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By Cypress Cove Resident Donna Miceli
For someone who claims she never had a “career,” Joan Winokur has lived an extremely busy life filled with a wide variety of interesting and creative experiences— involving both working for pay, and volunteering. “This is what happens when you haven’t had a career and need to find ways to use whatever talents and skills you might have,” Joan commented. As she demonstrated during her “non-career,” she has plenty of both.
Joan was born and raised in the small, working-class town of Kearny, New Jersey. Her grandparents were Russian immigrants who owned a small candy store in Kearny. Her father and his two brothers grew up in a little apartment behind the candy store. “How these two immigrants raised three, brilliant, top-notch professionals, I don’t know,” Joan remarked. “Education was always important in my family. My father was a lawyer and during the time I was growing up, he was the local judge, so I had to be the perfect little girl.”
Not surprisingly, Joan’s parents, like her grandparents, were strong proponents of the importance of education. “My goal was to go to one of the best women’s colleges in the country and to marry an Ivy Leaguer,” she laughed. As it turned out, she reached that exact goal. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the prestigious Connecticut College for Women—now known as Connecticut College—and she married a Yale graduate, who, like her father, became a lawyer. They were married the week after graduation and eventually settled in Weston, Connecticut.
According to Joan, when she first applied to college, she was interested in fashion and had planned to go into merchandising. They had a program in conjunction with a large department store but, by the time she got there, they had done away with the program, so she decided to major in art. As she explained, “It was the only other thing I knew about. My mother was an amateur artist and had a studio in our attic. I used to follow her around to various art classes.” While in college, and for a brief time afterwards, Joan painted in oils, but soon decided she wasn’t very good at it. “I was really not a great painter,” she confessed, “but I always had a good eye for color and design.”
Although Joan never directly pursued a career in art, she has done many things in her life that were related to art. For example, she volunteered to create a program—in the school system that her three children attended—to teach students about art and the artists who create it. Working in conjunction with the school’s art department and the Board of Education, she arranged for local artists, whose work she thought was good, to exhibit their work and talk about it with the students. “It was one of the most satisfying things I have ever done,” Joan declared. ‘I was exposing kids to art—and good art—within their community.”
At that same time, she was also serving as visual arts chairman of the Westport-Weston Arts Council. Over the years, Joan has also found a variety of ways to use her knowledge of art and her eye for design and color as a source of income. Here are just a few of the “non-career” jobs she has held: she was a partner in an art gallery; managed a small modern dance company; managed a clothing boutique in Connecticut; managed a gallery of Indian art in New York City; was showroom manager for a home furnishings company in New York City; and was a craft artist creating designs, painting them on quality clothing and selling them at craft shows and to boutiques.
She also started a business—“Corporate Art Services.” “That was at a time when businesses were constructing large buildings to house their corporate offices and were hiring consultants to choose art works to display in their offices and common areas,” Joan explained. “Because of my volunteer work with the school system, I had contact with a lot of artists. “Providing and installing art for the Sapolin Paint Company’s new headquarters was the highlight of that enterprise,” Joan remarked.
As one might expect, art is not Joan’s only creative talent. She is also a published poet. Her first attempts at poetry began after she and her husband of 20 years amicably divorced. “At that time, I was writing little things that I called “whimsies” about my friends,” she remembered. “When things would happen to my friends, I would write a little poem about it. Then some things started happening in my life and I began wondering if I could write serious poetry. One night I sat down on my couch and suddenly all these poems started pouring out of me. Five poems were just there, and I thought ‘I bet I can do this.’”
Joan decided to bet on herself and started taking writing workshops. “I have taken workshops from Provincetown to North Carolina,” she commented. “I was really into it and thought I had finally found my thing.” Since then, she has had poems published in a number of national journals and has done numerous poetry readings. In 2014, Joan’s bet on herself paid off in a big way when a book of her poems—The Sand Recognizes My Footprints—was published. “My purpose is connection,” Joan noted. “Our shared human experience. That’s what I write about.”
When she moved to Ft. Myers, Joan discovered a way to combine her love for art and her talent for writing poetry in an interesting way. She joined a poetry group that was part of the Alliance for the Arts and met with them regularly. “It was a vital organization,” Joan said. “For years, we met at the Alliance and had a lot of activities. In addition to holding ‘open mic nights,’ we had many other regular activities.”
One activity that Joan particularly enjoyed was called “Broadside” and involved working with artists. As Joan explained, “Poets would submit poems and judges would pick out poems they wanted to use. Then the artists were called in. They would select poems that they wanted to illustrate, and posters were made of the art and the poem.” The end result was a festive event with posters on display while the poets read their poems and the artists talked about their art. Afterward, they would sell the posters. Joan’s poems were selected a number of times and she has framed posters to show for it.
As if art and poetry weren’t enough, Joan also makes jewelry. She says that poetry is her main focus, but to satisfy her interest in color and design, she also makes necklaces. “I haven’t been doing it lately because I have such a supply of them,” she commented. “I wear them myself and was selling them at a boutique in Connecticut. But how many necklaces can you make?”
One more thing you should know about Joan is that she was an avid ballroom dancer. “I have been ballroom dancing for most of my adult life,” she revealed. The first thing I did when I moved to Ft. Myers 10 years ago was to find a dance studio. I had been dancing regularly until COVID. Then I fell and broke my hip and that ended the dancing.”
Joan says she is on a “sabbatical” from all activities until she gets settled in at Cypress Cove, but it’s a safe bet that she’ll be back writing poetry and sharing her knowledge of art, and color and design with us before long.