“I wanted to bring in at least 200 women from our community - Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Palm Coast, and have them wear a black and white striped shirt and a bun...I didn’t want to leave anyone out...little did they know, they were going to be asked to write down their name, their age, and what it means to be a good woman.” -Artist Jenna Alexander in a discussion with Sandro Young of The Road Less Traveled podcast.
As a little girl, Jenna observed a certain piece of artwork countless times while brushing her teeth. Picture a group of women waving their arms amid splashes of pink and turquoise. Displayed on the piece was this iconic saying: 'Good women: may we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.’ Those words continue to ring true in Jenna today as a wife and mother. She has developed a series called Stripes & Buns that will no doubt inspire her young daughter.
The series began in 2014/2015 as a modest collection of black and white watercolor works. But for one full year, Jenna has been bringing color and added life to the project. Seeing the culmination of her work at its December 6th release was surreal. It was a remarkable intersection of preparation, opportunity, and enthusiasm for a local brand that is leaving its distinguished mark on this old city. The studio was a sea of female faces present in person, but also printed and painted on paper and canvas. Their eager anticipation bore fruit in this display and celebration of them.
St. Augustine retains a small town feel despite its relatively vast city and county limits. Stripes & Buns proves to be a collection of familiar faces: the longtime friends who carried their daughters to the studio during the initial model calls, the acquaintances with whom I've crossed paths from time to time, and without question the very women who help shape the identity of this picturesque city.
To have the models hand-write what it means to be a good woman was a stroke of genius on Jenna's part. She held onto the aesthetic of scanned scribbles for over a decade. This began when she was 14, after flipping through a coffee table book called Milk, Eggs, Vodka: Grocery Lists Lost and Found. Author Bill Keaggy compiled and scanned handwritten grocery lists that remind readers how much we have in common behind the defensive veneer we sometimes wear.
In like fashion, Jenna prompted her models in a way that would elicit brief responses that were also authentic in their universality. Their thoughts were later scanned and included in a hardcover coffee table book. Each model's note appears with her photo. One of the responses that struck me read,
To be a good woman means to leave a lasting impact on everyone you meet.
I can easily think of countless women who have done just that to me. In 5th grade, I was so enamored by my teacher's penmanship that I learned to adopt it as my own by the school year’s end. I mention her just about every time someone comments on my handwriting. Her name was Theresa.
Up until I was 15, most of my friends were girls. I'm grateful for the way I was raised. My mother's approach to life and parenting helped me hold women in high regard. In my teens, my guy friends would often comment, “You're so good with women!” My mom has made a success of single parenthood, which has endeared her to me incredibly. She has always put the needs of my brother and I ahead of her own. In my turbulent adolescence, my mom and I would often look at each other and say in agreement: “Us against the world, right?... Right.”
After reading a wall of original pen and paper musings from Jenna's initial shoots, I got to have an enriching conversation with her husband, Za (pronounced Zay). He and I agreed that even as men, there is a great deal for us to appreciate about this series. Really, where would we men be without the nurturing, love, and affection of the women in our lives? Za was touched to witness the support and enthusiasm that poured in from the community.
I look forward to visiting the studio soon to pick up the coffee table book I ordered at the release party. I'm confident that it will go down as a treasured expression of the human condition, a glimpse into this critical moment.
More of Jenna’s work can be seen on her website: jenna-alexander.com