Cancer Survivor JoAnne Williams Carter Resumes Art Career

JoAnne Williams Carter
JoAnne Williams Carter at her home studio in Sag Harbor. Photo credit: Brendan J. O'Reilly

JoAnne Williams Carter has been many things—mother, school registrar, choir singer, activist, artist, to name a few—and most recently, cancer survivor.

The 78-year-old Sag Harbor resident was diagnosed in December 2012 with fourth-stage ovarian cancer. She lost a year in 2013, spending most of it getting chemotherapy treatment.

She dropped from 140 pounds down to 89. Now she is back up to 106 and is her spry self again with lots of plans for the future. Carter says she wants people to know that they can survive cancer, and they can survive it well.

The hardest part was being away from her husband, she says over coffee at her Hampton Street home last week. Her husband, Bob Carter, was diagnosed in 2008 with Alzheimer’s disease and has been living at the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook. She says he jokes that he’s lost his mind but still has his sense of humor—and he even remembers their wedding anniversary. With her good health returned to her, she is able to resume regular visits.

Carter thanks her fellow church members at Christ Episcopal in Sag Harbor, who drove her to Eastern Long Island Hematology Oncology in Southampton three times a week from February 13 through Labor Day.

She is a member of Christ Episcopal’s choir, having been singing for church choirs ever since she was a little girl growing up in Brooklyn. Her father, Edgar Thomas Williams, had a real estate insurance business and her mother, Elnora, was a homemaker. Her parents took her, her sister, Thea, and her brother, E.T., to Sag Harbor every summer.

“We have very fond memories of Sag Harbor,” Carter says, recalling that it is where she learned to swim—”sort of.” For kids who lived in the city, she says, visiting the East End, being outside, and being able to leave their bicycles out without having them stolen was a big treat.

Now she and her siblings all have property in Sag Harbor, totaling 5 acres stretching from Hampton Road to Hempstead Street.

Carter’s husband is originally from Pennsylvania. They met one November at a football game at his college, Lincoln University, where he was on a G.I. scholarship, and were wed the following September. They’ve been married 53 years.

She earned a bachelor’s degree at Brooklyn College then spent 5 and a half years attending night school there to earn a master’s with concentrations in psychology and English literature. She worked at the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Brooklyn as the registrar for many years.

It wasn’t until she was 55 years old that Carter decided to try her hand at art. “When my children grew up and went to college and got married, and moved away from home—and I moved out here—I thought, ‘I’m gonna give it a whirl.'”

Carter studied art at various schools in Brooklyn and became an oil painter with a focus on still life and character paintings. She says she began with oil paintings because that is what she was introduced to when she was first infected with art. But lately, she has preferred to work in watercolor. “It’s much harder, but it’s much more rewarding for me and it requires more discipline,” she explains. “You’ve got to plan your painting, because if you make a mistake you can’t just paint over it … you have to just throw it away.”

She has done entire series of paintings of cats, from domestic felines to lions and panthers, and of shoes. “I like to do things that are thematic because it keeps me concentrating on one thing,” she says.

For her next series, she plans on painting Sag Harbor homes. She hopes to showcase the integration of middle class homes and rich families’ homes side by side—a feature of Sag Harbor that she says is rather rare.

She likes painting in the summer, when it’s warm enough to work outside on her house’s deck. It’s an old house—just what she wanted. An old home brings personality and comfort, she says.

Working on the East End, she says she draws inspiration from the changing of the seasons.

“It has the best light,” she adds. “It has light that is comparable to the South of France.” She attributes the great light to the fact that there is water on both sides of the South Fork.

In addition to the church choir, Carter has been a member of the Choral Society of the Hamptons for the past 8 years and was formerly a singer for the Brooklyn Philharmonia. She was the president of the Eastville Historical Society in Sag Harbor for eight years and currently serves as treasurer, as well as serving on the board of the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum. She is a former board member for the Brooklyn Museum and continues to serve on the advisory committee. She was a member of the now-defunct Coalition of Neighborhoods for the Preservation of Sag Harbor and now she belongs to CONPOSH’s spiritual successor, Save Sag Harbor.

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