Playing Favorites: Jenna Gilley & Jean-Marcel St. Jacques

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.

Associate Curator of Exhibitions Jenna Gilley. Photo courtesy of FWMoA.

Jenna Gilley began working at FWMoA as a curatorial assistant before joining the staff full time a year-and-a-half ago. Her current favorite? Contrary to Hearsay, He Wasn’t the Devil, a quilt on loan from the American Folk Art Museum on display in Handstitched Worlds: The Cartography of Quilts.

Jean-Marcel St. Jacques, American, b. 1972. Contrary to Hearsay, He Wasn’t the Devil. Wood, nails, and antique hardware on a plywood backing, 2014. Collection of the American Folk Art Museum, New York; Gift of Jean Marcel St. Jacques, LLC, 2014.18.1. Image courtesy of FWMoA.

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

A: I first noticed its tactile quality. The varying colors and types of materials invite viewers to come closer to see what composes this “quilt”. It also stood out to me because of its strangeness—it is not your average fabric quilt!

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

A: Of course! If I could find a wall big enough… I find new things each time I look at it, which to me is a hallmark of a great piece of art.

Q: What does this artwork mean to you?

A: To me, this artwork is a very interesting take on what makes a “quilt”. Like it’s fabric relatives, this piece is composed of bits and pieces of scraps that come from all different places and have a unique history. Rather than being categorized as a collage, which is also an artwork comprised of many things, the artist chose to call this piece a quilt, which to me adds a layer of personalization, comfort, and tradition to the work. Old door handles, window hinges, and pieces of wood are given new life by being painted in bright colors and joined together in harmony, which signifies to me a story of rebuilding or rebirth.

Jean-Marcel St. Jacques is a self-taught artist and identifies as a 12th-generation Louisiana Afro-Creole. His family fled Louisiana in 1970 to escape racial oppression. 16 years ago, he returned to the state to reconnect with the land of his ancestors. Much of his art is made with wood salvaged from his Katrina-damaged home in the Treme neighborhood. These “wood-quilts” pay homage to the artist’s great-grandparents; his great-grandfather was a hoodoo junk collector and his great-grandmother was a quiltmaker. Even the colors, painted in house-paint, pay homage to his great-grandmother’s “strip quilts”. In this piece, like many others by St. Jacques, one can find a small portrait of the artist in a small blue square in the top left quadrant.

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

A: Growing up, my mother always took my sister and I to art museums. It was the one definite stop on every family vacation. I became transfixed by how art could transport a person to different times and places, as well as make us think deeper about society today. I chose to work in an art museum to invite the public to join in on this conversation. By helping curate and install a diverse range of shows, I hope to foster community connection through art, just as it has done for millennium.

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

A: Bill Blass!!! I am looking forward to Art Deco Glass from the David Huchthausen Collection, set to open next summer.

Visit FWMoA through September 11th to see Jenna Gilley’s current favorite on display Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-5pm; Thursday, 10am-8pm; Sunday, noon-5pm.

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