Jan S. Gephardt, the older of the two Weird Sisters, has always been a tough act to follow. Super-smart and insanely talented, she was also three years further along the trail to mastery of all essential life skills than her baby sister, which was intensely frustrating for G. S. Norwood from just about the beginning of time.
The older-kid advantage
As children, Jan took the lead in making up stories for their shared playtime. The two sisters stayed up far past their bedtime, creating improv stories they called “Nighttime Plays” until their parents threatened to “come in there” if they didn’t settle down and go to sleep.
During the day, Jan spun stories of Wee-ah, a magical land ruled by horses long before “My Little Pony” ever hit the airwaves. She also led little sis on carefully curated searches for clues in what she called “The Red-Light Mystery.” Never mind that Gigi never figured out whodunnit, or even what they did. It kept the two girls busy all summer.
Issued a sketch pad, a box of crayons, and an eight-color pan of Prang watercolors at birth, Jan grew up to be a remarkable artist, as well as a story-teller. This, inevitably, led to her first attempt at publishing: a story about a mockingbird that Jan illustrated, hand-lettered, and bound with stitched signatures for a sixth-grade class assignment. Talk about a tough act to follow!
Sometime between middle school and high school, Jan became fascinated with Welsh mythology. When other kids were first dipping their toes into The Lord of the Rings, Jan was writing her own (endless) Welsh saga based on the stories she read in her personal copy of the Mabinogion.
When her classmates were struggling to figure out what a footnote was, Jan was researching, writing, and illustrating a 20-page high school term paper about different styles of carriage during the Regency period.
Talk about a tough act to follow! Poor Gigi dreaded the day when she, too, would be called upon to write a 20-page, illustrated term paper, and was profoundly relieved to discover that illustrations (and those last 15 pages) were optional.
As an adult, Jan continued to break the curve when it came to major life events. She learned to drive a stick-shift in the Jaguar of some random rich guy she met on her senior trip. She was tall. She was thin. She had great legs. She met her husband during her first week of college, and never looked at another guy. They’re still married after forty-plus years.
She had kids. She had a career. Her artwork is juried into shows all around the country. And now she has persuaded her sister to embark on one more collaborative adventure: starting an independent publishing company. She is, was, and always will be, a really tough act to follow. But follow her. Seriously. Because she’s bound to take you somewhere amazing.
IMAGE CREDITS: The photos in this post are all from the Sherrell-Gephardt-Norwood family archives. All rights reserved. The 1964 photo probably was taken by Janet L. Sherrell, the girls’ mother. The photo of (some of) Jan’s handmade books was taken for this post by Jan S. Gephardt. Gigi probably took the remaining two photos. If you wish to re-post any, kindly include an attribution and a link back to this post. Thank you.