A Life of Excellence: Remembering Edward Jonas (1948-2020)
By Michael Shane Neal, artist
Recently, I arrived at the airport in Tallahassee on a warm, sunny Florida day. My friend, artist Dawn Whitelaw, and I were visiting for several days as part of the pre-jury panel for the Portrait Society of America’s International Portrait Competition. As we exited the airport, Ed Jonas, the Society’s Chairman, sat waiting to collect us in his car. It was typical of our friend to be there in person – just another of the countless duties he took on in his more than 20 years of devotion to the arts organization that he helped found in 1998.
Eternally boyish with his rusty hair, trim build, and great smile, he greeted us in his usual animated fashion with a hearty laugh and a big hug. We spent the next few days working closely with him in a small room, digitally reviewing and selecting the finalists for the competition. His intense evaluation of each submission, nearly 3,000 works, only solidified a view I’d long held of Ed – that he cared deeply for and respected the work of every artist he encountered. He was truly a remarkable combination of some of the finest human traits: talent, intelligence, passion, humility, and depth of character.
As an artist, Ed was a gifted painter and sculptor, comfortable working in many mediums. His lifelike forms capture the essence of his subjects with skill, vision, and truth. He was a tireless student of anatomy, movement, balance, form, and beauty. His works, like his portrait of Florida State University President Sandy D'Alemberte (pictured below), exhibited his enjoyment of his sitters and his respect for craft. Having created hundreds of paintings, drawings, and monumental sculptures in his more than 40-year career, his work is a part of many private and institutional collections, including the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. and the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas.
The true definition of a Renaissance man, Ed loved art, history, literature, and all things intricately designed and meticulously engineered. He could dissect them all and understood any subject he tackled, from an almost obsessive love of research and homework. But of all his appealing traits, the one I appreciated most was his compassionate and caring nature.
It was that interest in others and love of learning that led Ed to co-found the Portrait Society of America. His vision for a nonprofit educational organization that would help artists by sharing knowledge, grew quickly to become one of the most successful artists’ organizations ever formed. As chairman, Ed led with skill and grace. He spent countless hours as a volunteer for tasks both simple and complex. He might be found setting up chairs in a hotel ballroom for the annual conference, or sitting down to an interview with the likes of Andrew Wyeth. Because of his tireless efforts, an impressive tapestry of more than 3,000 artist members in 20 countries exists today. Certainly, the society will remain one of his greatest legacies.
Through it all, Ed was a man of deep faith who believed in others and the power of community. His personal integrity was a hallmark of his life and career. Again and again, the word that comes to mind which I think best describes Ed is “excellence.” It’s something he strived for every day of his life. He never wavered from that conviction or settled for less.