furniture in the dust. Now, Georgia Jane is regularly commissioned to paint pieces that reflect different aspects of Southern culture. Their love for one another and for life itself is contagious, and you will be inspired to love your own family better as you get a closer look at this dynamic duo. Please welcome Georgia Stafford and Jane Lewis as our newest FACES of Memphis!
Where did your love of art come from?
Georgia: First off, most people call my mom “Mama Jane,” so you can call her that, too! Mama Jane was an art teacher for 25 years, and I was a school principal and teacher before I retired. I never really was into painting, but she always said I had an eye for design, and that came out in my school setting. I loved transforming a wall into an “under the sea” scene for a play or project. I loved bringing an artistic eye to things in a different way. Also, I had moved into a new house and was looking for art that I loved to decorate my walls. I couldn’t really find what I was looking for — the type of thing I wanted to see when I first woke up in the mornings. So I just decided to paint it myself.
Mama Jane: I’m as surprised as anybody by how well she paints! She wasn’t really a painter growing up, but she had talents in design in other ways. She has a God-given gift!
How did you decide to go into business together?
Georgia: Mama was living in Greenville, South Carolina, with her favorite child, my brother. She was homeschooling her two granddaughters there, and they were part of a co-op. For three years in a row, she was in charge of the school prom and decorated it in order to make it fabulous. They graduated around the same time I retired.
Mama Jane: When she retired, I wanted to come to Memphis and play with her. We started with the furniture and moved to the art, and if we are going to do something, we are going to go for it!
You have different categories of subject matter — including The Memphis bridge, nature and college football stadiums. How did you develop your style?
Mama Jane: What’s prettier than outside?! There’s no right or wrong way to paint nature. It just naturally comes from us. We are not very detailed people. I love nature, and I like to represent it as best I can without being too uptight or controlled.
Georgia: We wanted to do something that would mean something to the local community, and I wanted to paint a subject I would want in my own home. Just last week, when we delivered one of our commissions of the bridge, the lady said, “When I see this bridge, I see my grandmother. She lived in Arkansas, and as a child … when we would visit her, we would drive across the Memphis bridge. It was always so much fun going to her house, and after the weekend was over, my heart was always filled with happy memories as we came back across the bridge. So I wanted a painting of the bridge in my home.” That made me cry, and that’s exactly the type of commission we love to do. As for the football stadiums, my husband and brother are big football fans — I mean, my name is Georgia — our whole family loves football. So we painted Georgia’s stadium first. Then, some Alabama fans asked us to paint their stadium. We had to do it holding our noses …
Mama Jane: ‘Cause we suffered to do it!
Georgia: Both of my babies went to the University of Memphis, so of course we did that one.
What is one thing you like doing separately?
Mama Jane: I did so many things on my own before, I just want to be with her now!
Georgia: I can’t think of a thing I’d rather do on my own. I’m so blessed! When people hear we work together every day, they either say with disdain, “You are telling me you work with your mother every day?” or they say with affection, “You get to work with your mother every day? I would give anything to be able to do that!”
Mama Jane: There are very few neutral responses.
Georgia: She likes me, and I like her! When I was growing up, she was my mother, not my friend. I was hyper, and I’m sure I bugged some teachers, but she always liked me and was interested in me. That’s the best!
Mama Jane: Being oblivious is also a good thing. I never knew she might have bugged teachers.
Georgia: She never tolerated disrespect or unkindness. I could do a lot, but never those two things. Once, I remember I was on the phone talking ugly about somebody, and she walked up and put her finger on the button to hang up the call without saying a word. The message sent was, “Not in my house! We are not going to talk ugly about people in an unkind way here!” I never forgot it.
Are your personalities similar?
Mama Jane: We think very much alike and have the same sense of humor. I’m quieter, though. We both look at things with a “life is good” attitude.
Georgia: We have the same attitude and the same temperament, but a different approach in how it comes out. I’m bossy. Well, what’s a different way to say that?
Mama Jane: You’re bossy. No, really, our presentation of ideas is totally different, but our worldview is the same.
What role does faith play in your art?
Mama Jane: Faith plays a big role in life in general. In everything, actually. I love being old because I can look back and see God’s hand all along the way.
Georgia: It was God’s timing to have her come here when she did. I can look back and see that, too, which is so sweet because it means God wants us [to enjoy] each other like we are. Her 80th birthday was in December, and she’s just started a new business. That’s an amazing thing!
Do you collaborate on every piece?
Georgia: I’ll answer with this: What’s the worst part about being an artist!?
Mama Jane: Squeezing paint out of the tube.
Georgia: Yes, so we like to steal each other’s palettes because we get into a painting groove and don’t want to have to squeeze more paint out of the tube! Last week, we were working on two different landscapes for First Fruit Collection in Collierville. We were side by side, and about halfway through, I said, “Let’s switch!” So she took my painting and finished it up and I took hers. Then we kept touching up both of the paintings together. It works so well because nobody’s going to be in a snit. There’s just so much trust and comfort in working together. It’s so safe. The end product is better with two people collaborating, I think.
Mama Jane: We always like what the other one did better.
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What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Mama Jane: When I started teaching, my aunt was the assistant superintendent of the schools. She gave me one piece of advice: “Stay out of the teacher’s lounge.” There was nothing wrong with the teacher’s lounge, but that was her way of saying, “Stay away from negativity and complaining. It’s contagious.” I’ve always remembered that and tried to steer clear of complaining attitudes.
Georgia: My mama taught me to be able to laugh at myself. She told me, “You’ll have weaknesses and make mistakes. Find humor in those and don’t let them define you.”
Mama Jane: I feel so sorry for people who have no humor. And, by the way, Georgia, you put my advice to good use!
Outside of faith, family and friends, what are three things you cannot live without?
Georgia: We worked together on these. We agreed on a more serious list and a more practical one.
Serious list, first:
- Daily belly laughs.
- Sunny days with a view of the sky and the trees, so we can enjoy all God has created.
- Projects and goals, even if it just means organizing the dish towels. We are project people!
- HOKA tennis shoes. We are on our feet all day, and we love our HOKAs.
- Diet Coke, which is why our studio is right next to the kitchen.
- Going junkin’, which means picking up treasures at yard sales, Goodwill, and off the side of the road.
If you’ve got those last three things together, you’ve got a little taste of Heaven!
Thank you, Georgia and Mama Jane! To learn more and shop their art, visit georgiajanedesign.com.
All photography by Sheryl Escue.