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Tigers, Artists and Philanthropy, Oh, MY!

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Tigers on the Prowl, a volunteer-run organization, showcases the work of artists in a unique way that provides a platform for local charities to raise awareness and funds. This forward-thinking group has raised over $700,000 for local charities to date.

Tigers on the Prowl partners artists with sponsors to raise money for local charities. The majority of the funds are raised through selling sponsorships, tickets and artworks at the organization’s annual dinner and art auction.

We shine a light on two local artists; Jenny McGee and Marie-Josée Thiffault.

Marie-Josée Thiffault

As sole proprietor of Studio Marie-Josée, Columbia, Missouri, Marie-Josée exercises her craft through commissions, portraits, landscapes, private and group classes. She works mainly with oils, on steel and canvas. Marie-Josée also serves the community as founder, administrator and advocate at COMO Safe Water Coalition.

HLM: What is your background in the arts?
MJT: I’m a self-taught artist and painter, whose work is mainly known for its realism. I joined the art community in Columbia in 2009 by occupying a studio downtown and participating in local art shows. Some of my paintings have been acquired by the Missouri Alumni Association and individual collectors in the U.S., Canada and Germany. In 2017 I joined Tigers on The Prowl as a participating artist and now serve as a board member. Along with other local artists involved with Tigers on The Prowl, I recently helped coordinate and illustrate a children’s book titled How Can I Help? that’s scheduled to be published before Christmas.

HLM: What made you want to pursue an art career?
MJT: In all honesty, it wasn’t a career decision to begin with. I’ve always enjoyed drawing and painting. For as long as I can remember, even as a kid, I’d draw on just about anything I could get my hands on, any piece of paper, even a simple napkin. I’d even doodle in my schoolbooks! At some point, it stopped being a question whether I would become a career artist or not. It became more of a question as to what scale I would share my work and how my work would evolve. I’ve been an artist for many years but it took time to view myself as such. 

HLM: What has been your largest obstacle? Your proudest achievement?
MJT: Often our biggest obstacles are our own sense of limitations and fears. It took some courage for me to present and share my work formally and open myself up to criticism and the political arena surrounding the arts. It’s such a
humbling journey. 

I’m definitely proud to have found the courage and made the decision to isolate, identify and stand by my work as well as connect with select fellow artists and businesses who have been a great influence in my success and journey. I’m most proud of my decision to own my studio with complete integrity and to have this incredible chance to make a living doing what I enjoy most. I’m so grateful for it.

HLM: What would you tell female aspiring artists?
MJT: Show up, every day. It might not be your best work every day but it’s work. Promote your work. With social media and different platforms on the internet being so popular it’s easy to reach out; it helps create a lasting memory and a more personal connection. Pick your art, your signature. Look for opportunities regularly. I find great joy in giving back; I’ve made it a mission to look for ways to get involved and help with integrity, with the primary goal of supporting my community. Keep a consistent value of your art. It’s important to stay consistent not only with the execution of your artwork but also with the ticketed value. Do not undervalue yourself or your art. Treat it as your business. 

HLM: What mediums do you prefer to work in? What scale?
MJT: I mainly work with oils and sometimes with acrylic. I’ve been painting on galvannealed steel panels for about eight years now and I’ll sometimes use copper, regular canvas or hardboard. I enjoy working on larger-scale paintings, but I typically work on 3’x4’ to 4’x5’. Depending on the subject, some larger or smaller sizes might be better suited.

HLM: What is your favorite piece to date?
MJT: Since we’re talking about Tigers on The Prowl, the tiger I painted last year was one of my most exciting pieces. I built the canvas and the frame with eight galvannealed steel panels tightly applied to a wood board and framed with corner metal bolted on the steel canvas itself. I selected the subject to be a close-up of a stoic tiger as I feel it inspires the calm, spirit and undeniable persistence of tigers. I named the piece “Strong as Steel,” and it ended up being the highest ticketed item at the annual Tigers on The Prowl Gala and live auction in 2019. 

HLM: What inspired you to be part of Tigers on the Prowl?
MJT: I was familiar with the organization and knowing the mission and how it helps so many charities, it was truly an honor to participate. Once finished, I promoted my painting consistently with that goal in mind. 

This year, we have been working on a new presentation so it will be a particularly unique year! To support our charities best and adapt to the current situation, we’re putting together a virtual art auction this fall and a live auction and dinner in the spring.

