• Fri. Apr 19th, 2024

Few eras are as studied and beloved as ancient Greece. It’s hard to quantify just how much of an impact her timeless myths and ancient ruins have had. Down to the modern age, the legendary time of Homer and his forebears continues to capture the imagination despite the passage of millennia. And right in the heart of Dayton, one creative artist is showing just what happens when that passion is translated into art.

Jennifer Perkins in her studio

Jennifer Perkins has had a career that has spanned Eastern Europe and the Continental States. Looking back, her experiences provided the tools she needed to create the stunning works that have adorned walls in Oregon, Arizona, California and now Greece. But it’s only on completing the massive collaboration that has art-lovers hyped from Jefferson Street to the island of Naxos that the Daytonian has been able to fully appreciate her journey. 

“Time Passages-A Multi-Media, Trans-Atlantic Collaboration” is a lot more than its humble title suggests. It is a meeting of the minds, an artistic extravaganza uniting Perkins incredible ability to draw with Maggie Ross’ masterful skills of carving. On the walls of the Dayton Metro Library and a quiet studio off North Keowee are the results of teamwork that weathered a global pandemic and thousands of miles. 

“Mag and I had a strong vision, my MO was to convey that,” she said about the grant that made their work possible. 

For Perkins, unused to baring her soul, it would be the first time the artist confronted the inspiration, ideas, and concepts that drove her work. To amp up the pressure, the success of her and the expatriate Ross’ collaboration depended on a highly detailed and thorough submission. 

“I had to be totally transparent, to bare my soul and allow others to analyze it. For me, it was a chance I took to say that I was here and this is who I am. I cried a lot, was terrified, and it was more challenging than anything I’d written before,” she said. 

Yet the end result is nothing short of exhilarating. Using ancient methods such as egg tempera painting and drawing on years of research, Perkins’ drawings are chiseled into life by Ross in Greece before they come stateside. Some might find Perkins’ synthesis of ancient and modern life astonishing, for others Ross’ ability to turn blocks of marble into art take center stage. With a plethora of diverse images, the number of takeaways are endless. 

“Many began life as pencil drawings that I later inked, photographed and sent to Maggie who took it from there. The process involved finding the right sources, bookmarking them, and even researching ancient myths,” Perkins said.

But some might wonder how did an American expat living on the Aegean Sea link up with a Daytonian and chisel out a friendship with such artistic highs? The answer, just as a sculpture might say, is that the groundwork was done years ago. All they had to do was carve it out.

For the pair, that goes back to Oregon and the late 2000s. Two free-spirited women from the American Midwest wound up meeting during an audition for an all-female band. Ross was a new arrival from Austin by way of the Hooser State. You couldn’t get more Daytonian than Perkins, on the other hand. Oregon had been her home since returning to America in 1999. Their chance meeting and subsequent friendship would plant the first seeds of their collaboration.

“We had so much in common and really hit it off. I’d been painting for years and she’d been working with limestone for a while too. From there, the idea of working together was something that just came about organically,” Perkins said. 

 Life would intervene, Perkins heading back to Dayton in 2013 after Ross moved to Greece in 2009. Both would become parents, take on other projects, but the idea of one day working together was always there. 

“Art is so personal, especially when you’re dealing with depression and make art that reflects that, you question the need to put that out. That was just one of the things I needed to get through,” Perkins said. 

Getting there wasn’t easy. Perkins has battled seasonal depression most of her life. For a long time this was reflected in the dark, brooding art she created. However, working with Maggie was a chance to play again, to have fun as an artist and discover a new lease on life apparent in her vibrant colors and the hint of whimsy in her work.

“I needed validation, and the approval of our application gave me that. Putting myself out there was one of the scariest things I have ever done. I wasn’t expecting to be praised. When I heard from the deciding panel it felt like I’d finally arrived,” she said.

Perkins has since enjoyed her first winter without depression in years. The project, which she called eye-opening, may have pushed her and Ross to their limits but both are better for it in the end. She hopes younger artists will take care of themselves and learn from their elders so they can reach the place she’s now in without facing the same obstacles.

“Listen to people who have more experience than you and make sure you’re producing. Don’t stick to doing things just one way and try different methods, tonalities, iterations, even angles. Last but not least, branch out into other mediums to stay inspired,” she said.

The child painting on walls in Van Buren, Ohio is still a muralist, still bringing artistic visions to life. One difference is that she’s creating with a smile on her face. New artists and veterans would do well to follow her example and have fun, let loose, and treat the world like a canvas waiting to be filled. 

Words and Photos by Ismael David Mujahid, Executive Editor