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Local artist finds family connection through art

Feit now creates one-of-a-kind jewelry in her mother’s memory, thrilled that they share a talent.


Staff Writer

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Jonesborough’s annual holiday craft show and sale, the Made Around Here Market, was designed to feature local artists and their crafts, but for Jonesborough resident and jewelry crafter Laura Newell Feit, her first year participating in the market means so much more than that.

Newell Feit will bring her hand-crafted stone jewelry to the November event where her mother and local painter, Polly Newell, was once a vendor herself back in the ‘70s.

“To get in a craft show around here is neat because my mother was so into the craft arena,” Newell Feit said. “It’s what I wrote when I applied for this; I said it’s just so neat because I knew I couldn’t paint, but just to be able to follow in her footsteps is special.”

A picture of Laura Newell Feit’s mother and a local artist sets near her work space.

Polly Newell passed away in 1998 after a full life of raising three children and painting hundreds of oil-based, acrylic and watercolor pieces that now grace her daughter’s home. The painter became known as a local artist in the community after traveling with her kids and husband, Clint — an Army lieutenant colonel who was involved in World War II, Korea and Vietnam — to live in a multitude of places such as Africa and Germany.

“This place feels like home,” Newell Feit said. “It’s really nice to be back here. And it gives me a lot of comfort still, too.”

But in 1972, after Clint Newell retired, the family moved to Tennessee’s oldest town — the place Newell Fiet always considered home.

After Newell Feit studied nursing at East Tennessee State University, she once again found herself on the move and lived in Arizona for 15 years and in Wisconsin for 10. But now that she’s been back in Jonesborough for just over a year, she feels even closer to her mother through her new passion for jewelry.

“I went to Michael’s to get some stuff to fix (a necklace) and I just fell in love with the beads. So I taught myself, went online and saw how to do it and started there,” Newell Feit explained. “I wasn’t doing anything art-wise. She never knew I could do this, I didn’t know I could do this. She was already gone. It’s just kind of neat to kind of follow in her footsteps.”

Feit looks over one of her mother’s many mountain paintings, inspired by her time in East Tennessee.

Looking through her mother’s art, you’ll find watercolor paintings of the Smoky Mountains, purple iris flowers and loads of birds and open fields often seen in East Tennessee. The jewelry artist said moving to Tennessee brought about the strong southern influence seen throughout her mother’s work.

“She’d paint things out of magazines, but when we got here, it was the South and the barns and all that kind of stuff. She was from Georgia so she was originally from the South, but she used to go out and take pictures of barns around here. The Smokies were definitely an influence — and she loved birds. I think that’s why I love them so much now.”

Meanwhile, fall colors, like what you might see in the surrounding mountains this time of year, also come out in many of Newell Feit’s hand-crafted pieces. But that’s not all Feit and her mother’s work have in common; Newell Feit inherited her mother’s generosity when it came to giving her art away.

“When she used to go in the hospital, she’d paint while she was in there. She’d give her paintings to the nurses and my dad would fuss, ‘Don’t give them away!’ But she gave away a lot like I give away. I’m selling my stuff right up the road, but I give it away a lot.

“I’m not in it to make tons of money. I’m in it because I love it. I love it so much, the time I spend on it is wonderful. I don’t feel like it’s work.”

Newell Feit had her jewelry ready for the Made Around Here Market, but there was another event she was preparing for when she shared her art with the Herald & Tribune.

Pictures of the Laura Newell Feit’s mother, along with her mother’s paintings, are still found throughout Feit’s home.

Sitting next to her work desk was another of her mother’s paintings and a photo collage of Polly Newell, ready for Newell Feit’s meeting with the local Schubert Group, of which her mother was once a member.

“At the Shubert Club, there are still going to be people there tomorrow that knew my mom,” she said. “It’s just amazing that my mom had that much influence. She was such a wonderful lady and now I can show my talent. Just running into people who knew her and knew her art is special.”

Newell Feit and many other craft vendors will be set up at the Made Around Here Market, held on Friday Nov. 10 and Saturday Nov. 11 from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. in the Jonesborough Visitors Center, as well as an additional marketplace located outside in the main parking lot area. The event is free, but donations will be accepted to benefit Jonesborough’s Children’s Christmas event. For more information about the Made Around Here Market call (423) 753-1010.