Jenn Weatherall is a mother, a writer and an artist among many other things. She has made the conscious decision to tell her stories, to put away her fear of redundancy and allow the creative energies she's always had come out in whatever form they wish. You can read her full bio here.
Her show Dare To will be presented in the Odeon Gallery (The Princess Theatre) at 26 King St. N., Waterloo, ON from July 8 - August 31, 2017. An opening reception is to be held July 8 from 2:00-5:00 pm with the artist and guest speakers, including Mika Yamamoto who is one of the portrait subjects. Drinks and refreshments will be served.
About the show:
The outcome of the American Presidential election of 2016 moved and inspired me in a way that I didn’t expect, and so when I became aware of Pantsuit Nation; a 3 million member strong social media community where people go to find comfort and solace, I began reading the stories. Real stories about real people who were all affected strongly, who were courageous enough to share their truth and to persist. In this age of hyper technology, and 24-hour news cycles, and constant social media saturation, it’s difficult to hear anyone’s voice. Allowing one another’s voice to be heard is what will save us...Americans, Canadians...all of us alike. We all need to be heard, and we all have a face to be seen. And so I have asked some members of Pantsuit Nation for permission to draw their image and share their story here. With you. This is Pantsuit Nation. This is all of us.
1. As a multi creative artist, how do you balance your creative outlets and is there one outlet that you prefer over another?
I have four main creative outlets that I am sometimes successful in balancing. I write plays and draw portraits. Drawing for me is all about the colour and shapes. I feel peace and calm when I am forming a beautiful image with colours...soft contours, blending colours; these make me happy and I turn to them when I am feeling overwhelmed and stressed or craving some stillness.
Writing is more of an escape for me. I turn to my writing for ideas and adventures. As a mom of two, I can't get out of the house all that much and therefore I write adventures that I can take in my mind. Both of these activities are done normally after the children are asleep. They are outlets I can indulge in from the quietness of my own living room in my pajamas with a glass of wine at my side. I also have a blog. It originally started as an art blog that I began at the beginning of 2016 but it has morphed into more of a personal blog that pretty much encompasses everything from death, to alcoholism, to courage, politics, running and art.
My final outlet is running. Although it's not directly creative, it is necessary for me in order to be creative. It's my meditation time. My time to reflect on my choices, my mistakes, and my future. I've thought up most of my ideas, projects, and blogs while running. And the achievement of running races fills my bucket when nothing else seems to. I take my children on most of my runs and my eldest has now started to take it up. I figure that if my body feels good then my heart will want to create more...they work hand in hand.
2. What is your typical day like?
My typical day involves a lot of children. I have two of my own and I run a home daycare. So the revolving door is constant with parents dropping off and picking up and the little ones running about. It's a fantastic way to stay engaged in life as well as to be active and imaginative and patient during the work day. Once the kitchen has been cleaned and the children in bed, four or five nights a week I get to work on whatever creative project I'm currently working on.
3. Who or what inspires you?
My children inspire me the most. They inspire me to do everything I've always wanted to do so that they can learn by example. I'm inspired by kindness and courage and truth. And anyone willing to take the risk to do and be all three.
4. Like many others, you have said that the outcome of the American Presidential election of 2016 moved and inspired you in a way that you didn’t expect. Has there ever been another political event that has inspired you to create?
No, no other political event has inspired me. I wouldn't call myself a very political person. I vote and try to read up as much as I can and watch the news, but I also enjoy living in a bit of a bubble when it comes to politics. I find it all to be very upsetting. And sometimes, no matter how much you know, it just feels like there is no good choice out there when it comes to politics.
I was inspired by the results of this election because of the enormity of the emotional reaction in the aftermath. The disappointment. The letdown. So many of us had such high hopes for Hillary...for the next step in the evolution of women's rights. Or the effect it would have on my children's generation. It's funny though...I think we have banded together even more since Trump has been in power. Unfortunately, it's going to be a lot rougher for our friends to the south...but when this reign is over (hoping sooner rather than later) I think the world could be a better place in some respects at least, due to the resistance that so many people felt drawn to.
5. Do you have any thoughts about the controversy surrounding Pantsuit Nation? (The founder received some criticism for getting a book deal based on stories of group members, and there were concerns about a lack of activism and lack of diverse voices).
