Sometimes you meet people in life who speak to your soul. People who finally put into words what you’ve always hoped — always believed.
“We have such a definition of what we think art should be. And if we don’t see ourselves as fitting into that definition we just write ourselves off,” Jessica Peill-Meininghaus tells me from her magical attic studio in Burnham. “And I don’t think it works that way. I think we are all artists but we just have to figure out what that art is.”
What is art? It’s a question I’m trying to answer for myself in this blog. I’ve always found that art is culmination of creative passion. It doesn’t matter what you’re making, or how. All that matters is that you made it.
Jessica definitely has creative passion. She has it in spades.
And yet, Jessica’s main expression of that — felting — is not something often recognized as a “fine” art. It falls somewhere in the category of crafty. Folky. Something most galleries would raise an eyebrow at if you told them about it over the phone. But why is that? As I watch Jessica stabbing away at her felting pad on a rainy winter day, it’s easy to see the skill involved. The concentration and practice it took to get to this point. Is it because of what she’s making?
Jessica loves gnomes. She’s proud of this fact. She wants to scream it from the rooftops. She is adamant about their pure, magical wonder. And if you don’t understand that magic, she’s more than happy to fill you in. (Like in the video above!)
“I used to feel embarrassed and I’d say, ‘Yes, I make gnomes, I know that’s weird,'” she said. “But now I just own it. So many people have come out of the woodwork and been like, ‘I love gnomes! I didn’t want to tell people!’ There’s like a closet of gnome lovers out there.”
Making gnomes has become something of a habit for Jessica; she even wrote a book about it. One a day, whenever possible.
“If I’ve had a really rough day it’s like a moment of solace,”she said. “Or, sometimes, it’s like I have lots of energy and I want to get it out of my system, I’m going to go make a gnome… it’s like a meditation.”
Jessica has always been crafty. As a teen she sewed Waldorf dolls and attended an alternative school where they worked in stained glass, copper, pastels — you name it. But an issue plagued her. Often, she couldn’t seem to pull the art she saw in her mind into reality. Many projects would end in a huff of frustration and tears.
But felt was soft. Felt was forgiving. And during an “intriguing” class on wet-felted balls, Jessica fell in love. Felting meant she could come back and pull things apart in a way that you can’t with other mediums. That being said, Jessica still spent years wrestling with her minds eye and what she could wet felt.
She wanted more detail. She wanted more control and dimension. She would spend weeks wet felting for a single project and still be left wanting more. Then one day she found exactly what she’d always dreamed possible — some very small felted animals. And she asked the artist who made them, simply, “How???”
“They just said, you take felt and poke it with this special felting needle. And I didn’t believe them. I felt, it can’t be that simple, nothing is that simple,” she said, shaking her head as if she still couldn’t believe it. “And it really is. It is that simple.”
Jessica found herself in “a whole new world.” She calls it “gnoming.” And whose to say these little guys aren’t art? I think they’re beautiful. They certainly make me smile. And as Jessica puts it, there’s always room for a little more wonder and innocence in the world.
So you keep waving that gnome flag, Jessica. And whatever other wonderfulness comes into your head. Keep letting your art speak its bit of magic.