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The Art of Selene Plum

Christine Vernon

Painter Selene Sepsey Plum has strong feelings about her mother's role in her evolution as an artist. Selene's mother was the one who encouraged Selene in her pursuit of the arts. She called Selene an artist even as Selene was growing up. In addition, she was Selene's only model for how a woman can be independent. In the years Selene was enrolled in grammar school, the Catholic school system didn't have funds for much of an art curriculum and most women were on the track of convention, anyway, to graduate, marry and have children. Independent women were a thing of the future for the most part. Her mother modeled these important characteristics for Selene.

Selene married her first husband in her early twenties. That was what was happening the career path of most of the her peers. She put her young husband through college and they had children but, eventually, at 38, she found herself a single mother with three small children living in a Chicago suburb.


Because she thought of herself as an artist,(her mother always said she was) she was able to survive as a photo stylist in the commercial arts, attend the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and raise her children alone. Sadly, during these years, her mother, her major mentor and booster, died. Selene returned to her first love, the arts, revitalized her life and returned to school. “There was something about starting at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago at forty that was right for me” Selene says, “I am happy I waited to go back to school because my collective life experiences contributed to making me the artist I am today. My children are in my paintings along with my mother. Most of my dreams are my mother's dreams and her dreams for me: self reliance, for one thing. I own property, feel I do beautiful work I believe in, and know the importance of the next generation.”

Selene recalls her life with her mother, “While my mother had a distinct talent for art, her religion told her to have as many children as possible. She had six. Still, she practiced wonderful hobbies and applied her creativity through decorating her home, upholstering furniture, garage sale finds, gardening and cooking wonderful food for her large family. Oh, and yes, all while working a full time job. My mother is still a very real presence in my life and in my art.”

In the long run, Selene followed up her six years of staying at home with the last twenty years of mastering her painterly skills, using encaustic wax for the past five of those twenty years. “ Wax works well for me”, Selene says, “ because it allows me to incise and embalm and has many, many hidden layers. Layers of mistakes and successes and mistakes that have been corrected through frustration and determination. I hope these pieces read as memories. I want them to be ethereal, wordless, silent meditations that communicate.”


Several years ago, although Selene still maintains space in Chicago, she relocated her studio to a farm outside of Madison, Wisconsin. Working on her farm provides an idyllic setting and inspiration for Selene's paintings, always landscapes, always with a horizon, “earth work” she calls them. Beyond just being a visual inspiration, she finds the natural environment nurtures her in a spiritual way as well. It is a peaceful setting that brings her family together in a very contented way that makes her feel complete. Selene is fully enjoying her work, her life, and her family husband/filmmaker Tim Plum, and children - Benjamin, Anna, & Jordan. Selene Plum is a person who has come into her own artistically and every other way at this point in her life and it is a fulfilling feeling.

Some of her favorite artists and influences are Georgia O'Keefe, Agnes Martin, and Rothko, people she found “meditative”. The theme of nature is one that has been important throughout her life and work and she admires that in the work of other artists. Coincidentally, the influence of the nature extends to her given baptismal name, Selene, the Goddess of the Moon.

Defining her personal reasons for doing her art, Selene says “I paint because it is my communication to society about my feelings for the earth. I speak through the visual. I want to communicate that I am alone, I meditate and I am in the moment. Nature and I are one in silence. It is a personal meditation that I hope all my viewers will connect with. It emotionally connects me to the painters of the past and will connect me to my children and future generations. Art is the thread of humanity. My work proves me balance, fulfillment, joy, passion, accountability and peace with myself. It is of no importance but at the same time, it is the most important. It is a record of my existence in the world.

Nothing's so important about hanging a picture on a wall. At the same time what is more important than pouring out yourself and your soul for that viewer to react to, to converse about, to think about the earth, the beauty of it and what we are doing to it. My work is conversations with myself and conversations with society. Being a quiet person, this is a way for me to interact in the political arena. I cannot remember a time when I have not been concerned with environmental issues of the space we inhabit and the human capacity for creativity and destruction. I want the viewer to experience the familiar and new when they stand before my work. I want them to care for the earth as much as I do.

I title my pieces with the dates on which each is finished. I think of this body of work as my journal (although I am not in my studio every day). Since I bought my farm, I seem to paint in the fall, winter, and spring. These are the seasons of much isolation...for me. These seasons also provide a color pallet that interests me. I spend the whole summer in my gardens and rarely get to the studio then.


While I am a private person, I want to send a message to women. I want to tell them to listen and discover what your heart is telling you. Find time to be alone and make your life plans. “All my dreams have come true in spite of the circumstances life has handed me. You never know where life will lead you, but your dreams will take you to a great place. Never, never give up on those dreams. I want to tell women to be protective of themselves and pass that to your daughters. Many of us don't take ourselves seriously. We put ourselves last, it is an age old problem for women.”

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Christine Vernon

Christine Vernon is the founder and editor of Women's International News.