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Creative Careers Interviews : 2009 : Jerry Wennstrom

Creative Careers in the Arts Interviews

Author and Artist
Jerry Wennstrom

By Molly Anderson-Childers

Jerry Wennstrom & Marilyn StrongJerry Wennstrom is an amazing artist and writer. I feel honored to have made a connection with him, however brief, for this interview. His words are inspiring, and his work speaks for itself. Mr. Wennstrom, thank you so much for joining us today. Welcome to Creativity Portal!

Q: What was the seminal event that sparked your original interest in art? How has that interest evolved throughout your life and career?

A: Having grown up in a poor underprivileged environment, creativity was the one involvement that came naturally to me and it was the best way to entertain myself. Others acknowledging my often ridiculous creations helped to fan the flames. "Creativity" involved everything for me, from creating absurdly elaborate wagons out of baby carriage wheels and other found material to ornate patterns created by pounding thousands of nails into my father's workbench. Needless to say, this kind of activity angered my father but his anger was often neutralized by the intricacy and beauty of some of the creations. I was dubbed "The Doodler," — a label that was not necessarily a term of endearment.

Q: What inspires you, excites you, and surprises you?

A: What inspires, excites and surprises me the most is when, in the creative process, something larger than my original intent comes through and delivers a level of mystery that I could not have strategized, calculated or even imagined. There is some level of mystery involved in the creation of any work of art if it is inspired.

The Sacred Marriage by Jerry WennstromWhen working on The Sacred Marriage, just such a mystery transpired, and carried the piece in a direction that I had not originally intended. When I had begun the piece I found a large sign at our local recycling center. The sign was made of a slab of old growth cedar, which is great for carving. Deeply carved into the face of the sign were the words, "Animal Clinic." With the sign lying face down, I drew three six-foot figures, arranging them in the most efficient way possible to get the most use out of the large slab of cedar.

I had cut out two of the figures and was cutting the third when the phone rang. It was my first love, from 30 years prior! She discovered my book, saw the Parabola documentary film made about my art and life, and decided to look me up after all of these years. I was amazed that she called and we had a lovely conversation. After I hung up the phone I finished cutting out the last of the 3 figures and turned it over. Situated perfectly, the full length of the figure was the word "ANIMA."

For anyone who doesn't know the meaning of "anima," it is a Jungian term. It represents the "inner feminine" of a man, which he often unconsciously projects onto the first woman he falls in love with. I had just spoken on the phone with my first projected anima! I incorporated the ANIMA figure and another of the cedar figures I cut out that day, creating an entire art piece out of this mysterious poetic occurrence.

The Sacred Marriage (inside) by Jerry WennstromQ: What inspired and excited you at the age of six?

A: One creative experience that I had at about that age did have an influence on my life. One day in art class, we were given a block of wax and some simple carving tools and told to carve an image out of the wax. I got completely absorbed in the project, and carved an Eskimo with out-stretched arms holding a fish. The carving was good for a child my age, and elicited quite a bit of attention from teachers and students when it was placed in the school art show. Having grown up on "the wrong side of the tracks," with little to go on in terms of advantage or individual brilliance, this attention brought to life a new identity. All at once, I was seen as an artist — and I liked it!

Q: What is the best advice you ever received? How does it apply to your life today?

A: The best advice I have ever received came from an ancient book of wisdom — the Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tsu. There is an essential kind of efficiency expressed in the book, which has helped me create a personal standard for my creative process. My life, as well, has been influenced by this efficiency.

Q: What did you rebel against at seventeen? What do you rebel against now?

A: I probably rebelled against my father the most at age 17. However, finally realizing that to rebel against anyone or anything hands power over to the object of our rebellion, I now make every effort not to react to external mechanisms. Instead, I choose to take action that is directed by a deeper sense of self, which often comes into play when I don't mindlessly rebel or react.

Q: What is your secret, guilty pleasure?

A: Exploring unusual cultural expressions — especially the simplest ones that go on to become trends in the larger collective. I am fascinated with YouTube and the Internet in general.

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