Friends of the Farm: Jess Clauser, Fairy Garden Artist
You've probably seen her in her signature red sunglasses, ripped jeans, and headphones toiling away quietly in the back of the Community Gardens. For three years, Jess has been creating magic on the farm in the form of "fairy gardens." This year, she let her artistic talents explode in her largest installation yet. Jess is a supremely talented artist and a gift to our farm. We sat down with Jess to learn more about her background and what drives her to create and share such beauty.
Jess holds a Bachelor in Fine Arts from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia where she concentrated in print making and minored in book arts and book conservation. She worked as an off-set printer for her entire career, most recently at Quad Graphics before leaving after an injury putting her on worker's compensation.
How did you get involved with the Farm?
I responded to an email from the farm to Girl Scout leaders about getting involved when the Community Gardens were getting started. My daughter Charlotte was in elementary school and so I volunteered to start a small plot for Girl Scouts. We had so many kids who wanted to do it the first time, so we moved to the back of the Community Garden for more space. We taught the girls how to make fairy houses with natural materials to not contaminate the earth with different glues, and toxins and glitter. The houses they make can sit out and decompose naturally, because we have vegetables growing right close by. We never wanted to do anything that would hurt the earth. Each Girl Scout earned her outdoor art explorer badge for juniors. We still have a waiting list of girls wanting to participate. This year we will open to all community kids, not just Girl Scouts.
How many hours do you work on this garden? Where do all the materials and plants come from?
Oh god. Thousands of hours. Before anyone was planting, I was lugging dirt from the mulch pit and my parent's compost to prepare the soil. I made the soil myself. My daughter, Everly, who is 6 and autistic helped seed all of the plants. This is meant to be a sensory garden for kids and people with disabilities because I'm disabled as well. She planted with me 20 trays of seedlings that are all in there now and they've grown. Now she comes and I say, "see, you made this! You did this!" Pitney Meadows also gives me a budget to work with and so Joyce and I work out what to purchase. I put a lot of my own money in too because this is my art. I paint with flowers. I don't have a lot of money, but this is what keeps me healthy and happy.
Where does your inspiration come from?
This winter I began to visualize puzzle pieces of color coming together. Then I started walking around in the woods and I would see things and they just click. I go out and get the wood first from lots of secret places. And from there, I find the next element. I've been gardening with my dad since I was a little kid. He always did organic gardening and it's inspired me and my art and how I raise my kids. That's another reason I do this, for the kids with those tablets! I want to this to be an interactive learning experience. They'll come to see the fairy houses, but they'll learn something without even knowing it.
What do people ask you?
"What's in the water for the bees?" It's just water. They're just thirsty. They live right here and we sell their honey!
"Can you eat the mushrooms?" Best not to!
"Did you do all this? Do you do this as a business? Can you come to my house?" I tell people I'm just an artist, no business website! But, I'd be happy to consider jobs.
What does Pitney Meadows Community Farm mean to you?
I've been here since the beginning. It's exciting to see the progress the organization is making after three years. Things are really taking off! People love this farm. I love to talk to people and hear their stories. People see my stuff and it reminds them of someone in their life and they come back to tell me. This is such an amazing place for building community. There is magic here. Just being outside and moving a bit takes your mind off of pain. Everybody thanks me for doing this but I am more thankful that I was given the opportunity to create this here because it saves my life every day. I feel healthier every day just sitting here.