OLEAN — When she learned that artist Meg Saligman was visiting her drawing class at SUNY Jamestown Community College, Jackie Hitchcock took to the internet to research the famed muralist to bring some talking points to the discussion.
The first was a YouTube video produced by Modern Hero that featured Saligman, followed by a Facebook tap, which revealed that Hitchcock and Saligman, both Olean natives, had a few mutual friends.
When the two met in class and started talking, the connection grew.
“I asked the students why they were in art class,” Saligman recalls. “Jackie said when I was young I had this really wonderful neighbor. She was a painter and played the piano. She spoke so nicely about herself.
Saligman asked Hitchcock who the neighbor was.
“She said Marcia Barry, who was my mom’s best friend and a dear friend of mine (as well as an active participant in the Olean arts community) – to the point that I cried right there,” said Saligman. “We had that kind of connection.”
Beyond that, Saligman said, “Jackie was knowledgeable, sat in front of the class, and really presented as if she had an interest.”
“She’s one of the team leaders,” Saligman said. “She works here full-time on the artist team.”
From taking an introductory drawing course this spring to playing a key role this summer in the production of a large-scale mural, under the tutelage of one of the world’s finest, Hitchcock’s artistic journey has spanned quickly accelerated.
Hitchcock is one of approximately 25 paid and volunteer artists who contributed to the Saligman mural. Installation is underway this summer outside the Cattaraugus County Campus Library building and the JCC Liberal Arts Center.
As a project intern, Hitchcock does a bit of everything. Her days consist of operating aerial lifts, mixing paints, painting the wall with brushes and sprayers, solving technical difficulties, supervising team members and contributing to social media mural efforts.
As the mother of a 3-year-old, she also has a natural tendency to make sure team members stay hydrated and slathered in sunscreen.
“Jackie is extremely capable, dedicated and talented,” Saligman said. “She brings the courage that keeps us all moving forward. She makes it happen.
Hitchcock is on her third stint as a JCC student since graduating from Olean High School in 2014. She helped run a ski shop in Ellicottville and a local pool shop before moving on. going back to college last year.
Hitchcock was inspired by his daughter to return to JCC.
“She pushed me,” she said. “She starts school in the fall. I thought it would be nice to go back to school together.
Hitchcock is set to graduate with a degree in individual studies next spring.
“I want to do more things related to art and music,” she said. “I exhaust almost every limit I have at JCC. I got involved in everything. It’s great to live (university) here in our hometown. I didn’t think he had much of that to offer. Getting this experience from this little drawing class has been really wonderful. We’ll see where the wind takes me.
Richard Minard, Hitchcock’s drawing class instructor, described the student as “very outgoing and very outgoing” who went above and beyond to learn about the art and improve her craft.
“She’s a talented artist,” added Minard.
Hitchcock is part of an artist team made up of college and high school students, retirees, business owners and teachers. They work in groups of four to six from sunrise to sunset seven days a week weather permitting.
Saligman said that kind of commitment is needed to complete a mural of this size on time.
In addition to the main team, Hitchcock and Saligman estimated that nearly 1,000 people also contributed to the mural during community paint days.
“At times we had four generations of painters at the same time, which was very special,” Hitchcock said.
“The community really benefits,” she added. “We had a lot of people coming in to take a look and stop by. It’s really eye-opening for me to see how many people support and want to get involved. One of the artists was here alone and he overheard a group of young kids saying that I didn’t realize Olean was getting cool. Olean was already cool. It’s just cooler.
The fresco is slowly but surely taking shape. The north side facing the Olean Center mall is nearly complete. Saligman said the project is expected to be completed by early fall and dedicated to the Oct. 7 StrOlean event.
With a sense of pride, Hitchcock said she plans to tell her adult daughter stories about how she contributed to such an important work of art in their community.
She can’t wait to see the mural finished, “but I’m also sad,” she said. “I don’t want this to end. It’s so much fun. As much as I’m excited for the reveal at the end, it’s going to be bittersweet.