Playing Favorites: Jenna Gilley & Robin Grebe

We’ve asked FWMoA staff the hardest question you can ask art museum people: so, what is your favorite artwork currently on display? As “art museum people”, we often get asked about our favorite artists, artworks, and the art we choose to hang on our own walls. Since not all of our staff are front-end, and not all of them write for the blog, this series gives everyone a chance to get to know them, too. Taking advantage of our rotating exhibitions of artworks, from painted portraits to sculpted bronzes, FWMoA staff from all departments are choosing artworks that enthrall and enchant them; or, in other words, playing favorites.

Curatorial Assistant Jenna Gilley joined the FMWoA staff less than six months ago, following her graduation from college. Her current favorite? Robin Grebe’s glass sculpture Celestial Bodies, one of our newest acquisitions that came as a donation in memory of Sylvia Fendel, Yale Fendel, and Max Rosenbach on display in Summer of Glass, A Love of Light: The Fendel/Rosenbach Collection.

A glass figure, the head and shoulders, looks the left. On top of the glass are classic figures like a centaur shooting an arrow and star constellations.
Robin Grebe, American, b. 1957. Celestial Bodies. Cast glass, 2003. Gift in memory of Sylvia Fendel, Yale Fendel, and Max Rosenbach, 2020.198. Image courtesy of FMWoA.

Q: What is the first thing you noticed about this artwork? What drew you to this particular piece?

A: I first noticed the dreamy quality of the piece, like the paintings are apparitions from a crystal ball or cloudy sky. Once I looked closer, I was amazed by the skill level Robin Grebe displays in both glass and painting. The glass woman is masterfully smooth and gracefully rendered while the detail of the miniature, hand-painted figures keeps my attention. I continue to stare in wonder and admiration whenever I look at it.

Q: Would you have this artwork in your home? Why or why not?

A: Definitely. Glass can be a tricky and scary thing to have in one’s home, but this piece is stable enough to where I can be my clumsy self and not have to worry about breakage. The soft colors are also beautiful; I feel like I’m sinking into a soft mattress every time I see it.

Q: What does this artwork mean to you?

A: This piece makes me think about our connection to the universe, both physically and spiritually. Physically, we are essentially made up of “space dust”, remnants of stars that exploded millions of years ago. Grebe indicates this by titling the piece Celestial Bodies. We are all an amalgamation of history, in matter and experience. Similarly, we are tiny specks in the enormity of the celestial skies; but even though that may make us feel trivial, Grebe reminds us that we are still significant. The milky “sky”, in which the constellations lay, is a human woman’s head. From a Christian perspective, God is said to have made us in his image. One could think of the woman as a mother goddess figure, or perhaps Grebe is reflecting on her personal feelings of belonging and place. The constellations themselves are combinations of Greek heroes, gods, and goddesses, who similarly (as with many other religions) are depicted in human form. They intermix between animals and objects, beings made of the same organic elements as ourselves. Grebe’s bust combines science and mythology into a beautiful tribute to humanity and interconnectivity, exquisitely captured in glass.

Q: Why did you choose to work in an art museum?

A: I grew up going to art museums! My mother is an artist, so whenever we would go on a family trip, the art museum was always a must-see destination. In college, I wasn’t sure what to do; I always loved art, but I also had a passion for international relations and education. Art history was a foreign concept to me, but after one internship at my college’s local art museum, I was hooked. Since then, I have dipped my toes into numerous other art careers, but ultimately circulated back to museum work. Being a curator allows me to share my love of the past and present with the public in the hopes of creating a better future. Not many other professions can say that!

Q: What has been your favorite exhibition at the FWMoA since your employment? What exhibition are you looking forward to in the next year or two?

A: The current glass shows (particularly the Fendel Collection, currently on display) have been my favorite exhibitions to date. Being the first shows I curated and installed in a museum, they will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s a great feeling when a collection that you are so intimately familiar with leaves your hands and opens to the public. It was also wonderful to see the entire collection finally together again, as Mrs. Fendel intended. They are a stunning display. The diversity and quality of the work is terrific, and a groundbreaking addition to the museum. These exhibitions are just a slice into the incredible glass exhibitions to come in the following years. I’m hoping one day we can have a solo show of Elliot Walker’s work, winner of Season 2 of Netflix’s glass competition series Blown Away!

Q: What kind of art do you have in your home?

A: All kinds! I love to collect art from the places I travel, particularly traditional crafts. I have a painting from the streets of Venice, beaded jewelry from Mexico, and several hand-woven Moroccan rugs. A lot of other pieces have been made by artist friends or are remnants of my artist days. Recently, I made my first big-girl art purchase: a multi-media painting by Paradigm Gallery artist Kaylee Dalton. I absolutely love it; although it has definitely busted open the gates to the realm of art collecting, a dangerous thing for both my wallet and my space.

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