Well first off I definitely do not see a lack of diverse voices. I would say that's quite the opposite. For a while there the Facebook page was so intense. I was getting so many notices a day for people sharing their stories....it was overwhelming. And from everything I read, I believe it was the most diverse platform for voices I have ever experienced. I understand the controversy about the book but I have friends who are in the book. They all seem very pleased. That is what matters, isn't it? These people felt seen and heard and they got the opportunity to share it with an audience of what I assume to be thousands if not millions.
I don't believe that it was a money making scheme or anything like that. They are now a registered charity and from what I understand they divvy out funds to various American organizations including Planned Parenthood as it is needed. Actually, my hope is to get a book published of my pieces with the original stories of the people I drew. I have corresponded with each of my models and they are all for it since I plan to direct all proceeds to The Pantsuit Nation Charity.
6. There are so many stories from Pantsuit Nation. What was your process for selecting what story and image you wanted to share?
In the first week or so after being invited to join the Facebook page I just contacted a couple people who inspired me with their stories...I wasn't sure why...just felt the impulse to do so. And after corresponding with a couple of them the idea began to form. I had booked this art show in the summer of last year but wasn't sure yet what I was going to show; having never had an art show before... I had also wanted to go to the Woman's March on Washington. I had somehow found myself as an administrator for one of the Pennsylvania women's march Facebook pages...one crazy, obsessive night of watching all the post election action on Facebook and I'm an administrator. But after discussing it with my husband thought that it would be better to attend the march in Toronto - not knowing just how large it would get in Washington. I'm so proud though that it all went so smoothly and peacefully...really all over the world that day. It was a proud day for women and everyone who supports women's rights.
So, as I was contacting people who inspired me I was conscious of choosing diverse stories...pretty much due to my gut reaction to the stories. I did find myself at one point trying to fulfill a wide demographic of "types" of people but thankfully people turned me down...and the group I ended up drawing kind of chose me. And almost every person I've drawn I have a bit of a relationship with now. I can correspond with them comfortably...we are friends on Facebook and through social media are 'present' in each other's lives.
7. Was every person you approached eager to be part of the show?
No definitely not. There was probably half a dozen who just never responded to my attempts to correspond. Others requested some time to think about it and just never got back to me. As I explained my idea to each of them I invited them to check out my sketches on Facebook and my blog so they could really see what kind of person I am. From the very get go I have tried to be extremely sensitive to each and every person. They are all real people with real stories. I did not want anyone to feel like I was taking advantage or stepping over any lines or not seeing them for who they are...I didn't want them to just be a subject in my project. Honestly, I felt as accountable to each and every one of these people as I did to myself, my children, or the gallery.
8. How long did it take you to complete this series?
I started actually drawing back in November. For each portrait I did at least one practice drawing to familiarize myself with each face. Except for one couple. She had written a story about her husband who is originally from Mexico and how he had saved her and her daughter from going down the wrong path. Many years later they now have two children together and he's worked extremely long hours for years to provide for their family and has never been able to get a green card little own citizenship. Her story is heart-wrenching. Through her words it is obvious of the love the two share and what amazing parents they must be. I surprised her by drawing a portrait of the two of them. She thought I was only drawing him but I believed that she should be with him in the picture. The final touches for all the pieces were completed mid-June so...I guess it took me approximately eight months to complete them all.
9. What are you want people to take away from the Dare To exhibit?
I'm hoping that by holding these people's stories in their hands and discovering the face of each individual...connecting those two things together...that the viewers have an emotional reaction. I'm hoping that they don't see these individuals as a 'type' but as a real person. Real people with real stories. We all have them. Some more exciting than others...but we all have a story to tell and each story is worth really hearing. We are all worth really seeing. Sometimes we forget that with all the crap happening around us both in our immediate world and in the larger picture...our blinders prevent us from seeing others. Seeing the people around us. These are some of those people around us. They matter. And we should give them our attention.
10. What's next for you?
What's next for me....well, a play I've written; The Sapling, is in a new performance festival called Dark Crop. It's my directorial debut. And is being performed on August 5th. After that, I will try to enjoy the rest of the summer while stealing some time to start working on my next play idea that I've just begun to form. My daycare will be growing in the fall and hopefully, I will be running in the Run for the Toad at the Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area. I'm hoping to have my next art show in the next year or so....this time I would like to feature local people...I'm not sure in what capacity yet...but I'd like to spotlight a group of local individuals who are brave enough to share their stories.
If you liked this post, please like, comment, and share.
Interview by Glodeane Brown
All photos are by the artist and were provided by the artist.