J.J. Cromer was born on November 21, 1967, in Princeton, West Virginia, to parents who were both science teachers. His mother's love of birds inspired her naming him "John J." after famed bird illustrator John James Audubon. Cromer was raised in rural Tazewell County, Virginia. "We always had animals: dogs, cats, turtles, fish, ducks, chickens and a rooster named Duke." The living room was filled with scientific apparata—microscopes, telescopes, and the family rock collection. Collecting and identifying bugs and plants were frequent family activities along with extensive family camping trips during the summer. Cromer really enjoyed drawing as a hobby until a critical seventh-grade art teacher shut down his interest.
Turning to books, Cromer loved reading science fiction and fantasy, and began writing his own at an early age. Cromer received a bachelor's degree in history, and then earned two additional degrees in English and library science. He then worked as a librarian at a public library, where he met his wife, Mary. Only after marriage did Cromer begin to draw again. What was at first a renewed hobby quickly gave way to obsession. His drawings developed into detailed paintings, all inspired and expressive of his concern with current issues, such as war, racism, science and technology, freedom of expression, class inequities, and environmentalism. Similarly impassioned by the destruction of the environment, Mary became an attorney and practices environmental law.
Intensely private, J.J. and Mary treasure their farm life, where Cromer now spends full days painting. Cromer concludes:
"I am very interested in the other human beings I share this planet with. I'm motivated by a humanistic hope that my voice can contribute to our cultural conversation. However small and inconsequential my voice is, it's still my voice. This need to 'speak' drives my artwork. In other words, what it means to be a good human being in community with other human beings. This is very important to me." - J.J. Cromer
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