The Wiley women have different styles, but each finds success as an artist
Walk into any upscale beach retreat or Victorian house in Galveston and you’ll likely see a painting by one of the Wiley women.
Island artist René Wiley and two of her three daughters — Rachel Wiley-Janota and Samantha Wiley Miller — share more than familial bonds; they each are working artists.
“We all have a little madness in us, and making art is one way to channel that into something positive,” Rachel said.
In style, the mother and daughters are quite different. But together in a room, they form a close-knit support system. As trusted critics and encouragers, they push each other to be more proficient and to experiment out of the bounds of comfort.
René’s paintings feature colorful impressions of Galveston cityscapes and coastal scenes. Rachel creates emotional landscapes on the edge of abstraction, “showing a familiar place in a new way.” Samantha paints vivid portraits “plein air” to capture human life with remarkable vitality.
René and Samantha work in oils, while Rachel uses watercolor, acrylics and other mixed media.
“When you grow up with an artist, you have a different perspective on what it means to create art,” René said. “You see the process, so it’s less mysterious.”
She knows this because, like her daughters, she grew up as the child of a working artist. Her mother, the late Janet Clugston-Ressling, was a painter in Conroe.
The only one of five siblings who picked up a brush, René valued her mother as a tough, if tender critic. She aims to be that kind of sounding board for her daughters.
Graduating from Sam Houston State University in 1983, René won many juried art exhibitions and earned representation in galleries throughout Texas.
She met her husband, Ben Wiley, on a blind date in the spring of 1977, and they married three years later.
The Wileys settled in Galveston, where he worked as a fishing guide and she painted and taught workshops until Hurricane Ike, which struck in September 2008, upended her studio. It made room for something new.
Opening a gallery was Ben Wiley’s idea — René was reluctant. But the storefront at 2128 Postoffice St. in the island’s downtown was an immediate business success. René had been selling her art from galleries for 20 years.
Ben Wiley jumped ship to manage the business as a full-time advocate and keeps the gallery open and thriving so the artists are free to create new work.
Given the talent in the three generations, one wonders: Are artists born or made or both?
“Some people are born with the ability to see in a certain way and to draw, as Samantha was, but becoming an artist takes time, study, focus and work,” René said. “Art is like a physical road. Most children love to draw. But at some point they stop, usually around 8 years of age. If you stop, you don’t move down the road to develop mastery.”
The Wiley women didn’t stop, and they always had support.
“We always had art supplies and were never discouraged from making a mess with them, and we shared a way of looking, really looking, at the world,” Rachel said.
Creativity was highly valued in the extended family.
“Our grandparents took us traveling all over Europe and we would visit every art museum along the way,” Samantha said. “We grew up talking about art and getting to know the masters’ work.”
Samantha’s work is most influenced by the realist portrait painters: John Singer Sargent, Anders Zorn and the modern master Jeremy Lipking.
“I’m focused on mastering classical oil painting techniques,” Samantha said. “Each new piece is a puzzle to solve, but what keeps me coming back is the profound beauty of the human face.”
Samantha graduated from the University of Houston and spent two years studying yoga and meditation in Mexico, Guatemala, Thailand and India. She met her husband, Sam Miller, working at the Oasis Juice Bar & Market in Galveston’s downtown.
“He’s an avid surfer, and works as a captain and a fishing guide,” Samantha said.
Rachel also studied painting at the University of Houston, but it was Mark Greenwalt at College of the Mainland in Texas City that influenced her decision to pursue it.
“I never connected with traditional oil painting the way that my mother, sister and grandmother did,” Rachel said. “But in Mark’s class, I learned a completely new approach using drawing media, and that is what you can see in my work since then.”
As she was finding her way as an artist, Rachel met and married Joey Janota, the nephew of a family friend.
Today, each woman keeps a working studio and each paints most days, even though Rachel and Samantha both have young children.
“For me, painting is like writing poetry,” Rachel said. “You distill words and marks into their most essential for the best results.”
Art turned out to be the perfect path for all three.
René and her husband have lived in the East End of Galveston for 14 years, but soon will make the move to a Hitchcock farmhouse to be near two daughters and three — soon to be four — grandchildren.
They’ll be near Samantha and Sarah Thomas, the baby daughter, who is dedicated to her five-acre farm and family. Thomas is an artist of a different sort, her sisters say. She bakes, hand sews clothing, gardens, presses flowers and is home with her three children. Sarah is following the family tradition by providing her children with access to materials, fostering the mess and the arts.
“We’ll only be 20 minutes away from Galveston and the gallery,” René said. “I plan to build a studio large enough for all the grandchildren to come and make art.”
The newest generation of artists is already on the rise. Samantha’s daughter, Genevieve Miller, almost 3, already excels at drawing.