Inspirational Women: Janet McKenzie

Martin Luther King Day, Black History Month, our first black President Barack Obama, all made me think about Janet McKenzie, an artist whose beautiful paintings of black men and women of biblical times has done much to put a black face to today’s art world. Her richly beautiful paintings celebrate our strengths, our femininity and our heritage. Her most famous work ‘Jesus of the People’ chosen in 2000 as the Catholic Church’s new image of Christ, depicts a black Jesus - a Jesus of the people, and though the image is strongly male, the face itself was based on a female model. This stirring painting has toured the world, creating controversy and dialogue. Showing a Jesus who is confident and calming against a back drop of pink stained glass. Janet told me one of her early motivations for painting people of color was to give her teenage nephew a reflection of himself in art.
Janet’s new book, Holiness and the Feminine Spirit published by Orbis Books features 28 full color paintings of women through sacred and secular imagery. She paints women of color – and that really means all women, because the colors of every skin, the nuance of every feature are alive and rich in her renderings of African, Asian and Caucasian and First Nation Women. Enjoy the writings by well known writers, Joyce Rupp, Diane Butler Bass, Wendy Beckett and Ann Patchett among others juxtaposed against her moving and brilliant artworks. Her women are empowered, strong and beautiful. In Janet’s words -
Women are for me the sacred beings that are the foundation of life, subjects that have the power to captivate my imagination and inform my expression.”

Living in the remote Island Pond, Vermont, Janet has produced a body of work that astounds and inspires.
You can visit Janet at
Janet’s book is available through


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