There’s that old adage about lemons and lemonade, but for Jennifer Sampson, it’s collages she makes with the cards life has given her. The born storyteller, sidelined by illness, found a new creative outlet, which not only allowed her to connect to a growing online community, but also enabled her to reach readers through a new book.
Later this summer, Sampson will release “Cut It Out: Collage Art in Ten Acts,” which she describes as “a playful and theatrically unique collection of collages.” The project was made possible by a grant from the Doug and Laurie Kanyer Art Collection, initially focused on preserving the work of central Washington artists and now expanding to collage artists around the world.
Sampson never imagined she would attract attention with her artwork, describing herself as having “zero experience” in the visual arts.
“I think I took an art class in high school,” she said. “I was the one who always spilled my paint and dropped the pottery.”
She focused on acting and she was prolific. The independent theater artist has worked with theaters and schools in Chicago, Denver, San Diego and New York. With an MFA from The Old Globe Theater program at the University of San Diego, Sampson has directed and taught acting classes at the Dalton School, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Youth Summer Theater Institute of NYC, La Jolla Playhouse and Cal State of Bakersfield.
Locally, she has also curated exhibitions at The Empty Space, Bakersfield College, and has curated exhibitions in gallery space at the Bakersfield Museum of Art and the Bakersfield Symphony Orchestra.
“A WHOLE DIFFERENT WORLD”
She was in the middle of several projects in 2017 when she fell ill.
“It was such a shock because I was going, going, going. I had two shows at the museum, symphony presentations (shows) and got ‘Hamlet’ signed and equity contracts signed. The entire show was funded.”
Suffering from mononucleosis for the third time in her life, she had to take time off from her job and focus on her health.
“I feel like you’re sinking. I’ve had it before and got over it.
But this time it was different. Diagnosed with chronic mononucleosis, everything changed as the disease left Sampson exhausted, stuck in bed for hours.
She said: “There’s no treatment and it can lead to more difficult health issues. It’s not going to get through. There are times when I literally can’t get up. C it’s a whole other world.”
The diagnosis was a terrible blow for Sampson, who said it took her around a year to mourn what she had lost and learn to deal with her “new normal”. Focusing her exhausted energy on being a joyful mother to her daughter Lillian and the current, loving wife of her husband Jon, Sampson has no other creative pursuits planned.
Like life, art finds a way, and that was the case with Sampson who got into collage just over a year ago.
“A year ago I started cutting and pasting, and I noticed my whole body was relaxing,” she said. “I felt this joy, a stupidity, a playfulness.”
Topics included living with illness, feminism, family life, and domestic and social issues. She used scraps of paper, magazine clippings, old letters and maps, found materials from nature and other ephemera for her pieces.
She said, “I like real materials, working with my hands. … I like to challenge myself and use what I have.”
CONNECT THROUGH ART
Initially, Sampson kept her job a secret: “I was very self-conscious at first. I thought it was just a hobby that kept me busy.”
Slowly she started sharing with friends, one of whom – Josh Fitzpatrick, former pastor of Wellspring Free Methodist Church – encouraged her to create an Instagram account for her designs.
She started a page (@scissorsandstories) last March and started connecting with other creatives.
“I found out through IG that there’s a whole world of collage artists out there,” she said. “It’s its own unique group of people, artists and collectors. I’ve learned so much about it.”
This is where Laurie Kanyer comes in. Artist as well as collector, she and her husband research art for preservation.
In light of the pandemic, the couple have also embarked on gift grants, aimed at supporting artists who are creating something uplifting to share with the world.
The previous recipient, New Jersey collage artist Kiki Buccini, used her grant to create and send “gift” collages of artwork to essential workers and others. Buccini will then follow how the gifts could improve the well-being of the recipients.
Finding positivity in Sampson’s work, Kanyer reached out to local artists.
Sampson said: “She said to me, ‘Most artists have a similar style. Yours are mostly story-based and look different.
“His witty collages, while deeply serious, often contain important messages or lessons,” Kanyer said in a press release. “I envisioned a gift book filled with his collages. It felt like I needed those collages in a book to help support my well-being and affirm my beliefs.”
Upon learning that Sampson was living with a devastating illness that restricted her daily life, Kanyer pledged to provide her with a grant to make the book a reality.
Sampson describes “Cut It Out” as a narrative mixtape, told in 10 acts.
“It takes you on this journey, different notes just hit you. That’s what a play should do, what a story should do, and hopefully that’s what the book does.”
She enlisted local artist Erwin Ledford to help design the cover, which features her collage of a scene.
The book is due out in late August or early September. Beyond his release, Sampson would like to connect with the BMoA on a collage exhibition and possibly collaborate with other artists.
For now, she is happily celebrating the opportunity with her loved ones.
“I was just praying, I know it’s not going to go away,” she said of her illness. “If something good could happen, that would be great. I feel really blessed.”
Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter: @realstefanidias.