Learning to Paint at Age 81: Joy Jaffe’s Work to be Showcased at UVM

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Paintings of birds, covered bridges, and barns hang throughout Joy Jaffe’s apartment in South Burlington. Everywhere you turn, there are paintings of beautiful scenes from near and far—Woodstock, Waits River, Sonoma, and Ireland.

What makes a visit to Joy’s home so remarkable is to learn that she created all of these paintings. Even more impressive is that Joy learned how to paint only a few years ago at age 81.

“All my life I said I couldn’t paint a straight line,” says Joy, a former caterer and member of Robert Shaw’s Collegiate Choral (a highlight was performing Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis at Carnegie Hall).

Joy learned to paint through private instruction in Vermont. As part of UVM’s OLLI program, Joy’s paintings will be exhibited at UVM Continuing and Distance Education. A public reception will be May 6 from 5 to 6:30 p.m., and Joy will speak about her work.

Finding Joy in Life

Perhaps Joy is drawn to the arts—cooking, singing, and painting—because of what she endured as a child. During World War II, Joy fled England with her family, but not without devastation. Bombs were falling, and mothers and children were urged to leave England for the United States and Canada. While on a ship crossing the Atlantic with a convoy of other ships, the Germans attacked. Five of the ships, except the one Joy was on, were sunk.

“I’m a great believer in fate,” she says. “Why wasn’t I on those other ships?”

Joy was raised in New York City and met her husband, Julian, in 1952. They’ve been together ever since and have four children.

Julian, a pharmacologist and retired UVM professor, is accomplished in needlework. The couple moved to Florida in 2000 before returning to Vermont in 2011.

“As much as we loved our life in Florida, we love Vermont more,” she says.

When you see Joy’s paintings, you’ll understand why.

UVM OLLI presents a reception featuring Joy Jaffe’s paintings on May 6 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. at UVM Continuing and Distance Education, 322 South Prospect St. The event is free and open to the public. For more information about UVM OLLI, visit