In 1980, Jackie Schindehette was a homemaker in Fort Pierce who had never picked up a brush or palette knife. She never planned to. Until one special day.
Born and raised in Miami, Schindehette sometimes asked her father to help her illustrate reports for school. Only recently did she discover that he had illustrated his high school yearbook.
“It hadn’t clicked before that he had real talent,” she says.
In high school and college, Schindehette’s talent had nothing to do with canvases or tubes of paint. She and her brother danced together professionally. She also won several beauty pageants.
At the University of Florida, she came in second in the Miss Military Ball contest but won first place in the heart of Army ROTC student leader Harry Schindehette. They married in June 1967 and moved to Georgia where Harry trained to be a helicopter pilot.
“A year later, he left for Vietnam,” Schindehette says. “Thankfully, he came back.”
Harry’s job with Florida Power and Light took the growing family to several cities. They made lifelong friends in Fort Pierce where he eventually headed the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority. Schindehette’s schedule revolved around their sons’ Little League teams and other activities.
Because she enjoyed visiting art museums, a friend suggested that she meet Fort Pierce’s best known artist at the time, A.E. “Bean” Backus. The idea of just showing up, uninvited, to someone’s home was daunting to a southern girl. But one day — one fateful day, as it turned out — she did just that.
Schindehette took a deep breath and stepped inside.
“I can still smell the turpentine,” she says. “See it all, hear Bean’s voice: ‘Come on in. How are you? Who are you?’ ”
Schindehette became a regular visitor, content to observe Backus and his protégés at work.
“Why don’t you paint with me?” Backus finally asked.
When she said she didn’t know how, he gave her a list of supplies to buy. For the next 10 years, her easel was beside his.
Not only did she learn from Backus, she got to know the steady stream of artists who drifted in and out.
“From the highest to the lowest, Bean welcomed us all.”
At first, Schindehette simply copied Backus’s technique, occasionally accompanying him outside for en plein air painting. She’d get her boys off to school and head for Backus’s home studio on Avenue C. Her dedication paid off with her first sale — $25, a confidence-booster. Today her paintings command prices from 10- to a hundred times that.
Schindehette was at Backus’s studio the last day he painted — June 6, 1990, coincidentally, the day after her birthday.
“He quit earlier than usual so we knew something was going on,” she says.
Backus died of heart failure at the hospital later that day.
Her mentor’s passing reinforced Schindehette’s passion for painting.
“He made such an impression. I still think, ‘What would Bean do with this color or this value?’ He was a hoot.”
When her boys were in high school, fellow artist Carl Hantman and his wife, Jane, convinced Schindehette to attend Art Students League in New York City for intensive training.
“I was only there five months but the impact has lasted a lifetime,” she says.
Her husband’s career took the couple to Provo, Utah, where she met other artists, some internationally renowned. She was invited to join a group of artists who camped together in the mountains, painted all day and then critiqued one another around the campfire.
“I put on my big girl boots, practiced with Harry’s gun and traipsed along with whoever would let me.”
When another job change moved them back to Florida, Schindehette opened an Ocala gallery with two other women. And when Harry retired, Fort Pierce became their home once more. Schindehette’s gallery at 101 S. 2nd St. is open by appointment; she also works on commission.
Backus frequently said that Mother Nature was the best teacher and that artists should experience the places they painted. Schindehette’s mother, an avid bird watcher, reinforced that idea. It’s no wonder that Schindehette is known for detailed oils of Florida landscapes and birds. Her work hangs at the state capitol, in corporate offices around the country, at Florida House in Washington, D.C., and has been featured in several magazines.
During the George W. Bush presidency, one artist from each state was asked to supply an ornament for the White House Christmas tree. Schindehette represented Florida with a depiction of a roseate spoonbill in a stand of mangroves.
“Walking into the White House as an invited guest,” she says, “was absolutely one of the most exciting moments of my life.”
Having once spent 15-20 weekends a year traveling to shows and festivals, Schindehette’s award-winning artwork now has an extensive following. One of her paintings was included in a fourth-grade social studies textbook. She is also on file with the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington.
All because one reticent southern girl mustered the courage to walk through a stranger’s door.
March 10, 2022
Lives in: Fort Pierce
Family: Husband, Harry; sons and daughters-in-law, Chad [Jodi] and David [Donna]; grandchildren, Logan, Damie and Connor
Education: Coral Gables Senior High, Miami-Dade Junior College, University of Florida, Arts Students League in New York City
Hobbies: “Harry and I play pickle ball. We used to play tennis. I won a rosette at the county fair once for sewing,
but since I started painting, if I have time, that’s mostly what I’m doing.”
Who inspires me: “I have a friend who can take charge of a situation without causing problems. She reads, shares her knowledge. She’s athletic, the catalyst for her family. Our kids grew up here together.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I used to be a professional dancer — tap and ballet. My brother and I did shows at hotels all along Miami Beach.”
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