“I knew I was dealing with an educated crowd with a sophisticated eye for fine craft. And they were there to buy.” ~ Jenifer Thoem
It’s rare that a first time exhibitor at the Philadelphia Museum of Art Craft Show takes home Best of Show. 2019 was one of those times. Meet Jenifer Thoem. With contemporary ceramic craft encompassing a fresh style and singular approach, Jenifer’s work pairs graceful design with creative installations. We enjoyed talking with Jenifer about her experience at the show as well as creating her unique contemporary craft.
“Honestly, I was just happy to be there!” Jenifer says about being an exhibitor at the PMA Craft Show. “I couldn’t believe I was actually a part of so much amazingness. It was a beautifully curated show. To say I was totally shocked to win Best of Show is an understatement. I’m still humbled by it.” One of Jenifer’s favorite aspects of shows is being surrounded by other artists after spending so much time working solo in the studio. Beyond being WOW’ed by the quality and variety of her fellow artists at the Show, Jenifer credits the attendees as being especially impressive. “My work isn’t always understood at first glance”, she says. “Because of the repetition and shadows, there’s a lot going on. The idea of a large-scale installation going directly into the wall, with no definite design or place can cause some confusion. The patrons asked smart questions and seemed to get my work.”
Jenifer’s ceramics are hand built with stoneware clay, kiln fired multiple times using slips, stains, and glazes on highly textured surfaces. Transitioning from large sculptural pieces to creating work for the wall, Jenifer discovered she still likes working in large-scale, but by assembling many (at times hundreds) smaller components in a seemingly choreographed pattern affixed to a wall.
Jenifer was raised on a farm in North Georgia, with parents who encouraged simplicity and creativity in all areas of life. Earning a BFA in Ceramics from Georgia Southern, she began doing shows right after graduating, over 25 years ago. Taking a break to raise three small children resulted in rethinking her process. That, along with a move from the country to the city and other major life changing events led her to ask, “Why am I making the same work that I’ve made for a decade when I feel like I have a different story to tell now?” She went back to square one, developing a fresh new body of work over three years. “Knowing this about my work, winning best of show at the caliber of a show such as the PMA Craft Show, is validation that I never expected, but gives me hope that I may be headed in the right direction!”
Jenifer’s work is influenced by her childhood and the encouragement to just be, and appreciate the simple things in life. She makes objects that are so common, they’re often overlooked, yet evoke emotions and past experiences. It’s the shared stories from viewers that inspire Jenifer. “If I’m lucky, I get to hear these stories, forming a connection between me and the viewer of my work.”
Though Jenifer considers receiving Best of Show at the PMA Craft Show a pinnacle of her career, she also shares that overcoming the challenges of developing a body of work, finding the confidence to put it out there, and actually sell it is a huge accomplishment. In closing, she says the hardest thing that brings the greatest reward is the difficult balance of being a mom to three teenagers and an artist on the show circuit — just making it to some shows with work is a miracle in itself!
Check out Jenifer’s work and let us know if you purchased any last year!