Alysia Fischer (AF) interviews Jennifer Halvorson (JH) and shares that with our collectors:
AF: Thank you for taking time to speak with me to today. Did you always know you were going to be an artist?
JH: Not always. I can’t say that when I was a child I thought I would be an artist, but I was always involved in art and making things. Part of that came from my family making sure I was exposed to different crafts or taking me to visit really nice craft shows, museums, and exhibits. That interest continued through school. I definitely didn’t always think ‘I’ll be an artist,' but you just follow different interests and what drives you. There’s that whole saying of ‘I don’t want to feel like I’m working.’ When you love what you’re doing, you’re not working, really.
AF: You’re trained in both glass and metals. Do you consider yourself a glass artist, a metals artist, or a mixed media artist?
JH: I’d say mixed media. My BFA is in both glass and metal. In that program, we were taught to understand technique and craftsmanship, but we were also encouraged to experiment with other materials, so bringing glass and metal together was really great. I received an MFA in glass specifically, though I’ve always kept my hand in the metals studio.
AF: Some of your work has incorporated the notion of repair while other work seems to alter forms in ways that subvert their original use. I’m curious about what draws you to these themes of repair and transformation or intervention?
JH: A lot of times the objects I’m using are found. The objects are very specific, so there are rubber molds being made and then manipulation from that. With this kind of plain object, my goal is to evoke a certain emotion or convey some metaphor or symbolism through the object, so they need to change or transform in connection to the idea. In the beginning, I’ll have a specific concept I’m trying to include. Then the pendulum swings and I’ll want to put in more of a feeling. This is how I hope to connect to a wider audience. I’m taking this object, maybe a very nostalgic or common object or material and then trying to imbue an emotion or storyline that’ll connect with the viewer.
There is another body of work that’s about mending and repairing. I see two sides to that. Sometimes the objects are being stitched up or wrapped up and it might have more of a distressing look. Other times it’s about form where it’s meant to hold light and have some breadth to it. I’m thinking particularly about the knitwork. In terms of the transformation of the jelly jars, it’s more narrative because I intend the objects to represent people without any imagery of a person. That’s to make the work more accessible and open it up to the audience to insert their own father figure, or mother, or uncle, or sister…whoever is in the realm of the narrative. Also, with the jelly jars, a lot of people have associations with canning and preserves, whether it be with family or at the farmer’s market and they connect to that experience. By pushing the jars with cutlery, it activates the objects with a presence of that remembered person or activity.
AF: A lot of your work references memory. How do objects relate to memory?
JH: They become symbols to us. Objects remind us of a past time, or a past person, or a past experience. I’ve been researching memory for a long time. I’m really intrigued by the idea that you’re not going to remember exactly how something was, or the exact truth, and everyone’s perspective of the same situation is going to be slightly different. But the things that bring you to that memory are these objects that we surround ourselves with, and they kind-of piece together who we are. You collect objects because you want to remember this person or visiting that place. ‘I will have this object and it will be the symbol of this time and of this feeling’. It can be happy or sad, or often bittersweet.
When I first began exploring the concept of memory it was connected to the idea of people starting to lose theirs, and how memory is your identity. And that was really the start of how my work has evolved, because in undergrad I was using medical diagnostic imagery in my work. In grad school it became a totally different focus and slowly evolved from there. At first it was very specific and how memory works and how a culture and a community come together because of all these joint memories that we have that we can connect to. The work tried to get less specific, more about shared human experience, experiences I remember, lessons, and emotions that other people go through as well. A bit of poetic therapy, I guess.
AF: Your art practice includes researching the objects you’ve found or object types you’re reproducing and manipulating. Can you tell me more about that process?
JH: I think it’s important to know the history of things you’re working with. Why they were produced, what was their function, and how did that connect to people? I think it’s really important to know. As far as how I collect things, it comes from growing up. My family is really interested in antiques. Going to look at objects in different antique stores, you look for the unusual and figure out what it does and its storyline. There’s a fair amount of objects I find I’m drawn to because of their history or the way they evoke a time past. My family has a lot of items from a few generations ago, so you get those stories. You’re looking at an object and being told a story of a great grandmother. And so, this object represents a person, and how do you take that object and relate that story or that connection that you have to that person? Usually I’m not using objects that are within my family, but rather items where I come up with stories.
For example, I have a series of work titled Thirst, which is these glass teacups with bronze chairs inside them, set upon an ornamental bronze saucer. That idea came about from childhood peekaboo cups. Parents used these with children first learning to drink from a cup. There’d be a little picture at the bottom or a little figure. ‘If you drink all your cup you’re going to get to see Pooh Bear’. I just really loved the design and the function of that object and what it was meant to do as far as encouraging that child. At one point I decided I wanted to make that sort of connection with the adult. What would the adult peekaboo cup be? So, I started thinking about gathering up some different adult teacups and what you would want to see. What would adults desire to see? What would encourage you to get to the bottom of this cup? And then I was researching chairs and the history of chairs and the idea of how at first they were showing ‘authority’. Not everyone was able to have a chair. Having a chair at the table. The idea of a comfortable chair. The stability of the chair. The idea that you have a favorite chair. It all comes back to stability, home, and comfort. So, I was looking at the different designs of the different chairs and trying to imagine their designs with the teacups. It can be a roundabout way of seeing how everything comes together, sparks of concepts or stories or ideas from having looked at objects constantly.
