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J. Cervini Rector, Grenell’s Resident Artist

Spring of 2007, we returned to Grenell Island to find a display of breath-taking paintings in the Grenell Island Community House.  The pictures had vibrant colors and a relaxed, happy mood. There was a picture of our Grenell Island Chapel and the Hendley/DuBon boathouse from a few years ago when the old dead willow tree leaned far out from the shore and over the water at a precarious angle. Each painting was as engaging as the next. They were like pictures of old familiar friends.

Where had they come from? I squinted at the name in the lower right corner. J. Cervini Rector. The “Cervini” wasn’t familiar, but I knew the name Rector. J? Could Joan Rector be the artist?

Joan lives in a cottage, just down from the Community House and across from the Chapel. I’ve seen Joan, over the years, tending to one of her many flowerbeds or behind the desk at the Grenell Island post office or at Grenell Island Association meetings – she’s the treasurer. Could Joan the gardener / postmaster / treasurer also be Joan the artist?

Yes, indeed. Joan created the array of paintings in the Community House in just a few months, but she was hardly new to art. She was only five when she first came to Grenell, but even at that tender age she knew she wanted to be an artist. She spent many childhood summers visiting her Aunt Bert and Uncle Pat Grassi. Their cottage is now owned by Joan and her husband, Tim.

In her younger years, Joan drew people instead of cottages. “I remember drawing a trapeze artist after I went to the Greatest Show on Earth. I drew Lash LaRue. I got lots of encouragement from the adults around me.”

Joan had a wonderful art teacher in high school. “She was great and she let us do what we wanted to do. For me, that was oil painting.” In her senior year, Joan sold her first painting – a winter scene for $25!   After high school, she enrolled at the University of Buffalo majoring in art education.

Her father’s death cut her college career short, but it didn’t matter. “Everything I learned about art I learned in high school.” What she learned was oils. “Tubes, I liked tubes of paint.” And she wanted to paint big. Back then her teacher started her off on burlap. Eventually she learned to stretch canvas, but she always liked the burlap. “I liked the texture, the little knots.”

In those intervening years, Joan worked for a lithograph company as the color quality control person. Then she married, had three children who grew up, married. Now Joan  has eight grandchildren.

Two things were a constant in Joan’s life: summers on Grenell and art. Art in those raising-the-family-years took on a more practical mode in various crafts, including doll making.

Ironically, it was family that brought her back to painting and more specifically, painting scenes from Grenell. “My son said to me, ‘You know what I want for Christmas this year? I want a painting of the cottage.’” Joan decided to paint pictures for her two daughters as well. She didn’t know how to reproduce her oil paintings at the time, so she painted three paintings of the cottage, each from a different view.


And just like that, it started. Grenell is an island of cottages and boathouses, each with its unique perspective of the River. The buildings aren’t just summer homes, they are like members of the families. At the very least, they are legacies, imbued with the personalities of the families who have lived in them for generations.


Many come to Joan with specific requests. “Paint the cottage, but include the three trees that were cut down.”  or “Paint the cottage but without the tree and leave the boathouse out.”

Joan likes to put flags in her paintings, adding them in even if they aren’t really there, “I just like flags,” she says.

One of Joan’s favorite paintings is titled, Basswood Burning. The painting is based on a picture her sister-in-law took when the Basswood Island cottage burned down more than two decades ago. Even that picture has a flag, an Italian flag. “I always wanted to paint that cottage. It was beautiful, but you could never see it behind the trees.”

Joan still uses techniques from her high school days, but she has found a way to reproduce her work in prints, note cards and postcards.

Joan spends the off-season with husband Tim in an RV exploring the Southwest, mostly Texas. She takes her paints with her but has yet to learn to work form the road.  “It’s so much work setting up and tearing down.” So for now she paints only during the summer. The soft light of the 1000 Islands and the cottages of Grenell always provide inspiration for her work.

The Grenell Island Chapel is across the sidewalk from the Rector’s cottage where Joan and family have a front row seat to the many summer weddings on the island.
Basswood Burning - This painting is among Joan’s favorites
Boathouse Grenell
The duBon/Smith/Hendley family have been on Grenell since 1896.
There are three cottages and one shared boathouse
Clough’s Boat House
This is a scene Joan sees everyday as she awaits the mail boat, the green boat at the end of the long dock.
Original Nims Cottage
The Nim’s Cottage has one of the tallest flagpoles on the island.
The addition of the flag to the left the stairs is one of Joan’s favorite elements. “I like flags.”

By Lynn E. McElfresh

Lynn McElfresh came to Grenell Island for the first time to meet her fiancé’s family in 1975. Lynn became part of the family and the island became part of her life. Lynn and her husband, Gary, spend their summers in the Thousand Islands and their winters in Dunedin, Florida.

Posted in: Artists
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Comment by: Tara ( )
Left at: 9:05 AM Sunday, August 16, 2009
Living in Ohio so far from th 1000 islands the only way I am able to enjoy it year round is through paintings and pictures. Does the artist have a website?
denise hinds
Comment by: denise hinds ( )
Left at: 3:50 PM Sunday, August 16, 2009
Thanks for the memories
Dorothy Topping
Comment by: Dorothy Topping ( )
Left at: 7:19 PM Sunday, August 16, 2009
I tried to send a message. I goofed. I love your painting of our family (Nims) cottage. Thanks you for all you and your husband do on Grenell Island especially mowing the lawn and watering the flowers for the Chapel. Your paintings are amazing. Keep up the great work.
Lynn E. McElfresh
Comment by: Lynn E. McElfresh ( )
Left at: 7:02 AM Monday, August 17, 2009

I used to live in Illinois, so I can sympathize. Currently, Joan does not have a website. I will pass along your comment. P.S. My daughter and her family live in Columbus. Do you visit Grenell? My daughter was here the first of the month.
Shelley Ley
Comment by: Shelley Ley ( )
Left at: 8:39 PM Monday, August 31, 2009
We have two of Joan's lovely paintings in the living room of our "winter house." They help us get through the long months until spring when we can open the cottage again. Thanks, Joan!
Left at: 5:48 PM Sunday, February 21, 2010
Ardis Nardone
Comment by: Ardis Nardone ( )
Left at: 8:21 AM Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Joan,so pleased to see your pictures!!They brought back so many happy memories.!I also remember both your aunt and uncle as they were our neighbors during the first summers spent on Grenell.Would really like to hear from you and learn more about the people who now enjoy the island.
Timothy D Freeman
Comment by: Timothy D Freeman ( )
Left at: 8:52 AM Monday, May 30, 2011
Basswood buring, My fondest memories spending my summers on basswood with my grandmother in the1950s.The house was truly beautiful.