In honor of the upcoming 21st Annual Northeast Artists' Studio Tour, we've interviewed our super talented artists to share how they got where they are and why they make the work that they do.
Next up is artist Jenni Petersen-Brant. Jenni shares a studio with her husband Eric at 207 East Water Street in Decorah, IA; it's location #3 on this year's tour brochure. The tour takes place Friday through Sunday, October 12th to the 14th this year, with all locations on the tour open from 10am to 5pm each day.
Who are you and what kind of art do you make?
I am Jenni Petersen-Brant, and I’m primarily a potter working on the wheel to create functional pottery. I also dabble in printmaking, beaded jewelry, and mosaic work.
What’s your background? Briefly describe your path of becoming an artist.
I’m originally from Southwest Wisconsin where I grew up on the dairy farm that has been in my family since it’s founding by my great-great-grandfather. I was an actively creative kid – constantly coloring in coloring books, building structures out of Legos or dirt, or getting in trouble for scratching drawings into cabinet doors.
In high school, my art teacher entered a pencil drawing of mine into the Congressional Art Competition and I won in my district. My drawing went to Washington DC to hang at the Capitol for a year and the Wisconsin Art Board paid for my parents and me to go see it on display. This was a pivotal experience which set me on a path of thinking I was a pretty good artist and maybe I could do it for a living.
I consequently received my undergrad (BFA, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, 2002) and graduate (MFA, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2007) degrees in Studio Art with a focus in ceramics, a medium I fell in love with during my undergraduate studies. Luckily, my parents supported these choices 150% and I give them a ton of credit for being able to travel the artist path. They’re still my biggest fans and show up to help out at sales, attend exhibitions, and tell everyone they known that their daughter is an artist.
What do you enjoy most about being an artist? What part of your process do you most enjoying doing?
By being an artist and creating beautiful things, I feel like I’m doing something good for the world. It’s a way of existing that fulfills me and gives me purpose. I also enjoy that being an artist often means being an educator as opportunities to share your craft are common occurrences. Empowering others to tap into their creativity is almost as fulfilling as tapping into my own.
My favorite parts of my process are the beginning – whether it’s throwing a new form on the wheel or rolling out a slab of clay – and the end – when I can open the kiln and finally pull each beautiful little jewel out to examine.
What inspires you?
I consider myself a keen observer of the world around me and my eyes are continuously scanning my surroundings for things I find beautiful or that arrest of my attention for one reason or another. I take lots of photos, make sketches, buy scraps of fabric or old postcards, collect seedpods, leaves and organic materials that have intricate details, curves, dramatic lines, or for one reason or another strike me as unusual. Delicate flowers, voluptuous forms, ornate architectural facades, and antique serving pieces or old baking dishes often inspire new ideas for work.
I also look at ancient pottery and textiles for inspiration. Specifically, I look at pots of ancient Persia, Sung dynasty China and often, Islamic tile work. I’m also very interested in Indian chintz tapestries. I also enjoy exploring and studying ornament as it is attributed to different time periods and different cultures.
Who is your favorite artist or what is your favorite piece of art?
My favorite artist has always been Georgia O’Keeffe. I’m also a big fan of Lee Bonticou, an artist that I learned about in college. Both of these female artists created work that was bold and unapologetic yet sensitive and that elevated their materials. They marched to the beat of their own artistic drum and made the art they wanted to make despite what their critics and dealers had to say.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
One of my favorite responses to my work is when people say it looks so yummy they want to eat it.
I also had a friend in graduate school call me up from her studio down the hall and claim I had created a non-spill ceramic mug; when she accidentally tipped my mug that she’d been drinking out of, the cup’s small foot and darted ‘belly’ kept it from spilling its contents. The exaggerated handle stopped it as it began to roll and kept it from falling of off the table.
Describe what we’ll see when we come to your studio. How do we get to your studio/Tour location?
I share a studio with my husband, Eric Petersen-Brant. Our space is located in downtown Decorah in a building across the street and to the south of Decorah Bank & Trust. The address is 207 East Water Street but because we are on the back half of the 1st floor, we don’t have a ‘Burro Branch Studio’ sign on the main street and it can be a bit hard to find. Thankfully, during the tour weekend, you can enter through the Edward Jones’ office and you’ll find a door to our studio at the end of their office hallway. You can also get to our studio via the alley behind Don Joses’ Mexican Restaurant and enter through the lower level turquoise door. Look for the Studio Tour signs and mylar balloons to help you find both entries.
There will be lots to look at in our studio. There will be shelves filled with handmade pottery, some by me and some made by Eric. My mosaic works, that function as both wall hangings and tables, will be scattered about. There will also be a table with my beaded jewelry. Eric will have paintings and sculptures hanging on the wall and a rack of screen-printed t-shirts to peruse. Visitors will be able to check out our kilns, potters wheels, worktables, and tools and perhaps try their hand at printing on Eric’s homemade 4-color screen printing press. We’ll also have a table full of yummy treats for guests to snack on while they shop our work; we like to cook almost as much as we like to make art!
More about the Northeast Iowa Artists' Studio Tour:
The Northeast Iowa Artists' Studio Tour is a unique opportunity to explore artists studios for an intimate look into their creative process and a chance to purchase their newest works right out of the kiln, hot off the presses, paint freshly cured...you get the point! This year, you can experience 51 artists at 37 locations while also taking in the charm of Northeast Iowa's small communities, local fare, and the breathtaking scenery of the Driftless. Each artist is different, but they all share a passion for imagination and each one welcomes their guests with gusto. Visit the Tour's website to download a brochure, map, or GPS coordinates for each location.
Image credit: Jenni Petersen-Brant