Is there a “bronze ceiling” for women in art, particularly sculptors? And why are there far fewer works of public art created by women than men?
Sculptor Jennifer Rubin Garey is fascinated not only with the female form, but in how women are represented (and underrepresented) in art — both as artists and as subjects. “I have always been focused on the female figure, but deep down, it is gender stresses and the stereotypes put on women in society in general that most interest me,” says Jennifer, who is the winner of the 2021 Phillips’ Mill Community Association Sculpture Award, and the 2020 winner of the Phillips’ Mill Patrons Award for Sculpture.
Jennifer was drawn to the arts from an early age. She attended Douglas Anderson School of the Arts (DA), a magnet high school in Jacksonville that attracts students from across the region with demonstrated interest and talent in the arts. One of her earlier sculptures, “Proof in Barbie’s DNA,” is part of DA’s permanent collection and was the first acquisition of the Augusta Savage Sculpture Garden. The work shows two large stainless steel legs, proportioned to be like Barbie’s own. The whimsical piece uses a bit of humor to display Barbie’s famously unattainable measurements. “I have always been interested in how we, as a culture, judge women with society’s expectations. Barbie is a role model for children, yet her proportions are unattainable.”
Jennifer makes her work visually distinct by "manipulating the female form into a beautiful yet mysterious piece of art. "I do this by elongating, concealing, or extracting elements from the figure. Clothing such as high heels and corsets reform the body into an unnatural shape, which may paradoxically be considered the ideal and is considered an acceptable norm in society,” she explains. While such symbols may seem to do all the editorializing on their own, that is not Jennifer’s intent. “I want every viewer to get something unique and personal out of my sculptures. I may make art for my own conceptual reasons, but the viewer can embrace or take what they want from it.”
And that is the beauty of her craft. She believes that large public pieces of art, such as her own, are crucial to a community. They not only attract tourists to communities that might not otherwise get exposure, but they also draw people into art who might not otherwise be exposed to it.
“Public art is essential,” she says. “When you walk down the street, and happen upon a sculpture, it becomes a part of your experience that day. It can create a forum for conversation.”
Not surprisingly, that conversation will often circle back to gender issues when experiencing Jennifer’s work. Her sculpture, “Transformation,” which was featured in the 2021 Phillips’ Mill Juried Art Show, shows a pregnant woman created in cast resin and sitting atop a sturdy fabricated steel base. It continues the theme that has fascinated her for years— gender disparities and stereotypes about the female form.
“For me, ‘Transformation’ is about becoming a mother, physically, and everything else that comes with having a child. How life changes. It is a very beautiful sculpture, almost delicate in nature, yet juxtaposed by a steel chair that I fabricated from raw materials left to self-patinate. It shows you are being held on a pedestal (while pregnant). The chair is a crucial part of the sculpture and not simply a pedestal.”
Because creating large works of art made of heavy metals can be challenging and physically demanding, Jennifer is among a small number of female sculptors in the region that do so. She hopes that becomes a part of the conversation as well. Yet her intent is not to change the world, but to present a point of view that is open to interpretation and represented by beauty.
Jennifer received a bachelor’s degree at Florida State University and a master's degree at the University of Hawaii. When not in her studio at Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ, the award-winning sculptor works at the Princeton University Art Museum and is Curator of Bucks Community College’s Sculpture Walk. She now serves as the Vice President of the Board of Directors of the Sculpture Trails Outdoor Museum in Solsberry, IN, and as Treasurer of the Arts & Cultural Council of Bucks County.