Artist Profile

Jess Crow

Story by Amy Newman

     

Jess Crow is in high demand down South. The Palmer artist held classes and demonstrations every month this year at woodworking guilds, retail stores, and maker events around the country, teaching beginner and master woodworkers how to transform furniture and other wood pieces into works of art using paints, epoxy and resin.

Looking at her work, it’s easy to understand why. Whether it’s Maui waves on a small charcuterie board, a countertop with a river of flowing salmon, or a 25-foot, geographically correct conference table that depicts the middle Kuskokwim River, Jess’s intricate designs elevate her woodworking from functional piece to work of art.
Even more impressive is that she took up woodworking only four years ago.

Jess’s first creation was borne of necessity – she needed a coffee table but couldn’t afford one. Palette furniture “was all the rage” back then, so she bought several and made one using a simple design and “a straightforward cut.” With castoff inks and paints from prior projects, Minwax, and a generic stain, she created an image of the Northern Lights on the table’s surface.

But she didn’t think the finished result worked in her space, so she posted it for sale on Craigslist. The reaction was immediate. Jess was so inundated with requests that she built 100 tables over the next month.

“It was amazing to me how many people wanted art on their furniture,” she says. “But then I thought, ‘Why not?’ These furniture pieces are usually the largest in our home, then we spend thousands on art pieces. This can be both.”

She bought and repaired broken furniture and used her paint, resin, and epoxy method to add an artistic touch. Flowers were an early favorite, but she took custom orders as well – including a 3-D robot and a dresser with a cheetah for a little boy’s bedroom. Businesses began to commission her work as well. A river of salmon flows along the bar at the downtown Matanuska Brewing Company, and the Kuskokwim River table sits in the Kuskokwim Corporation conference room.

But the Massachusetts native’s transition from thrift shopper to woodworking artist isn’t as sudden as she makes it seem.

“I’ve always done art and making in general,” she says. “And by ‘making’, I mean either building things out of sticks, or using clay, or sewing; so, I’ve always been creating.”

Jess is a completely self-taught artist, something she finds “interesting” in the age of YouTube tutorials. But it’s a deliberate move on her part.

“I never want to feel like I’m copying somebody’s style,” she explains. “I want to find out on my own how to do it.”

Jess draws inspiration from her surroundings, sketching in notebooks, exploring color combinations, and thinking of ways to incorporate different materials into her work.

“The problem for me is I almost get inspiration overload, and then I’m like a squirrel and can’t focus on one thing,” she says with a laugh.

One of the hardest parts of the learning process, she says, was accepting that she’d make mistakes along the way. Overcoming that hurdle, though, was ultimately freeing.

“When you’re scared to create, you’re innately held back,” she explains. “If you come to terms with, ‘Well, this may not work out,’ you’re free to work.”

Jess says every step over the past four years – from building a business around her art to partnering with major distributors to create an epoxy line – has been transformative. A survivor of childhood abuse, life left her “feeling very much less than.” Her work changed that.

“It’s mind-boggling, humbling and amazing,” she says. “It has been such a transformation within myself, with my self-confidence level. That has all come with these baby steps that I never thought was possible.”

Her ultimate goal is to pay that feeling forward, particularly to underprivileged youth and survivors like herself. She’s building a Palmer studio to teach classes focused on both the creative and business side of art and hopes to be able to apprentice one or two budding artists.

“I find solace in creating things and lifting other people up,” she says. “To me, that’s another form of building; you’re literally building people up, step-by-step. It’s amazing to think that I could be the one to push them over the edge.”