Ordinary / Artful: Two artists’ 2D and 3D exhibit elevates everyday objects

by Amanda Foxcroft

“Hot or Cold” by Jenna Ruder
“Hot or Cold” by Jenna Ruder

For the upcoming art show Domestic Affairs, artists Dan Ingersoll and Jenna Ruder found time in their busy schedules to put together a collection of pieces that both elevate everyday objects and challenge us to see beauty in functional items.

Dan and Jenna worked together as art teachers at Memorial High School for 15 years. In that time they would critique and support each other’s work. Dan retired in 2012 and now works part time in the department of art and design at UW-Eau Claire. Jenna continues to teach at Memorial.

While each artist has his or her unique approach, the common theme of Domestic Affairs is living in the space of work and family, and the challenges that come with balancing life with making art. With a focus on form and arrangement within a space, the show explores both the domestic and the artistic spaces.

Originally a painter, Jenna mostly works in charcoal and pastel these days because it’s easier to pick them up in the small amount of creative time she can squeeze in between household chores and raising two kids.

Her pieces revolve around subjects from everyday life, such as a dress (“The Golden Gown”) or an iron (“Hot or Cold”).

“It usually starts with some found object of desire, sometimes very personal, like my grandmother’s old irons, or something that I simply stumble upon, like the pair of squished Barbie doll pants I found in the parking lot at school,” Jenna says of how she chooses subjects. “I am very drawn to commonplace, time-worn objects that go unnoticed or discarded.”

When she draws these found items, her goal is to present them to viewers in a way that communicates a sense of character, narrative and emotion. Her treatment and arrangement of these objects challenges the viewer to see these common items in a new light, while elevating their form from the familiar to a place of special consideration.

Three bowls by Dan Ingersoll
Three bowls by Dan Ingersoll

Dan creates pottery and sculptural pieces that play in two worlds. In one way, functional pieces such as cups and bowls are infused with a charm that heightens the sense of ritual and enjoyment around taking tea and coffee and eating.
“An aesthetic experience is one in which the senses are engaged and aware,” Dan says. “In finding just the right way to hold a cup … feeling the warmth transferred through the mass of the form while turning to reflect the light of the moment, one creates an aesthetic ritual. If that ritual enriches the user’s life for just a moment, then I have succeeded in creating something of value.”

For Domestic Affairs, these same objects are arranged and presented in a way that asks the viewer to see beyond the utilitarian nature to the inherent beauty of each piece.

While both Dan and Jenna have created and presented their work in shows in the past, Domestic Affairs marks the first time either artist has shown a large body of his or her personal work.

The show will be presented at the L. E. Phillips Memorial Public Library, 400 Eau Claire St., from Nov. 29 through Jan. 5. Come meet the artists at the opening reception on Wednesday, Dec. 2, from 7-8:30pm. The artwork is also for sale, so if you see something you like, contact Jenna Ruder at jenna.m.ruder@gmail.com or Dan Ingersoll at dingersoll57@gmail.com to get your mitts on a piece of this thought-provoking new show.

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