Naomi Moes-Jenkins - The Meaning Behind the Sculpture

Donna Fischer

donna fischer | the artist next door | sept. 2016

When Naomi Moes-Jenkins discovered sculpting years ago, she found a way to express and explore ideas in a captivating way. From spirited horses to enigmatic angels, her works in a special paper-mache formula lead the viewer on a thoughtful journey. Some works are small and whimsical, while others, like her Lady Godiva piece on display at the Art Garage this summer, takes up a commanding presence. Moes-Jenkins' approach to her work involves no preliminary sketches, and instead, she seems to let the sculpture work itself out through her skillful hands.

Having adapted a paper-mache technique from advice from a former Mardi Gras float builder, Moes-Jenkins enjoys working on multiple pieces in any given session within her studio. The process demands patience and time. Layers need to dry and some finishing techniques take several applications. “In my studio/garage where I work, I have so many different types of things going all at once,” she explains. “I go from one to another. The work is good for my head.”

Her most striking piece in the room is the Lady Godiva creation. Moes-Jenkins says the piece took about five years to make. “I want the viewer to look at it and just get pulled into it. It was so cool when I had the show here because a couple of girls had tears in their eyes when they were looking at it. They got it, they got what it meant, about the inner torment that we get, the insecurities; everyone has it to some degree.”

It started out simply enough as a depiction of a woman on a horse, but Moes-Jenkins was unsatisfied with it and began to bring in element after element. “It was a big effort piece. And the big effort pieces are the ones you hope people will like. The more I look at it the more I do like it.” I ask if this process ever leads to problems. “One time I ruined something,” she admits. “I had a beautiful bust of Mary. I kept pushing it and re-doing her face and I messed it up. There have been a couple of things that I put too much energy into.”

Her formula for the paper-mache has changed over the past 19 years of sculpting to now include resin for strength and weather-resistance. I'm not a sculptor, so I ask Moes-Jenkins, who has taught classes at the Art Garage in the past, to elaborate on the process of making a three-dimensional piece of art. “Imagine I'm building a sculpture of you and I start you out with the metal inside, I bulk it up with paper and I form it pretty well as far as size. Then, after it's all really dry, then I go over it with resin which is like clay, and when I put it on it starts to dry and that's where I start working on the details. The resin is extremely expensive. The resin is great stuff, it's very strong.”

Moes-Jenkins recounts how the statues in her Catholic church caught her eye as a child. She continues to identify with a spiritual theme in many of her works, including a majestic, if not forlorn figure of St. Michael the Archangel. Current events and social issues weigh on her mind to a degree, and working on figures representing the eternal struggle against evil seem to help her process it all. There is also a good deal to be learned through focusing on historical figures, like St. Kateri Tekakwitha, a Native American woman who converted to Catholicism. “She was quite strong about what she wanted to do. It's a tribute to her hundreds of years later. I hope I do a good job.” Her finished sculpture will be installed at Camp Takawitha near Shawano this October. “I would like to do more religious art, truly religious art, but I would like to do it in my way,” she adds.

Her motivation to sculpt comes from deep within. As with most artists, it's not a feeling that can be easily dismissed. “It's like a constant yearning to create something better than themselves. I don't know how to explain that other than it is something better than what I am. Maybe there is a little bit of a need for attention, too. Nothing makes an artist feel better than people appreciating their artwork. But it's a thing where you just can't stop doing it. When I don't do it for a while I feel like something's missing in my life.”

In the future, Moes-Jenkins would like to move her art into larger markets. Fitting art into her busy life hasn't always been a harmonious process but the talent and sheer muscle power that she puts into sculpting has shown its rewards. “I think I'm getting to be where I can call myself close to a master at it. There are still things I want to peruse, to try, to do. When a person has the time and energy it's amazing what you can pull out of what you already started, change and morph into something different.”

Donna Fischer is an avid fan of music, film and art. When she's not writing on these subjects you'll find her gardening or snowshoeing around Green Bay.

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