The Peculiarity of Knowledge
Multimedia artist claims there’s not an art form she doesn’t like.
Photo by Matt Rose
“A lot of who I am is where I came from,” says Jessica Stoddart, 32, who grew up in rural Tennessee, the daughter of artists.
“I was raised in a ‘Little House on the Prairie’ kind of way,” she says, recalling a childhood spent chopping wood and riding horses. “I love tools, but I’m also a girly girl.”
Just walking into Stoddart’s studio evidences her industrious side. There are no frilly rugs, no extraneous paint splatters, no pop-culture references, and for that matter, no knick-knacks of any kind manufactured in the 21st century. That’s not to say the studio lacks character — on the contrary: like her art, Stoddart and her studio exude a timeless elegance that embraces down-to-earth ethics and nostalgic aesthetics.
Located in the historic, former Biltmore Industries textiles complex near the Grove Park Inn, her work space resides among the cluster of cottage-like buildings now known as Grovewood Studios. Built in 1917, they have kept their stuccoed walls, casement windows and sloping roofs.
Back then, affirmations were painted onto the walls and ceilings of the cottages to motivate weavers. In 1934, Eleanor Roosevelt visited, and may have even walked through the room that Stoddart now uses. An inscription reads: “It is the peculiarity of knowledge that those who really thirst for it always get it.”
The space is inhabited by Stoddart’s easels, drawing tables, and, of course, her multi-media paintings. Large charcoal drawings of old-fashioned objects — tricycles, typewriters and chairs — are rendered on top of dress patterns that have been primed with various industrial colors, including chocolate brown, olive green, fire-engine red and slate gray. The lines of the patterns can be seen through the paint, complementing the sketches.
She began incorporating the paper dress patterns into her paintings about five years ago as a way to distinguish her work. “I’m constantly drawn to the masculine and the feminine in everything,” she says. “For me, the patterns seem feminine but have a masculine, architectural feel.”
Earlier paintings depict arrangements of old-style dress forms — an artifact Stoddart was compelled to draw because, she muses, “it’s not human and it’s not mechanical.” Two such vintage mannequins from the 1920s hang out in Stoddart’s studio these days; she still uses them in her work.
She also keeps an old wooden dollhouse, a relic that resembles a gutted suburban home circa 1970 (a sparser version of the house has made its way into a large red painting on wood). Another treasure is the collection of dolls crafted by her grandfather. She discovered them in his attic after his death — four wooden figures carved coarsely from two-by-fours with movable arms, and painted in colors remarkably similar to the hues Stoddart uses in her canvases.
“He had a very mechanical mind,” says Stoddart, who only knew her grandfather for the last 10 years of his life. “There were things laying out in his home that made me think, ‘I would have done something like that!’”
Her interest in building three-dimensional objects began when she was an art student at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee. She received a BFA in 2002 and went on to study architectural design and furniture at the renowned Penland School of Crafts near Burnsville, N.C. “There really isn’t an art form I don’t like,” remarks Stoddart. “My love for three-dimensional objects definitely influences my two-dimensional work.”
She says she found creative inspiration when she was studying the original Dadaists, known for their absurdist approach to art. “For them, the sky was the limit,” she says. “They taught me that really anything is possible, and that it’s okay to experiment.”
Stoddart exhibits her work at the Studios’ Grovewood Gallery; she also sells her paintings and prints nationally at fine art and craft fairs with the help of her husband, Jon Ladd.
The couple met 11 years ago while in college and were married last year. “Jon plays a huge role in all of this,” says Stoddart. “He’s my best friend. We work together, live together and travel together. He is integral to everything I do.”
Visit www.jessicastoddart.com to see more of the work of Jessica Stoddart.