Today we’d like to introduce you to Jenna Efrein.
Jenna, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I grew up in Brooklyn, NY. I began working in glass in the 5th grade in a small two-week workshop at school. In my early teen years, when I told my doctor I could fall asleep at night until late, he told me to get up and do something. That’s when I began to pursue art. In my senior year in high school, I got to revisit my experience in stained glass through an independent study program. Two weeks into it, I got a job at a stained glass production shop in the West Village Meat Packing Factory district in NYC. I continued to study glass and many other media types throughout college. After that, I began doing craft shows and custom stained and kiln-fired glass.
About 13 years later, I wanted to return to graduate school art and alter my career path. I went to a local community college for a year to take all the art history classes I skillfully avoided as an undergrad. I did not get into graduate school the first time around but got some great advice from a school that had already rejected me, but I was scheduled to visit. Getting feedback is extremely uncommon. I took it to heart and then spent a year working with amazing faculty at SUNY New Paltz and re-built a new portfolio and focused the work. The result was getting into Alfred University School of Art and Design for glass with a waiver and stipend. At the time, it was rated number 2 for glass. Hard work and determination pay off; I was extraordinarily grateful. Postgraduate school, I moved to Philadelphia, where I eventually ended up teaching at Salem Community College in their Glass Art program.
In my own studio practice, I started to explore working in the kiln with found bottle glass. The reason was partially economical, but mostly the curiosity and a desire to use materials readily available. After four years at Salem Community College, on a suggestion by a friend that thought I would get along with the current glass faculty, I applied to the University of Miami to be a full-time Lecturer in Glass. I got the job and moved to Miami, a place I had never been to and knew no one. In the almost five short years I have been here, I can honestly say I’ve never been happier in my life. My job has worked out wonderfully with great co-workers in a department on the verge of a lot of growth. Recently, I was promoted to Senior Lecturer of Glass.
I have fully integrated into the artistic community of Miami which is also seeing exponential growth. I am a part of the Bakehouse Art Complex with a diverse range of fantastically talented artists. I have developed wonderful relationships with artists and there is always something interesting happening.
When I moved here, I wanted to get out into nature. The Everglades was the obvious option besides the ocean. I really love getting lost out in the wilderness and enjoying the sights, sounds, scents, and sensations. At a Ranger Station, I asked for a recommendation for a book on the Everglades. I was told they all had to read The Swamp by Michael Grunwald. That book along with the local news and my continued studio experiments with bottle glass led me to begin developing a solo show for which I had yet to find a venue. My work and interests began to hone in a way that it previously never had. Before moving to Miami, I had a lot of life show up, most notably being present for my mom through her bout with cancer. I am an only child from her and at the time was not close to anyone on her side of the family. I felt as if I was the last of her kind and I had to process the experience of losing a loved one while doing the things one discovers they need to do at that time. Needless to say, the loss of a parent that you are close with changes a person.
This brings me to what I am most interested in, community. I study how we perceive ourselves as individuals and within our communities. What are our metrics for individual and social behavior? This immediately leads me to my love of nature and basic survival instincts. I think about how we treat our planet, but it starts locally. That is somewhere to begin. I was soon to find a venue for that show at the Mindy Solomon Gallery, which led to the participation in 17 other shows in the last four years. I am currently, taking a general break from aggressively showing work to dedicate time to create new bodies of work along with material and technical research. Much of the work I am creating is about the current environmental concerns here in Florida, but the conditions are not localized if one just pays attention to the international and national news. Using upcycled glass to represent these issues brings the message full circle. I’m also developing a performance piece about human behavior. I’ll just say it includes a unicycle. Additionally, I am creating a monument to the handyman of Bakehouse, Joe Gedeon, a Haitian immigrant, who worked for the original bakery and for the artist residency since its’ inception. I am celebrating him for being a bright light and a kind person to all. A model of a human being doing kindness. As he says and from which I am a student of, “peace and love.”
Please tell us more about what you do, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
I have become known for making work out of upcycled glass utilizing a variety of processes. An aspect of this that I love, is that I have become the local recycle center for those in my immediate vicinity. It’s really fun to incorporate people into the work who care about the message it carries.
Any shout outs? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
There have been so many people that have been supportive, cheerleaders and mentors. First and foremost, my mom. My high school gymnastic coach of 10 years, Dorothy Guerri, who taught me patience, perseverance and practice yield results. Rudy Serra, my college sculpture professor, who taught me to dream big. Doug Hitch, my college neon instructor, who let me do an independent study in kiln glass by giving me a book and a kiln and believing in me to be able to figure it out. Jeff Crane, my art history professor in community college, who made me feel smart. Emily Puthoff, the SUNY New Paltz sculpture faculty, who let me join her classes as a non-matriculated student. She challenged me and helped hone my work and conceptual knowledge. Angus Powers, my graduate school professor for always being positive and suggesting repeatedly that I take some time off no matter that I ignored the advice. Paul Stankard, a glass master for over 50 years, being a mentor, believer, and supporter. And all of my students, who pick up what I lay down, run with it and become great in their own lives. You can’t keep it if you don’t give it away.
- Website: jennaefrein.com
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: instagram.com/jennaefrein
- Facebook: facebook.com/jennaefrein
Images in Glass Blowing Studio with Ocher Shirt Photo Credit Zusel Escriba All Others Photo Credit Christin Paige Minnotte Except with Joe Gedeon That one Photo Credit Patricia Cooke