JENNIFER JACKSON’S PORT TOWNSEND NEIGHBOR COLUMN: Woman living the purposeful, colorful life

JENELL DEMATTEO LIVES a busy, colorful life.

From her house in Port Hadlock, which is painted a nonshrinking shade of blue-violet, she commutes to two jobs, one in Sequim and one in Bremerton.

In her spare time, she travels through the rural South, buying folk art to sell to collectors around the country.

And every Friday evening, you’ll find her down at the dance hall.

DeMatteo is the Friday Night Social manager for The Arc in Bremerton, which provides support, information and referrals for people with developmental disabilities in Kitsap and Jefferson counties.

The Arc has a large hall for bingo and weekly dances, which DeMatteo organizes, drawing 275 people from age 18 into their 80s.

“It’s quite a scene,” DeMatteo said. “People hang out, play cards.

“There is a fairly large dance floor, and it fills up.”

DeMatteo is also executive director of Snap, a nonprofit in Sequim that provides educational programs for adults with developmental disabilities, and is co-owner of Dos Folkies, an online art gallery.

The gallery carries work by outsider artists — people who have no formal art training or education, and are outside the mainstream.

To find them, she makes regular trips to the South, driving the back roads of Alabama and Georgia to visit the artists in their homes.

“They are wonderful, amazing people who are driven to paint,” DeMatteo said.

“That’s what I love about it. It’s purely inspired art.”

Many of the gallery’s artists are well-known, and have stories as colorful as their art.

John Henry Toney pulled a turnip out of the ground that had the face of Jesus on it, which spoke to him, telling him to start painting.

Missionary Mary Proctor heard a voice telling her to paint on doors after she lost her family in a trailer fire. Missionary Mary uses what she has at hand in her junkyard for her art, DeMatteo said, and has painted a complete set of U.S. presidents on doors.

“She is especially proud of Obama,” DeMatteo said.

DeMatteo said she was introduced to the genre by Dave Russell, whom she met though his spouse, Julie, who was manager of Robinswold Girl Scout Camp on Hood Canal when DeMatteo was outdoor program manager for Totem Girl Scout Council in Seattle.

Russell, who is her business partner in the gallery, lives on Swansonville Road near Port Ludlow, where he stores the paintings until they sell, mostly to collectors in the United States, and some in Europe.

“It’s part business, part hobby,” DeMatteo said. “We want to get this art out because we love it.”

Her interest in Southern folk art was natural — DeMatteo was born in Memphis, Tenn., and visited her grandparents there often after her family moved to Ohio.

DeMatteo lived in Lewiston, Idaho, and Spokane before moving to Seattle in 1985.

In 1993, she moved to Jefferson County to work for Sound Experience, the nonprofit organization that runs the sailing ship Adventuress.

She lived on Marrowstone Island and served as director of the organization until 2002, when she quit to take care of her son, Wyatt, who developed a rare brain disorder.

Wyatt Burns DeMatteo died in 2006 at the age of 4 ½.

“That’s what led me into the field of developmental disabilities,” DeMatteo said.

As director of Snap, she organizes life skills and self-esteem workshops, with the goal of helping people integrate safely into their communities.

As part of education and outreach, DeMatteo is bringing a traveling film festival to Port Angeles this fall.

Based in New York, the Sprout Film Festival features films by, for and about people with developmental disabilities, DeMatteo said.

She’s also talking to the Port Townsend Film Festival about the possibility of showing one of the films.

“These are beautiful, inspiring stories,” she said.

Craig Rogers, a Port Townsend artist, is doing the poster for the local premier of the Sprout Film Festival, which is Oct. 16 at Port Angeles High School.

The festival is free and will have three showings, each with different films, DeMatteo said.

“We want to make it Snap’s signature event,” she said. “It’s such a cool thing.”

To keep the music flowing in Bremerton, DeMatteo books bands a year in advance, favoring groups that play danceable music — disco, contemporary or country.

She has a crew of eight to help her put on the dances, including themed ones for Halloween, Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day.

For many participants, it is the only time they are able to see friends, girlfriends or boyfriends, DeMatteo said.

And she gets out on the floor herself.

“I love to dance,” she said.

She also spends time working on her garden and house in Hadlock, built in 1900, which she bought three years ago, turning it into a work of art.

Inside, the dark-toned walls are covered with folk art paintings, carved masks and memorabilia, like the rustic, red, wooden cupboard painted like a Coca-Cola cooler.

The strong lines and colors of the folk paintings reflect the artists’ intensity, their affirmation of life, despite, or perhaps because of, the challenges they overcame.

The Arc of Kitsap and Jefferson Counties holds dances every Friday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Cover charge is $3 and includes refreshments.

For more information, go to

For more information about Snap, go to

To visit the folk art gallery, go to


Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or e-mail jjackson@olypen.

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