ST. JOSEPH - Peter Jones wants people to know that his wife, Gwen, is an art thief.
Or at least she was when the couple started dating as students at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Ill.
"I found out about her because she stole my artwork," Peter Jones says by telephone from the couple's Bridgman home. "Actually, I think I really found out when we were dating and I was in her apartment and I said 'Hey, that piece looks familiar.'"
Gwen Jones doesn't bother denying the accusation.
"I could get to my studio by going through the closet of his," she says, laughing. "He never missed the piece I took."
Peter Jones is now worried that his wife may strike again. Only this time it's because the two artists, who have been married for 47 years, will be showing their work together for the first time as one of three new exhibits opening Friday at the Box Factory for the Arts.
"We both have a lot of pieces we want to hang," Gwen Jones says. "So he thinks we're going to be fighting over the wall space."
Playful banter aside, the couple admits they are excited about showcasing his digital photography and her fiber art in the Box Factory's Robert Williams Gallery. The other exhibits opening will feature paintings and drawings by Mary Burke and metalwork and jewelry by Vicki Cook in the Heartha Whitlow Gallery, as well as winning fashion designs by college designers in the Riverwalk Gallery. All three will be on display through Sept. 23.
"I don't do quilts," Gwen Jones says. "My pieces are mostly fabric pieces, fabric collage and two-dimensional sculpture. I love fabrics and designing. I have cut up old canvases and combine commercial fabric and hand-dyed fabrics into these interesting shapes."
"I'm a digital artist for the most part," Peter Jones adds. "I create digital prints made from photographs, various textures, drawings and things like that. I kind of do the same thing with Photoshop that my wife does with cloth but I'm a bit more surrealistic. This is really the first time I've done a show where I've shown a range of work. I go from really straight photography to using photography as collage and surrealism. There's stuff I've done 30 years ago and stuff I've done last week."
If there's one thing that ties the couple's work together, aside from their mutual admiration and a penchant for bight colors, it's the ability to cull ideas from nature, which is evident in Gwen Jones' fabric sculptures "Three Trees" and Peter Jones' digital collage "Four Trees."
"I do some gardening and I think that comes into my artwork," Gwen Jones says. "I'm influenced by nature, the trees around me and the plant life. There's also the wind currents that go through the garden so I have pieces with colors that have movement to them. Sometimes I'm inspired by the fabric itself. I have some very colorful pieces with patterns in them and lots of textures."
Gwen Jones, who has worked with fabrics for 25 years, and Peter Jones, who followed photography's move to digital from more traditional works, both started in drawing and printmaking.
"Although my work has changed it quite a bit, I've brought in quite a bit of my printmaking background into it," Peter Jones says. "My work is a bit different than your traditional computer artist. I think that's because I bring a lot of other things into it from the previous experience I've had."
After the "art theft" incident at Illinois Wesleyan, the couple was married during graduate school at Northern Illinois University. Gwen Jones got her degree in library sciences and worked as a medical librarian for more than 20 years in Chicago. Peter Jones ran his own studio and gallery space, The Peter Jones Gallery, on the north side of Chicago from 1980-2009.
"When she retired," Peter Jones says, "she told me I had to as well."
The couple, who keeps an apartment in Chicago, bought the house in Bridgman 10 years ago and now spends most of their time there working on art. Peter Jones has also kept an art studio at the Box Factory for the past three years.
"My studio is kind of tucked away in a corner," Peter Jones says. "So I think when they invited us to show our work they were kind of curious about it."
Not curious enough, however, to steal any of his pieces.
Suddenly Gwen Jones blurts out, "He's borrowed some of my fabric for his work."
After a brief pause Peter Jones says, "That's true. ... I guess we inspire each other."
-- WHAT: Opening receptions for Photography by Peter Jones and Fiber Arts by Gwen Jones; Paintings by Mary Burke and Metal Work by Vicki Cook; and "Winners Showcase" from Shore magazine Fashion Design Contest
-- WHEN: 5-7 p.m. Friday; exhibits continue through Sept. 23
-- WHERE: Box Factory for the Arts, 1101 Broad St., St. Joseph
-- HOW MUCH: Free
-- CONTACT: 983-3688 or www.boxfactoryforthearts.org