AF: Your website includes a quote by a French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. Are there particular writers who have been influential to thinking about artmaking?
JH: There were quite a few during grad school, when you’re positioned to be reading through a lot of different works. I enjoy Gaston Bachelard’s writings—which can be thick, but you can pull so much meaning from every word—his thoughts about how memories are connected to home. Truth is, a lot of my work is about connection to the home, because even if they’re about experiences, it has that underlying it. A few other authors are Rebecca Rupp, who has written the book ‘Committed to Memory: How We Remember and Why We Forget’ that I recall being really engaging. Sherry Turkle wrote a book about ‘Evocative Objects’—also about that connection, about that need, and why we have these objects around us. I also read a few kind of oddity books. Last year I read the ‘Antiques Magpie’, it’s just a collection of stories and facts from the world of antiques. And then there’s this really good book I read called ‘Art and the Home: Comfort, Alienation and the Every Day’ by Imogen Racz.
AF: What inspires you?
JH: Making. I need to be making something. For example, my daughter is now 7 months old and my art practice has been a bit on hold. And you start to do a little head twist after a while, because you just need to be making. Working through objects and materials, you’re going to come across challenges like ‘How am I going to make this?’ and you become a student again. The material is always humbling. And you have to get more technical with making a mold. And you’re going to have to make three attempts to get what you want and so you have to just continually be making. Because I find, you get rusty too. If I’m in a teaching mode and I have to jump back into a technical mold, I’ll feel a little rusty. I’m inspired to be making and experiment with the material. And some of the pieces with the glass and metals are bringing me into different studios. Some of those processes, the repetition of the hand, it’s great, I’m really drawn to it. It can be really tedious and exhausting but it’s also relaxing and rewarding.
AF: What inspired the pieces in the upcoming Momentum show, Reflections?
JH: Jordan Ahlers talked to me about Reflections in connection to Biltmore Estate and the Chihuly exhibit that was going to be on display this summer. It was perfect timing because I was visiting Asheville when this discussion was happening and already had plans to tour the Biltmore. After having that tour and thinking about my work, I was interested in proposing to him two different series. One that was more connected to the idea of the upstairs and one that was more connected to the downstairs. Because they’re totally different settings and story lines that are connected in this one building. Two of the pieces are elaborate door plates that have a blown glass doorknob that is covered with tatted lace and dangling down from the doorknob is a bit more lace and some cast glass keys. The two pieces have different compositions but they’re both highly elaborate, they have the architectural feeling of the “upstairs” of Biltmore. And when I made the pieces they were the idea of someone’s memories and looking into the past and someone’s memories are highly embellished. People remember them differently from one another. They’re also forgotten. These different door plates and door knob compositions represent different pasts or experiences that have occurred and the padlock key is how we remember it. But in the sculpture, there’s no keyhole, symbolizing that can’t get back to that time to know the precise truth that is behind it. It kind of has a maze feeling, which I felt walking around Biltmore Estate had to it. The other series are some canning jars that aren’t found objects. They’re jars I’ve made, blown or casted out of glass, or bronze, or iron. And those compositions are portraits of people and have different narratives. They have a connection to the downstairs of the Biltmore. When I started collecting jars, I was researching them and the different companies and different branding, the idea of the Perfect jar, the Genuine jar, the Supreme jar, all these words and so I went through the rubber mold process to take away some words and leave adjectives to help give more of the narrative to the piece. So the words were originally used by the company for marketing, and now I’m using them to provide more information about the narrative behind each one.
I'd like to add - I am so excited to have representation in an Asheville art gallery and to be showing my work with Momentum Gallery is a real privilege!
AF: What are you excited about right now?
JH: There are a lot of transitions for me right now. Part of that is our new baby, and my husband and I just bought our first house. My colleague (at Ball State) and I are looking to teach a glass industry course which will survey from the mid-19th century to today. So we’re going to actually incorporate the press machine into a special topics seminar and also work with a community partner about how current glass engineers and designers work with production, because Indiana has a lot of glass history and still has an operating glass factory. I’m excited to continue to promote my work. I’m really happy to be connected with Momentum Gallery and the show. I’m excited to see how everything works. I think there are a lot of great plans at Momentum. This spring I’ll be going down to the Southwest to talk to two Glass Alliances. Next summer I’m going to be teaching an intensive workshop for Bullseye Glass. It’s just another way to reach out to a bigger community and a different teaching environment. Intensive workshops can just be so different than a semester class.
AF: Thank you so much for talking with me today. I really like your pieces installed in the show!
JH: Thank you for speaking with me. It’s really nice to talk about the art world.
Of special note: Jennifer Halvorson recently appeared in This is Colossal! Here is a link to her interview: http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2018/06/vintage-canning-jars-jennifer-halvorson/
Additionally, Jennifer was also featured in This Week in American Craft, published by the American Craft Coucil: https://craftcouncil.org/post/week-craft-june-13-2018
Alysia Fischer is an author, artist and anthropologist who lives in Weaverville, NC. She received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Arizona and her MFA from Miami University (Ohio). Her research on crafts includes the books Hot Pursuit: Integrating Anthropology in Search of Ancient Glassblowers and Myaamia Ribbonwork (co-authored with Andrew Strack and Karen Baldwin). Alysia is also an accomplished maker, as both a glassblower and metals artist.