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Artisan: From the Soil

Haley Jensen’s art preserves natural beauty.

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To make her art, Jensen grows all manner of flowers, spends the dry days harvesting them, then cranks up Van Morrison, U2 or some other potent sound in her Charlottesville studio and goes through an intense construction phase, painting canvases with blossoms and sealing them against the otherwise inevitable desiccation. In her 10 years of experimenting, she’s found a process that protects the work and a method that uses even misshapen flowers and spindly branches under a philosophy that nothing is wasted.

When she’s not composing, she’s out tending rows of wildflowers or picking and preserving each species at its zenith. “Every day you’ve got something new in bloom,” she says, “so I’m out watching every day to see what’s coming. When the dogwoods bloom, I have to be there to get them while they’re in peak condition. When the jack-in-the-pulpits are up, I have to go and find them. It can be intense, and it kind of consumes my life. I don’t have a whole lot outside of this, nor do I want it.”

Jensen’s quest to build fictive gardens, made more poignant over years of joys and losses, has become her admitted obsession. “Something just clicked and I knew this is what I was meant to do,” she says. “I don’t know why, but I was guided to it.” A recent large-scale collage, “Going Home,” shows an ethereal landscape of materials sprouting, dying and regenerating. “That piece came from something greater than me,” she says with no small amount of awe at its healing power after sorrow in her life. “I think my work speaks to the right people. It’s not just plant material and matte board and framing, it’s actually something that came from me and is going to them.”

She frames each burst of nature’s glory with an intensity that often drives her to whirl around the studio and sing at the top of her lungs. “I was a wild child and a tomboy,” she recalls, “outside all the time and very creative. I was always building cribs for my dolls or tree houses. Being that I was the boy that never came along in the family, I learned a lot from my father, using hammers and stuff like that.”

Her tools are smaller now, and the tomboy has given way to a free-spirited earth mother who says she uses her artwork as an expression of what she’s feeling in her soul. “I used to just look at the big picture,” she says, reflecting on the personal changes that have accompanied her artistic growth. “Now I am focused on the details, the smaller aspects. … I’m focused on each little detail in life, and then I try to somehow take all that and take the bigger picture from the details.”

Haley Jensen’s Web site is at www.haleyj.com.

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