Jeanine Pennell’s “Stepping Off the Page:” Stories in Clay

The Ice House Gallery currently adorns many sculptures, all made over the summer months of this year by artist Jeanine Pennell. The exhibition, “Stepping Off the Page: Stories in Clay,” documents Pennell’s creative process, life events, and reflects back onto the viewer in strong, impactful ways.

Entering the exhibit for the first time, viewers are met by many clay sculptures with pastel color palettes, defining features such as hats and sharp teeth, and heartfelt sketches and plaques explaining the meanings behind each piece. Jeanine Pennell hopes for her art to be welcoming, and that anyone stopping by might be impacted by it.

Pennell said, “People fall in love with your message. With the internet now, it’s such a big world so you’re surprised at how you can reach so many people. Enthusiasm is infectious, when you’re doing a passionate thing, all of the sudden things begin to fall into place for you.”

For me, this rang true. Walking through the exhibit for the first time, I came across a piece entitled “Exploring a Dream.” The piece was a simple sketch later adorned with watercolor, which Pennell explains most of her ideas come from. Her creative process often begins from her daily sketchbooks; when she goes to make a sculpture, she seemingly has many ideas right in front of her to take inspiration from.
As an artist myself, this sketch spoke volumes to me; particularly the plaque right next to it which states, “I realized my fear of failure had become bigger than my fear of never following a dream; So I tossed away my back up plans and gave myself permission to explore my dreams.”

Pennell left her job of 27 years where she had her own gallery and began pursuing art full time at age 50. By giving herself permission to explore her dream, she was able to become successful and influence others through her art.

Pennell wishes she could go back to when she was college-aged and tell her younger self that this is what life would be like for her now. She believes anything you do should be a passion. In order to achieve what she has through her business, she said, “You have to lean in and do all of the hard things in order to make it successful.”

Pennell continued, “I do hard things. I go to the gallery every day from 12-4 p.m. hoping that people will come and I send out emails and postcards, and I make phone calls because this is my business. I have to do all of the stuff that makes me uncomfortable but for the other six days of the week, I get to be in my studio and I’m making.”

For those who are passionate about art but feel constricted by factors such as their nine to five, their daily schedule, or even their class curriculum, Pennell recommends making a practice.

While still working full-time, Pennell would get up every day at 4:30 a.m. and make her sculptures for an hour or two. She would get ready, drive an hour and a half to work, go to work, come home, make dinner, and do it all again. She said she made it a routine, like going to the gym every day.

Pennell gave herself a goal of doing 30 pieces in 30 days without being critical of herself. She was going to have fun, see what happened, and learn during the process. All the days of doing this everyday became her body of work. She didn’t quit her job until she can prove to herself she could make a business through this daily practice.

For the exhibition, ”Stepping Off the Page: Stories in Clay,” Pennell described having to make all of the pieces within the span of two months.

She said, “This show was a gift to me. When Scott Knauer called me, it was the end of June. On July 15 I went to see the gallery and saw the space. By that time, I didn’t have any of the artwork done. I had to have all of that artwork done by the end of August.”

Pennell was also working during this timeframe, going to art shows out of state and running her business. “You’ll be surprised. When you have a goal that you want to do how you are supercharged and focused to get it done,” she said.

Pennell grew up in Monmouth County in Hazlet, NJ. Her previous business was in Holmdel, so having this show at MU is an opportunity for those she knew in the area to come and see what she’s up to in her new career venture, while showing them that there is always a chance for them to follow a dream.
For Pennell, having this exhibit displayed at Monmouth felt like coming home.

Pennell’s artwork is on exhibit in The Ice House Gallery until Dec. 2, 2022 and is open Monday-Friday from 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.