Janet Holcomb talks art, entrepreneurship and becoming a gun safety instructor

Writer / Kara Kavensky
Photographer / Brian Brosmer

Walking the grounds at the Penrod Arts Fair on #IndianasNicestDay, First Lady Janet Holcomb readily points out the artistic technique used by one of many talented artists.

“This is encaustic painting, which involves a method of warming wax, adding colored pigments and applying on a specially treated canvas or wood,” Holcomb says. “It gives the painting depth.”

A few feet behind us, the artist is encouraging other attendees to touch his painting, for it is approachable. The term “approachable” also describes Holcomb. She is walking around Penrod with her niece, relatively under the radar, for few people recognize her and she is quite comfortable with this.

Growing up near Muncie on a horse farm, Holcomb’s first loves were horses, ponies and drawing. The equestrian passion led to 10 years in 4-H. She was also a Girl Scout. Her drawing cultivated her desire for creativity, which she says applies to her decision-making and many areas of her life.

“During college, I took business classes, having been influenced by my parents and grandparents, who are small business owners,” says Holcomb, who earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in Fine Art from Ball State University. “I understood the importance of entrepreneurship as a supplement to a potential career in the arts.”

Holcomb has served as Vice President of her family’s business, R&R Engineering, headquartered in Summitville, Indiana. Due to her responsibilities as Indiana’s First Lady, she needed to step away from R&R to take on an entirely different role, yet in some ways she is coming full circle with her passions.

Upon her husband taking the oath of office, one of Holcomb’s first meetings was with the Indiana Arts Commission.

“The Arts are so important. It enhances the quality of life in our community, shows a richness of culture and diversity, and there is so much talent in Indiana to celebrate,” Holcomb says. “Art adds so much to our lives and shows us new things. An experience with the arts has a tremendously positive impact.”

A serendipitous moment occurred at Penrod Arts Fair when the First Lady visited with local artist Jessica Green, who does a lot of plein air painting in and around Indianapolis. The First Lady commented that Green might enjoy painting at the Governor’s Residence some time. This simple suggestion became a reality a couple weeks later.

Armed with paint brushes, a small army of en plein air painters set up their easels around the exterior of the Residence, capturing the beauty of the grounds.

Green, alongside six other Indy painters, went to work painting a scene in the garden. Green is known for her fresh and modern style, utilizing bright colors.

“Indy has a great, thriving arts community,” Green says. “It’s a pleasure to have our First Lady be so supportive of the arts.”

Harrison Arts Center resident Justin Vining was among the painters. Vining is a renowned landscape painter with a specialty in architecture. Artists Addie Hirschten, Alicia Zanoni, Donna Shortt, Stephanie Thomson, and Jed Dorsey were also engaged in creating landscapes alongside one another.

“The grounds are beautiful all year long,” Holcomb says. “It is wonderful to capture the spaces on canvas by these talented artists.”

“It’s surprising where this (creative approach) intersects: with cooking, decorating at home, business decisions. It is all bound by a common thread of creativity,” adds Holcomb, who sees elements of her formal art training as a creative problem solver.

Another passion of Holcomb’s was facilitated by an unpleasant experience, and one that illustrates her strength and resilience. A few years ago, while Holcomb and her husband were asleep, their home was burglarized and her purse stolen. The police told them that it was for the best that they did not wake up during the home invasion, as the suspects were likely armed.

Holcomb had been afraid of guns but decided to take a gun safety class. The experience did not end there, because she enjoyed it. This led to several more classes and becoming an instructor. She focuses upon the safety and responsibility, proper usage, storage (e.g., browning safe), and education of fire arms.

“I felt vulnerable and violated,” says Holcomb, who realized she had several thousands of dollars charged to her credit cards by the time she woke up after the burglary. “We need a way to defend ourselves. I had reached out to some friends who were into shooting sports and took some classes.” Learning gun safety lead to her of course learning about proper storage. Using a DEA compliant safe she would be able to both store her firearm and valuables to prevent further incidents from affecting her as much as this one did.

This year, for the first Gridiron Dinner since her husband took office, one of the best jokes of the evening centered around First Lady Janet Holcomb and her accomplishment of being an experienced markswoman.

“The barricades that used to line the front lawn of the Governor’s Residence have been replaced with signs of Janet Holcomb holding a gun that read, ‘Go ahead, make my day!’” shared the pundit, garnering one of the biggest laughs of the evening.

Holcomb, who was not present for that dinner, smiles and says, “Yes, I heard about that!”

Given her many interests, which include entrepreneurship, gun safety, Veterans affairs, and the arts, Holcomb is thoughtful in her approach as her role as First Lady with defining her agenda. She thoroughly enjoys being in public and meeting fellow Hoosiers. One of her favorite moments was meeting 4-H students at the Indiana State Fair who share the same passion that she had as a young girl.

Holcomb and her husband proudly attend events all over the state and around the world, yet perhaps the most popular Holcomb family member has four legs. With his own social media following, the First Dog, Henry, a Miniature Schnauzer, tends to steal the show when accompanying the Holcombs. You can follow Henry on Twitter at @FirstDogHenry and the Holcombs at @FLJanetHolcomb and @GovHolcomb.

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