RIDGEWAY, Va. — Jane Iten, whose funeral is scheduled for Friday, was a friendly hometown girl who had a second life as a nationally renowned artist.
Iten was found dead Thursday evening by her daughter, Robin Iten Porter of Pittsboro.
Porter and Iten's best friend Judy Thurston became concerned Thursday when they couldn't reach Iten which prompted Porter to drive to Ridgeway where she found her mom.
“She was sitting up reclined on her couch,” Porter said. “She had the quilt that Karen [Despot] had made of my dad’s old shirts tucked around her, sitting up, very peaceful.”
The artist had not been feeling well lately and had complained of upper respiratory problems and a slight fever, her daughter said.
“Of course we immediately thought of COVID,” she said, so last Tuesday she took her mother to get tested. The results came back negative the day after Iten died.
Porter said medical professionals have theorized that Iten may have suffered a recent heart attack.
Iten’s first life
It was fitting that her mother was wrapped in her father’s shirts when she died, Porter said. “They were soul mates.”
Jane and Joseph Iten owned and operated Iten Equipment Company, which provided equipment to the furniture industry. They ran the office from home and had a warehouse in Axton.
Porter said her mother never quite got over the death of her father six years ago.
Meanwhile, said Porter, her mother and Thurston developed a close friendship.
Iten and Thurston would visit each other every summer, and talked on the phone weekly.
“We just really clicked,” Thurston said. “We both love art, and we just loved one another and our families. … We just shared so much time together.”
“She was the most warm and caring friend and generous to a fault,” Thurston said, her voice cracking. “I am just going to miss her so much and am just grateful I had her in my life.”
Reborn as an artist
Once her children left home, Iten “just sort of blossomed'' as an artist, her daughter said of the painter whose works have graced Eden's City Hall.
Just two credits short of graduation, Iten had dropped out of college to marry. But Iten returned to Averett University in the 90s and earned her bachelor's degree the same year as Porter in 1996. Iten went on to earn her master's degree in studio art from Hollins University.
Her mother had always valued art, Porter said, and “once she got her freedom, she started taking those painting trips,” studied under various masters and eventually taught both kids and adults in Martinsville.
Thurston said she and Iten met during an art workshop at the upstate New York home of artists Sondra Freckelton and Jack Beal.
“Jane was so talented, and she had such a work ethic, that her work just kept getting better and better every year,” she said.
The two friends took many classes and workshops together, including seminars in Italy, England and Whidbey Island off Seattle.
Iten was a member of the Virginia Watercolor Society and the National Watercolor Society, which have rigorous invitation and acceptance requirements; Lynwood Artists in Martinsville; and several other arts organizations.
Iten’s paintings have been selected for local and national exhibits, including those sponsored by the National Watercolor Society and Piedmont Arts. She has had solo exhibitions at venues including Piedmont Arts and Eden City Hall.
Her many awards include several from Piedmont Arts’ Expressions exhibits, as well as the Virginia Watercolor Society Shenandoah Watercolor Award. Iten's paintings have been purchased for collections by various businesses and individuals.
“She had so many friends just all over the country,” her daughter said. She was a small-town girl, but she was really nationally known and really for her work and very humble about it.”
A funeral is planned for 2 p.m. Friday at Norris Funeral Services. Guests may attend in person or view a livestream of the service on Facebook.
Be the first to know
Get local news delivered to your inbox!