The Way We Were: Allison Watson

The Way We Were: Allison Watson
Allison Watson with her mother, center, and grandparents Lucy and Malachi Haughton

Allison Watson said she was born to create art. 

Growing up in Ortega, Allison Watson spent many hours at the home of her grandparents, Malachi and Lucy Haughton, on the St. Johns River. An only child, she spent time fishing and shrimping off the dock at their house on Ortega Boulevard three houses down from Stockton Park. 

“As a child my entertainment was being outdoors and being in nature. My father used to take me to the woods to explore, where Ortega Forest is now was like a jungle,” said Watson. “I remember a sign that my grandmother had in her yard that read ‘The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth. One is nearer God’s heart in a garden, than anywhere else on earth.’”

Fishing in the St. Johns River in 1944
Fishing in the St. Johns River in 1944

She also enjoyed accompanying her parents and grandparents on their cabin cruiser to Lake George and up the Apalaha River. After they passed on, her grandparents’ Ortega house was torn down to make way for new development.

She was also very close to her parents, Jim and Lucy Watson. “My mother was a wonderful artist; she painted in the group with Maureen Riley – Ford Riley’s mother – and my maternal great-grandmother was also a painter.”

Being influenced by her parents and grandparents, being engaged with nature and the river helped form the artist and the person that Watson has become. “I experience God in nature – that is my church,” she remarked. “What else could I be but a landscape artist? It’s my only talent! I came out of the womb wanting to be an artist – there was never any question.”

Lucy Bowdon Haughton, Lucy Haughton Watson and Lucy Allison Watson
Lucy Bowdon Haughton, Lucy Haughton Watson and Lucy Allison Watson

Watson attended Ortega Elementary School, John Gorrie Junior High, Bartram School for Girls, then graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in 1959. She maintains friendships from her high school years and meets former classmates and sorority sisters for lunch each month at the Timuquana Country Club. 

Watson attended Stratford College in Danville, Virginia, for one year before marrying at age 19. She had two daughters and now is the grandmother of Dan and Weston, both of whom live in South Florida, as do their parents. Getting married at a young age did not give Watson time to pursue a degree, but when the family returned to Jacksonville her mother helped with her children so Watson could paint, “even though she looked at my painting as a hobby,” she said. 

“I was a homemaker. In those days I took care of the children and tried to develop my painting. It was difficult with no education. I studied the masters, painted watercolors – birds, fish, landscapes. I took a few classes at the Jacksonville Art Museum with John McKiver, but I am totally self-taught. It took me a long time, but art saved my life. It gave me confidence and I wanted to teach since I didn’t have the opportunity to be taught.” Watson gives classes and workshops at Reddi-Arts Gallery in San Marco.

Divorced after 20 years, Watson took back her Scottish maiden name – joking, she said her husband had an unpronounceable Italian name – and was single for many years but is now in a committed relationship with fellow artist Pablo Rivero. She remarked that he is “so smart, kind, talented. We believe the same things. I’m very happy at age almost 80 to find someone to be with. I had known him in the Jacksonville art community for a while, I’ve always admired his work and now it’s a great relationship.” 

As an artist, Watson said she had some good breaks. Her first exhibit was at the St. Augustine Brush and Palette Gallery about 25 years ago. Interestingly, the studio was across the street from her maternal great-grandfather Francis Philip Fatio’s house, now the Ximenez-Fatio House Museum on Aviles Street.  

Allison Watson with her parents, James and Lucy
Allison Watson with her parents, James and Lucy

Watson’s family tree is a Who’s Who of prominent Florida settlers, with five generations in Jacksonville, and others dating back to the 1700s. The Fatios, from Switzerland, established “New Switzerland” south of Jacksonville and were prominent in the government of St. Augustine during the second Spanish period. 

“My mother was a Fatio of the L’Engle branch and a cousin and good friend of Madeleine L’Engle, author of ‘A Wrinkle in Time,’” she explained. Watson’s maternal grandfather was J.E.T Bowden, owner of a general dry goods store on W. Bay Street and mayor of Jacksonville from 1899 to 1901. On her paternal side her great-great-grandfather, William D. Mosley, was governor of Florida from 1845 to 1849 and worked to resolve conflicts between the settlers and the Seminole Indians.

“I am interested, proud and fascinated by the family history, but we are all the result of generations of struggling people. I’m not a better person because of my ancestry. I believe people are responsible for their own glories. It’s up to the individual,” she commented.

After the art show in St. Augustine, Watson started selling her work privately in 5 Points at the now defunct Group Gallery in the 1990s with Jackie Holmes and Taylor Hardwick. She realized at that point that she would be okay. “There were a lot of hot shots in that gallery. Then I was with Sally Ann Freeman’s Gallery Contemporanea for years. She was a great agent and good friend.” 

Currently Watson’s work is represented at The Vault and Home Street Gallery in San Marco and in galleries throughout the state. This productive woman also worked as an animator and art director for Sally Industries and did store displays for May Cohens when it was downtown.  

Watson’s life hasn’t always been a bed of roses. In a six-year period during the 1980s she lost her beloved parents and grandparents. “My mother and I were both born at St. Vincent’s Hospital and that is where she and my father died. It was terrible time.” Watson suffered the loss of one of her daughters as well.

In her youth Watson enjoyed scuba diving in the Bahamas and the Keys and still goes kayaking with artist friend Jim Draper. They refer humorously about their ventures into the waterways and natural areas of Florida as “A Day at the Office,” but the result is Watson’s attention to detail and vibrant colors in her paintings, which take the viewer on a journey through the natural beauty of places like Illusion Lake, Wildcat River, Ichetucknee River. Her paintings are reflections of “God’s garden,” she said

Allison Watson
Allison Watson

Destined by genetics and her passion to paint, inspired by the natural beauty of her childhood time on the St. Johns River and the beauty around her while growing up in Ortega, Watson seeks to capture the beauty of nature on her canvases. When asked which of her stunning landscape paintings is her favorite, she replied, “It’s always the one I’m working on!” 

Watson exudes a calm spirit of thankfulness. “I have a wonderful spoiled cat named Lucy Watson, after my mother; my daughter and son-in-law, grandsons who, even though we don’t see each other often, we make up for it when we get together. I’m happy to be in a relationship at almost 80 years old – you should never give up on love. I wouldn’t change a thing about my life. Part of my religion is gratitude.”  

Reciting from memory Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “When Earth’s Last Picture is Painted,” the last verse seems to reflect Watson’s life as an artist and a person: “And only the Master shall praise us, and only the Master shall blame; and no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame, But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star, shall draw the thing as he sees it, for the God of things as they are!”

By Peggy Harrell Jennings
Resident Community News

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