• Laurel Contributor

Living Out Loud

by Donna Rhodes




If you asked Norma Jean Zahner what she came into this world to do, she might borrow the words of Emile Zola and say, “I, an artist … came to live out loud.”

Norma Jean’s volume is a lovely kind of loud. She lives on a sweet patch of heaven. Her family is close-by. She is immersed in a thousand things that bring her joy. A steady flow of Nature’s surprises stokes her creative fires.

But living out loud wasn’t always her style.

She says, “Drawing, playing guitar, and singing as a teenager helped me get over an incredible shyness. The more I performed, the more I came out of my shell. Art and Music opened me up to my surrounding world.”

In defining her voice, Norma Jean walked many paths, all of them steering her to the Arts. “When I was young, I envisioned myself being an artist and musician. Now I’m there. For the most part I make my living creating and performing.”

Few artists can say that.

In the ‘80s she got her degree at Southwestern Community College in Advertising Design.

She laughs, saying nowadays everything is digital. Computers never called her name. She’s a hippie-chick-analog kind of girl, much happier marking, smearing, splashing, stitching, strumming, and getting down with raw materials in hand.

You’ve enjoyed Norma Jean’s monthly illustrations in the Laurel. You’ve seen her graphic designs, calligraphy, posters, chalk and paintings around town. You’ve heard her pick and sing.

Now, one of her lifelong dreams, to illustrate a children’s book, is about to come true. Her son has provided the text for “Let’s Go Camping,” an informative, wholesome child’s book that will delight the entire family and…with anticipation…appear on bookshelves soon.

As part of the legendary Zahner family, Norma Jean has absorbed their love for Nature, steadfast devotion to family, respectful preservation of the land, and immense curiosity for the world around them. She passes those core beliefs along to the upcoming generations, especially her grandchildren. She also works with students at Blue Ridge School, with whom she shares a love of Appalachian music and weekly lessons on guitar.

Meet Norma Jean during the Laurel’s Cover Artist Reception on Friday, July 19 at 5:30 P.M. at Studio 106.

To learn more about this Renaissance woman’s inventory of talents, email her at normajeanink@hotmail.com. You can also visit her facebook page, or call her at (828) 356-4155, then leave a message or text.

The Laurel Magazine

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