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A painted memoir

World-class artist publishes book

Created date

June 19th, 2012

Pablo Picasso once remarked, Painting is just another way of keeping a diary. It s as if the famous painter personally knew Yoska (n e Jooske ) LeMair, whose stunning paintings tell the story of her inspiring life. The daughter of a Dutch official, Yoska spent the first 21 years of her life in Indonesia. My childhood was happy and uncomplicated, she says. My family and I enjoyed our time there. We loved the people, the culture, and the land. However, Yoska s idyllic childhood quickly came to an end with the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, in December 1941. Indonesia was an ally of the United States, she says. Quickly, the Japanese took over most of Asia, and we were sent to a Japanese concentration camp. Fortunately, Yoska and her family survived the war, and she returned to her native Netherlands in 1946. There, she was able to devote time to her lifelong love of drawing and painting.

A young girl in Paris

While in the Netherlands, Yoska remained in close contact with her childhood friends. One high school friend invited her to Paris to work on a contract for the European Youth Movement. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, she says. I thought, Paris? Why not? It was then that I really started painting. After completing the contract for the European Youth Movement, Yoska worked for five years with the Netherlands NATO delegation in Paris. She also soaked up all she could from Parisian artists. It was a world of art in Paris, she says. I was a young, single girl, and I loved it. It was very difficult for me to leave.

New horizons

Despite her love of Paris, Yoska was sent to Washington, D.C., to work at the Netherlands Embassy. She also began to study art under the tutelage of Benjamin Abramowitz, a celebrated artist in the Washington, D.C., area. The decision profoundly influenced her art. Benjamin taught me to liberate myself as an artist, she says. He asked me what I wanted to paint. In Paris, I painted what I was asked to paint by my teachers. Benjamin showed me that I needed to paint what my heart told me to paint. That was very new to me. During this time, Yoska met another man who would change her life her husband Jack. I met Jack on the steps of the Netherlands Embassy, she says. We were introduced to each other by a mutual friend of ours. And that s how that started. We met in 1958 and were married in 1959. Yoska and Jack had three sons within the span of three years. I love my baby boys, and I love that I was able to stay home with them, Yoska says. And as busy as I was, I always found time to paint. Because of Jack s career with the U.S. Agency of Economic Development, Yoska and her family spent ten years in Latin America. Traveling to Caracas, Venezuela, Paraguay, and Peru, Yoska continued to paint, capturing the beauty of her new surroundings. While in Caracas, she was invited to exhibit at the American/Venezuelan Institute of Art. While in Paraguay, the American Embassy raffled one of her paintings at an art event. Also during this time she honed her skills with batik. It s a process of dyeing and waxing that fascinated me, Yoska says. It s very messy, and I need a lot of space to do it. I sold quite a few batiks when we were in Latin America.

Back in the United States

Upon her return to the U.S., Yoska continued to paint and spent eight years volunteering at the National Museum for Women in the Arts, in Washington, D.C. I was there from the beginning, even before the museum opened, she says. It s a wonderful museum focusing on women in the arts. In 2009, Yoska and Jack moved toAshby Ponds, the Erickson Living community in Ashburn, Va. Their home embodies the look of a private gallery, showcasing Yoska s original works from all corners of the globe. She continues to paint, setting up her paints in the second bedroom of their home. Yoska also recently publishedA Time Remembered, a book about her family s experience in the Japanese concentration camp. My kids kept asking me to put my experiences down on paper, she says. But for the longest time I didn t want to do it. I finally did it with the help of my brother and father. It was my desire to illustrate for our children the contrast between my very happy childhood and then the rude awakening when we were interned. The beauty of Yoska s artwork stands as a stark contrast to the horrors described in her book. Her enthusiasm and optimism are a tribute to her strong will. Her paintings, which her sons have asked her to stop selling, are a diary of her remarkable life. I m just a regular lover of painting, she says. Art is something you can enjoy your whole life.