Jenny Pope | Episode 637
Jenny Pope enjoys the company of animals in life and in artwork. Invasive, endangered, and mythic animals uncurl from Jenny’s imagination in the form of woodcut prints. Most of Jenny’s prints are “color-reduction woodcuts” which means she takes one block of wood, draws an image onto the block, carves, then prints. Each printed color comes from carving away the previous layer so when Jenny is finished, all that is left of her wood block is the last color that was printed. Jenny can never remake an image unless she re-carves a new piece of wood. The prints are very limited edition, not a typical Kinko’s reproduction.
Jenny’s ceramics are all handbuilt, handpainted, and carved. It was natural for Jenny to go from carving wood to carving clay. And, it’s much softer. Jenny has always had an entrepreneurial spirit and loves having a woman-owned business. Jenny feels lucky to be able to share her work and ideas with you.
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Does your work have a message other than having cuteness to it?
Absolutely. I work in series a lot and I have always been interested in animals and ecology and the natural world. So all of my pieces have some sort of ecological message or thinking that I have done behind them. So the series that I just finished was a series of whales playing and I finished a big beluga woodcut. Beluga whales which are the big white whales with big melon heads actually blow bubbles at each other as a form of play and so I made a series of pots too with beluga whales blowing bubbles at each other. If you look it up online it is just so fascinating because you see these arctic whales with rings, almost like smoke rings but it’s a bubble ring and they can be huge and they just blow them at each other for fun. I have done a lot of orca pieces and the orcas will play with kelp, so they will grab a piece of kelp and play tug of war or just flick it around like a dog flicks a bone or a toy. And I’ve done pieces with dolphins with puffer fish, so the puffer fish will blowup like a baseball or like a basketball and they will bop it around.
Is it important for an artist to have a message behind their work?
I don’t think so. I think it’s just one way of thinking about the world and bringing stuff into the world. For me it is important because I feel like it gives more depth and more meaning for the work that I am personal making and also I am never not going to be able to find a story. There are so many stories in nature that..it’s endless. I can work forever and I want to be able to work forever.
When you do a series like you did on the whales, does that make a difference in the world?
Good question. So I worked on a series a while ago on invasive animals from around the world and I’ve also worked on series on global warming and climate change and this was ten or fifteen years ago. I guess my hope that issues that are really a big deal get into people’s minds eventually and people start caring. That would be fantastic. Whether or not my work is doing that, I have no idea. But invasive species are a big deal. My husband just told me about this moth that is in Pennsylvania and it is just tearing apart forests and eating up trees, any kind of tree and it just sprays out this mucus that kills the trees. And it’s just a little bug, it’s from Asia. It has no natural predators here and I think it is something that not everybody thinks about regularly but by just putting a little hint of, This is happening, maybe I will make a tiny difference.
Do you think the way that the artist makes a difference is that it is the accumulation of voices that are out there bringing attention back to-We are supposed to be stewards not consumers?
Well that would be fantastic if people were listening. I think it’s hard. I think that we are bombarded with lots of different messages and lots of different things and also it is hard to remember the stories. I think that you can try. A person can try.
You said you will never run out of stories and you use more than one medium to communicate these stories. Do you ever find that one medium is more powerful for communication than another medium?
Good question. So with my pots in particular, I think of my pots a lot of the time as a sketchbook. I do keep sketchbooks too but if you look at my pots and you look at my prints my prints look a little more finished sometimes than my pots. Like for me to make a woodcut it takes about a month from start to finish. And my pottery, even though it is all hand painted and hand carved, I might be able to make a whole kiln load of clay in about that time or maybe twenty-five or thirty pieces. If I wanted to I could paint maybe 25 or 30 stories so I think about it as more of a way…like if I just want to make something really whimsical I can because why not because I don’t get to do that as much in my prints because with my prints I really try to think a lot before making something because it is going to take so long and I want it to have really good content and I want it to have a really good narrative and story behind the reason that I made it. It is really nice when my prints and my pots sort of play off of each other, where some of that whimsy really comes into my prints and then some of that seriousness comes into my pots.
Do you find that people respond to the message or just to the art?
Both. So I have sold my work to some really interesting people. I have sold my work to a number of scientists and to some people who actually study the animals that I make work about sometimes. So there was this woman, I don’t remember her name, but she was a ballerina for years and years and then she became a narwhal researcher.
Wow. That’s a change in careers.
I know! And she bought a narwhal piece and I talked to her a number of times, It is possible I talked with her before making the piece, trying to get some insight into what things should I put into this piece. Like if you wanted to see a work of art made about narwhals what would be important to put in there. And people who study crop and soil sciences have bought work. And people who have written books about animals. I had a piece about trout,invasive rainbow trout, which were dropped from planes and brought in trains and they populated western lakes and rivers. So the piece has a helicopter on the top and the helicopter is dropping fish. This is a story that actually happened and the fish survived a fall and that is why there are rainbow trout as opposed to a lot of different native species in tons of lakes in rivers all over the west.
Why do you care so much about the environment?
I think we all should care about the environment.
Well said. Yes.
My last question for you is..Can an artist really make a difference in this world?
Can any one person make a difference? I don’t know. I don’t know if any one person can make a huge difference but we can try.