UC's Postman-Painter: An Afternoon with Jeff Folzenlogen

Written by Chris Pasion, graduate assistant to The Graduate School.

UC’s diverse array of talent extends far past its student body, with faculty and staff also possessing a lion’s share of the university’s creative aptitude and expertise. Jeff Folzenlogen, a university courier, is an unsuspecting character who largely keeps his talent under wraps.

Jeff sits under the tree outside his house near Cheviot and strums on his guitar. The branches of the tree hang low, nearly touching the ground, which creates a little private canopy for him to play his music. “This is one of my favorite spots at the place,” he says between chords. “People probably think I should cut these branches, but I kinda like the cover they provide.” The leaves are changing to a vibrant yellow before falling to the ground, signaling the changing of the seasons. Soon, Jeff’s canopy coverage will be gone.

Nearby, his daughter works on her homemade Halloween costume – a human-size Kraft Easy Mac container – which she will wear to the elementary school where she works as a counselor. This is a creative family, no doubt.

Jeff has worked at the university as a postman for over a decade. On any given day, Jeff delivers interdepartmental mail and letters to over one-hundred offices. In his own way, Jeff adds life to the offices he visits whenever he enters the room. It would be easy for a mailman to plop the day’s letters and packages on the desk and leave without a word, but this is not Jeff’s style. He takes time to interact with people, even if it’s just a few choice words he blurts out as he rushes off to the next delivery. “I feel like I’m disrupting any time I come into the office,” he says self-effacingly, “I say everything backwards.” Despite this, he remembers peoples’ names and the happenings in their lives, even little details. With how many people he sees and interacts with each day, this is an impressive feat, especially for a self-professed introvert. “The hardest part is when people leave,” he says of the graduate students he interacts with, who, as their programs dictate, come and go in the span of a few short years. “Just as I’m getting to know them, life sweeps them up and they’re gone.”

Jeff spends his time outside of work painting in his home; his work is strewn throughout every corner of the house, lining the walls and stacking atop tables. Black and white reference photos of Bob Dylan sit next to a large, colorful piece that depicts the singer at various stages in his career, overlaid with lyrics from songs such as “My Back Pages”, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”, and more. Lyric sheets for Bob Dylan, The Band, James Taylor, and many other artists can be seen laid out on the table where he practices music.

Perhaps the most impressive painting in terms of scale is on display next to the Bob Dylan piece: a depiction of The Beatles from the cover of their album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which stretches from the floor all the way up to the ceiling. This particular piece is one he has been working on since 1996. “I tried to get Paul [McCartney] to sign it,” he says. “I guess he doesn’t really sign things. I probably wouldn’t either if I was that big.” Interestingly, upon closer inspection of his work, there are figures that can be seen carrying this same Sgt. Pepper’s painting around in the background of many of his paintings. This is a piece that follows him around in his life, as well as his work; it has clearly taken on meaning to him past simply being an album that is important to him artistically. 

When he was younger, Jeff attended art school, where he honed his painting skills. He refers to this as a time where he really grew into his own as a painter. His mentors and colleagues encouraged him to sell his pieces, but he says his process is so slow that it wouldn’t be worth it. “I take years and years to finish a single painting. Even the small ones—I just find a smaller brush,” he says, half-jokingly, half resigned. This doesn’t seem to bother him though. Jeff paints for pleasure, not profit. He describes the craft as therapeutic; mixing the colors until he gets the exact shade he is looking for, applying the paint to the canvas, and seeing how the piece presents itself, layer by layer.

Jeff’s passion for people is on full display in his paintings. “I’ve been told to include less people in my paintings, but that’s where my love is,” he says. His body of work contains many impressive cityscapes – many of which depict Cincinnati landmarks such as Fountain Square and the Roebling Bridge – that contain no people at all. These are not the paintings he keeps on display in his house, however, suggesting that the ones that do contain people carry more weight for him.

Jeff holds up a self-portrait he did in his 20’s. His style, at least as shown in this piece, was less refined then, with rougher brush strokes and more subdued color palettes. The talent was clearly there. “I still feel like I’m in my 20’s,” Jeff says, reflecting. “The only thing that reminds me otherwise is when I see myself in the mirror.” 

In the main room where he works on current pieces, Jeff has a large rendition of Georges Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece A Sunday on La Grande Jatte—1884 (famously featured in the classic Ferris Buellers' Day Off scene at the Art Institute of Chicago). Seurat's piece is an observation, whereas  Jeff’s take is an interpretation, injected with people from his own life. Seurat’s muted tones and subdued hues are not present in Jeff’s piece; rather, his is teeming with color, including a mysterious rainbow that bursts across the canvas, dividing the piece in half. In the background, John Lennon wails on a trumpet, sending his music out to join with the quiet waves of the river.