Preview: Jenny Pope & the Ann Arbor Art Fair
Summer in Ann Arbor often serves as a reminder of Michigan’s natural beauty. Flowers are in full bloom, animals run through our yards, and (even for the heat-phobic) the sunshine is a welcome relief from the dreary winter behind us. For some, like artist Jenny Pope, this draw to nature is year round. Jenny lives in Ithaca, NY and works full-time on her craft while traveling around the country to sell and display her work. Luckily, she will be setting up shop as this year’s featured artist at the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, one of the four fairs which will be taking over downtown Ann Arbor from July 21st to the 24th.
Primarily a woodcut artist, Jenny is drawn to capturing a variety of flora and fauna from commonplace cardinals to lesser known (but highly invasive) species like lionfish. She reads about, discusses and watches nature endlessly, bringing her acute observational skills and fantastical imagination with her each time she starts a piece. Her unique vision really comes through in all of her work – especially with Jenny’s magical palette of color. After speaking with Jenny, it was clear to me she constantly meditates on her craft while noting the intricacies of the world around her. She brings these observations into her studio, and the results of such a well-lived artist’s life are clear in the quality of her work.
Q: Your range of products is truly impressive. From woodcuts to ceramics, it seems like you have your hand in everything. What was the first medium you worked in, and do you have a favorite medium?
A: I have been making woodcuts for over 10 years and selling them full time for the past 8. Ceramics are a new medium to me, I have been playing with clay for 2 years. I started working with clay just before getting pregnant and it was super helpful to have a second medium. I got so big that I couldn't reach over the etching press to print, so clay was the only medium I could work with. These days I probably spend 80% of my time making woodcuts and 20% of my time working with clay.
Q: The imprints and designs you use recall a very organic and natural element. Beyond the depictions of wildlife and flora, your art seeks to teach the viewer about the environment. For instance, one of my favorite pieces, "Swallows Overwintering Underwater," is part of a series addressing myths of bird migration. What inspired this series and others like it? What role do you view art as having in being a pathway to learning?
A: I enjoy working in series. I read a lot about nature and animals which is where many of my ideas come from. Only recently I have started making a few pieces about my personal history with nature. "Seven Species" is a large woodpecker woodcut about all the species I have seen in my yard and "Resident Cardinals" is about cardinals that don't migrate in the wintertime. In the background of the cardinal piece, I carved my house and studio and barn. My grandmother was also an artist and she mainly focused on birds. I make bird pieces a lot, and every time I do I think of her. I hope that my work inspires people to think of their own backyards and the wide world beyond.
Q: Out of curiosity, where do you create your artwork? My guess would be outdoors or with easy access to it. Or, do you work from memory or sketches that you've done at an earlier time?
A: I make my artwork at home. I have a print studio inside and a building that I fondly call the "clay shack" outside. I do a lot of carving out there. In the summertime, I open the windows all the way up, turn the fan on, and open both doors. It's like being outside. A few days ago, I was carving and a baby deer ran by about 2 feet away from my legs. It was playing with its twin. I use photos for reference all the time and have a sketchbook that is full of writing as well as images that I look back on when I am thinking about my next piece.
Q: Your pieces often feature non-native species or plant-life. Does travel or exploration of other regions play a role in the research for your art?
A: People often ask me if I have been to the places that I make art about. I do love to travel and have been to a lot of places, the most exotic was Australia and I feel so lucky to have spent time in that country. I love islands and island life so I try to visit islands whenever possible. But, I have made art about many places I have never set foot in. I have a series about islands that I like to call, "Isolation produces oddballs," which features Myanmar and Indonesia, both places I have never been to.
Q: Is this your first year at Art Fair, and if not, what was your experience like last year? Why have you chosen to participate in Art Fair? Do you feel events like these are important for building a community around art?
A: I have been selling my art professionally at festivals for the past 8 years. The reason I do it is because I don't know a better way to make a living as an artist. I sell a lot of work online these days, but it is mostly to people who have seen it before at a show. I have a pretty hefty list of people who have signed my guestbook at festivals and I send out emails once a month when I finish a new piece. I think the festival environment is really helpful for artists being able to meet potential customers directly and build relationships with them. I think this will be my 4th year at Ann Arbor. My parents live about 40 minutes away so it is also kind of a family trip. I have friends from high school and college in the area so I love coming back. It's nice to see familiar faces. I always do at least one new show a year so often it is a sea of unfamiliar faces.
Q: How do you prepare for a big event like Art Fair? Are you featuring the work from your website mostly or will you be introducing a new series?
A: My woodcuts take a long time to make. I have been working on 2 pieces for 3 months and just finished one but am still working on the other. They all are editioned, but very limited. So, I will be showing the woodcuts that are on my website. All of my clay work is one of a kind. There may be some of the pieces from my website but I also have been stocking up and not posting my new work so that I have enough for the show. My frames are new this year. I have been displaying my pieces without glass. I have them professionally mounted and then they are varnished like an oil painting. I am working with a fabulous woodworker who is making beautiful hardwood frames (walnut and curly maple.) You won't be able to go to a frame shop and get anything like it so I hope to sell a bunch at the show.
Juliana Roth is a writer currently living in Ann Arbor whose poetry, essays, and fiction have appeared in The Establishment, Irish Pages, Bear River Review, DIN Magazine, and other publications.
Jenny Pope will be set up in the Ingalls Mall section in booth number A258 at this year's Ann Arbor Art Fair from Thursday, July 21 to Sunday, July 24, 2016. Jenny’s work can be viewed on her website or you can be follow her online on Instagram and Facebook.