Jenny McGee, a mother and graphic designer, was diagnosed at the age of 31 with Stage 3 breast cancer and given a 50/50 chance of surviving the next five years. After two years of intensive treatments, she realized that, to go beyond the day-to-day survival mode, her love of art could be used to express emotions and emulate the beauty found within each one of us. Art became the release and she discovered a new horizon in which color, texture and unfiltered expression could connect pain and healing. Jenny’s art symbolizes victory.  

Jenny McGee

Jenny’s paintings hang in numerous private collections. Some of her clients include HGTV’s designer Kelli Ellis, Boone County National Bank, Midwest Transplant Network and Boone Hospital. Her increasingly collectible status has attracted a growing list of patrons. You can see some of the publicly displayed pieces at the World Trade Art Gallery in New York City, BrandonJacobs Gallery in Kansas City, The Christopher Kennedy Compound in Palm Springs, Poppy in downtown Columbia, Missouri, and at Kindred, Healing and  Expressive Arts Collective in Columbia.

HLM: What is your background in the arts?
JM: I received a bachelor of fine arts from Missouri State University in graphic design. In college, I was awarded an internship to work in New York City with former New York Times art director Mirko Illic. It was a wonderful experience, and I was able to work on a few design projects for designer James McMullen and design in the studio of Milton Glaser.  

This time taught me a lot, and while I appreciated every second, I longed to see more of the world and return to my Midwest roots. In 2002, my husband and I moved to El Salvador and lived there for seven and a half years. My time was filled with rich artistic experiences including working with impoverished communities and brainstorming ideas of how to make art out of limited resources, working with a Salvadoran artist cooperative, LaFabrik, collaborating with ex-gang members to make works of art and doing graphic design for Salvadoran not-for-profit ENLACE.

HLM: What made you want to pursue an art career?
JM: From my earliest memories I can extract the desire to make things, make messes, create some things out of nothing and just desire creative play. Artistry runs in my family; my great-uncle, Nunk, both grandmas, my father and siblings are all artists and different mediums. 

HLM: What has been your largest obstacle? Your proudest achievement?
JM: One of my biggest obstacles has been the belief that I cannot make a living as an artist. A long time ago I believed in that terrible saying, “starving artist.” It has taken me a while to debunk that belief. I am proud of the strength, determination and persistence through failure that I have had to believe differently now. 

HLM: What would you tell fellow women who are aspiring to become artists?
JM: I love supporting and encouraging other artists, especially women artists. I often tell people to get a business degree and a minor in their art of choice, or double major in business and art. It’s important to have both of those skills.

HLM: What mediums do you prefer to work in? What scale?
JM: I work in all sorts of mediums. I like to combine acrylics, oils, charcoal, stones, resin, sand and clay into my pieces of all sorts of shapes and sizes.

 HLM: What is your favorite piece to date?
JM: One of my favorite recent pieces is called “Oceans of Pearls.” If this painting could speak a prayer to you it would say, “Wherever you find yourself in your creative ocean, may you feel the presence of God keeping you afloat, whispering in your ear that you are safe in this mysterious space. In the wildest storms and darkest depths, I pray you to trust in your work and calling, listen to it, and learn from the lessons only it can teach you.” It’s 4′ x 8′ long, a statement piece that will add peace and calm to your living space, made with acrylic, freshwater pearl, charcoal and UV eco-resin. This piece would look fantastic printed on metal or museum quality canvas. 

Art can come from the deepest parts of ourselves. It comes often from the unknown and mysterious internal waters, the waters where I believe the Holy Spirit swims, splashes, dives and holds us afloat. Art that comes from these waters takes laser focus and fierce obedience. Obedience that trusts in God’s guiding presence with each paint stroke. Sometimes people can view this intense obedience as selfishness. However, I believe the creation of art is an act of service, an invitation to look inside and swim into the deeper waters of our faith and life.

HLM: What inspired you to be part of Tigers on the Prowl?
JM: I love that Tigers on the Prowl supports both local charities and artists together. The organization is composed of amazing professionals with hearts that want to give back. I think it is exciting how they embrace creativity to pour back into the community. I love being a part of the Tigers on the Prowl

To learn more about Tigers on the Prowl, visit, email or call 573-881-5012.