Mercer adjunct art professor Yvonne Gabriel came to the United States thinking she’d settle in New York City, but life took her to Macon instead. Since then, she has flourished personally and professionally, and she’s honored to represent Macon as the 2022 Cherry Blossom Legacy Queen.
Gabriel was born and raised in the Netherlands, where she obtained a nursing degree and began to develop her artistic skills. Her adventurous spirit led her to travel and live around the world while working as a registered nurse, flight attendant and tour guide, all the while documenting her experiences through drawings.
Enticed by the potential job opportunities and impressed by her visits to New York City, she moved to the United States and ended up in Atlanta, where she met her husband, Dr. Sabry Gabriel. They eventually settled in Macon and had two children.
Gabriel focused on raising her kids but turned to art in her free time. She volunteered to do paintings for churches, schools and organizations, and someone eventually asked her to paint a portrait.
“I wasn’t sure if I was able to do that,” she said. “That challenged me, and it took me six months because portraiture is very difficult. From there on out, other people asked me to paint portraits. Gradually, it started taking me less time, and I started enjoying it more.”
After her children were grown, she decided to go back to school and work toward a master’s degree. She enrolled in Mercer’s College of Professional Advancement, an educational experience that she called interesting and wonderful. She found a mentor and kindred spirit in English professor Dr. Margaret Eskew.
“Dr. Eskew puts you in touch with who you are and what you want to do,” Gabriel said. “I kind of felt ambivalent about art as far as it being practical and not making a lot of money. Dr. Eskew helped me to see that I should really just follow this path in my life. That definitely had a big impact on me.”
As a Mercer student, she wrote and illustrated a children’s book called “Chico, the Polar Bear” that became the second book published by Regeneration Writers Press, a teaching press founded by Dr. Eskew and her students. Gabriel created the cover artwork for most of the Regeneration books and illustrated 10 portraits for “Daybreak: Radical Hospitality in Action.”
Gabriel completed her liberal studies bachelor’s degree with concentrations in writing and art from Mercer in 2012 and went on to earn a master’s degree in painting from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in 2018.
“Yvonne’s creative perspective on life, her sometimes brutal honesty, her need for beauty and her pent-up artistic energy translate themselves onto her canvases, always evoking a response from her viewers,” Dr. Eskew said. “Art for Yvonne is like the oxygen she breathes, necessary for survival. Yvonne literally changes the world one brush stroke at a time.”
Gabriel’s big breakthrough in portraits came when Joan Godsey, wife of Mercer Chancellor Dr. Kirby Godsey, requested she do her portrait. After that, Mercer started commissioning Gabriel, and her portraits now hang in the University’s McDuffie Center for Strings, University Center, Stetson-Hatcher School of Business and Godsey Science Center, as well as in the headquarters of NewTown Macon.
She has also had artwork exhibited at SCAD and Atlanta’s Besharat Museum Gallery. One of the pieces in her underwater portrait series earned ninth place in the “outside the box” category of the Portrait Society of America’s 2021 Members Only Competition.
Gabriel is currently working on a 9-by-5-foot piece of a group of people in a moonlit setting, which has required her to study anatomy.
“I’m always learning every time I make a painting,” she said. “It’s always wanting to get up to the next level, do something new, learn something new and set a challenge for yourself.”
Since 2019, Gabriel has helped Mercer students uncover their artistic capabilities and expand upon them. She teaches courses in drawing as well as color and design as an adjunct professor in the art department.
“It brings me such joy. To be allowed to teach at Mercer and work with these incredible people is such a privilege,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see students discover a different dimension of themself. I’m so blessed to be involved with teaching young people like that.”
Gabriel said she didn’t know what to expect when she moved to Macon, but she’s so glad she ended up there. The city has provided stability for her family and a wonderful place to raise her two children, who are now ages 26 and 28. She’s been welcomed and encouraged in her endeavors. That’s why she is so grateful to be on the Royal Court of the 2022 Cherry Blossom Festival, which is March 18-27.
“Macon really allows you to shoot roots and flourish. It definitely became my home,” Gabriel said. “Macon has been so good to us. We have been able to realize all of our dreams here, and Macon has so much to offer. It makes me really proud to be a part of it, and then to be able to represent it as the Cherry Blossom Legacy Queen is a huge honor.
“Also, who doesn’t want to sit on a float in a pink dress?”