Art is actually the second career of PCC artist-in-residence, visual arts faculty, and Abeka illustrator Brian Jekel. While many recognize his vibrant and imaginative paintings in Abeka materials and Bible Flash-A-Cards™, few know of his desire to teach and coach football early on. After earning a degree in physical education and sports medicine, Jekel worked as a PE teacher in Australia, Minnesota, and Colorado, his hopes set on donning the coach’s hat and whistle.
The transition from coach to artist started when he recognized that too much had changed in public schools in the ’60s and ’70s. He decided on a career change in 1977, picking up a pencil and paintbrush to pursue art. With a folder of drawings and some curiosity, he applied to and was accepted into the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in Denver.
Jekel proved to be a quick learner and hard worker—something he had learned well when he was younger. “Whenever my dad asked us to be someplace, you always had to be there fifteen minutes early. Cause if you’re early, then you’re on time. If you’re on time, then you’re late. If you’re late, you’re gone,” he said. “Become so valuable that whoever’s hired you cannot foresee letting you go.”
While working as a teacher’s assistant his second year, Jekel met his future wife Marlene who was studying to illustrate children’s books. Through her, he learned about the Lord. “She was going to a church in South Denver. They were having a Sunday school contest. I thought, I’ll help her out. And so I went,” said Jekel. After attending for a little time, the Lord began to work, and Jekel placed his faith in Jesus Christ.
In 1981, only a year after he and Marlene had married, Marlene came across a PCC ad in Sword of the Lord looking for an illustrator. It wasn’t long before Brian was diving into the work at hand, illustrating everything from book covers to Bible stories.
Despite being a young Christian, Jekel persevered to illustrate accurate Bible scenes for the Flash-A-Cards™, helping him to fully grasp many passages he may not have read before. “Reading Scriptures over and over and over again with the help of some Bible teachers gave me grounding and understanding [of] the Bible.”
About the 3-decades-long Bible Flash-A-Card illustrations, Jekel said, “They have been a big part of my artistic life, and they became my daily Bible study as I researched. I could have never foreseen what the Lord would do with those cards. I get feedback of how they have reached out and made the Bible come alive. Truly a blessing to me.”
Jekel currently teaches graduate studio and drawing classes and an undergraduate advanced painting class. In his decades of teaching, he has found great fulfillment in seeing his students grow and develop. “The Lord has blessed us with tremendous students every year. Our students have not only been awarded local and regional awards, but they’ve received national awards,” he said. “Even if I had the offer to teach in the most prestigious art school in the United States, I wouldn’t trade it because of the quality of the students that we get here.”
Two of those students included Jekel’s sons Jamieson and Koby, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at PCC and now serve alongside their father at Abeka. Jamieson, who also teaches art at PCC, remembers what it was like having his dad as a teacher. “Because of his knowledge, understanding, and experience it was every student’s dream to have him as a teacher. Whenever he painted on a student’s canvas or did a class demonstration, it was like watching magic happen before your very eyes,” he said.
The “magic” of Jekel’s paintings and illustrations has garnered recognition in the art world. In 1989, he was elected to the Society of Illustrators, a society that helps to “promote and stimulate interest in the art of illustration, past, present and future” and has included such talents as Normal Rockwell, Charles Dana Gibson, and N.C. Wyeth.
In 2003, DaySpring recognized and honored his artistic mastery in their RECLAIMING THE ARTS FOR CHRIST initiative to return biblical paintings to homes and churches, featuring seven of Jekel’s Life of Christ paintings in The Master Peace Collection. At PCC, the 2013–2014 Summit yearbook was dedicated to him for his Christ-like example and years of faithful service.
Looking back, Jekel arrived at PCC as a new Christian, but the Lord has grown his faith and used his talents to be a witness to students in his classroom and around the world. “It’s very humbling to see how the Lord has blessed,” Jekel said. “I feel that the Lord knew that I needed an environment like this so that I wouldn’t begin to wander.”