Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Jenny Hunter Groat

Jenny is my friend and mentor. I first met her at a weekend workshop she gave in Boston in the fall of 1985 on the Japanese principle of Notan. The workshop was thrilling and I worked from the material for months. Jenny was so warm and inspiring that I wrote her a letter about my questions about the direction of my work and much to my surprise I received a long beautiful letter in return. It began a correspondence which led to my attending a week long calligraphy workshop/retreat called Knowing, Not Knowing with Jenny at Green Gulch Zen Center in the summer of 1988.

Here is something I wrote about that time:
We were there to work with calligraphy, words and gestures, my field of concentration for nine years. Although I had experimented with painting and constructions with natural objects, my recent attempts at writing my own texts had convinced me that my world was one of words. Then, suddenly, I didn't want to write. I wasn't interested in pen or brush or ink. I wanted to touch and hold real things. I understood little except that I needed to be outside.

I collected things- pine cones, plums, sticks, leaves, owl dung, stones, and grasses. Some I wrapped with paper or wire; most I used as I found them. I chose a spot on the side of a path. I placed each object carefully. I would compose, step back, and compose again. It was an offering, a devotion, a prayer.

When I finished, I became absolutely giddy, and more or less stayed that way until I left Green Gulch. I was intoxicated by the absurdity of my situation. Here I was, a woman struggling with all her might to be taken seriously as an artist, playing with sticks, creating non-art, and having one of the defining creative moments of her life. It was truly knowing, not knowing.

Jenny's role in this whole process was magical. First of all, I knew she would understand, even though I wasn't sure I did. She created an atmosphere in which I felt free to follow my inner voice into uncharted territory. She watched me thrill to the new discoveries and struggle to understand their meaning. I silently hungered for her to give me direction, to tell me what it all meant and where I should go from there. I was afraid to ask, and she was too wise to tell. In Jenny's own work, there is depth and power, with an exquisite lightness of touch. In her teaching, it is the same. After the workshop, she wrote, "It will ripen and ripen much yet." It continues to do so, and I am eternally grateful.

My family and I spent a wonderful day with Jenny and her husband Pete in the summer of 2003 during a West Coast trip. We saw Jenny's studio and her paintings, as well as her stamp carvings and material from the archives of her days as a dancer. The entire afternoon was bathed in the most glorious golden light as we ate lunch, talked, and watched the chickens.

Jenny works primarily in painting now but also has an active life in the world of rubber stamp carving and artists trading cards. Her most recent venture is making truly amazing soaps in her Soaptorium. There is a great feature on Jenny and her work with insightful commentary as well as images on the Saatchi website.


Anonymous said...

Dear Susan,

Thank you so much for your generous and insightful tribute to Jenny as artist and teacher. Subtle are her ways, as I know having spent fifty-two exciting years with her.

As she inspired you, so you inspired her. Words, as you both knew in that context, would have been superfluous.

She is very modest about her accomplishments as artist and teacher. I have to remind her of the profound impact she has had on people who have come in contact with her.

Thank you for providing such beautiful evidence.

Love, Pete

Anonymous said...

How well you describe the experience of Jenny's class and her teaching style! It was indeed, a life changing experience for many of us. I,too cherish that week and what I brought home from it.

Thank you for saying it so well and so publicly.

Best Regards,
Jacqueline Sullivan

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