Jennifer Ronan-Vander Veen is the owner and founder of Sage & Balm – a curated retail outlet for both photography and refinished furniture creations. Her enchanting, nature-inspired photography and unique display methods have been showcased around Guelph and rural Ontario where much of her creativity and inspiration has blossomed. Her signature style in furniture refinishing has allowed her to gain happy customers all over North America. She lives in Guelph with her husband, daughter, and one child on the way.
In an interview, Jennifer speaks with Petra Nyendick, board member with the Guelph Arts Council.
GAC: Jenn, I’ve seen your photographs displayed at galleries around town. I’ve noticed that your subject matter is quite versatile, ranging from nature and still life to architecture and interiors. Is there a particular subject that you find most inspiring?
J R-VV: My general goal is to dig deep to find something beautiful in everything – even things that may not be classically beautiful on the surface or at first glance. My photography is often just how I view the world through my lens, and I find that as I’ve been photographing longer, my tastes change and evolve. But, I must say, that the common thread of what inspires me most and draws me in is atmosphere! I love photographing moody, dark, atmospheric places or things (or taking photos and then editing them to achieve that feel). I think there is great beauty in things that are mysterious, melancholy, abandoned, or gloomy; so I like to highlight what is beautiful there. I’ve often thought about why I might be drawn to the dark side of photography, and I think it has to do with connecting my perspective and experiences in life: I’ve had some painful, traumatic experiences, and I’ve had to shift around my views about life. I’ve had to stare death and hopelessness in the face and still find a way to be a whole, thankful, and happy person somehow. We know most artists use pain as a source of inspiration and fuel…I wouldn’t say I’m that melodramatic; but I do think that even in very dark situations, there is a lesson, and there is beauty, and if we look for it hard enough, or train our eyes to see it, we can find it there.
Many artists strive to capture beauty, as subjective a term as that may be. Beauty can be found in subject matter, but can also exist in different ways such as the relationship between artist and viewer or the materials that are used. I’ve noticed that you take much care in the presentation and framing of your art and often use unique display methods. Does beauty affect your presentation choices? Can you talk about how you choose your framing devices?
Yes, beauty is what I strive for! I want my frames or display methods to enhance and contribute to my photographs in a way that the photo alone cannot do. I think that is part of the art experience: to present something new/inspiring/beautiful. The displays, arguably, make my pieces stand out, as I think the display gives the piece a certain appeal. Because a lot of my art is nature-based, I like to pay homage to nature with my displays, so often I turn to unfinished or interesting found wood to echo the trees in the photographs.
I think both your photos AND your frames make your work unique! When you work as a commercial photographer, do you find that you are limited in your creative choices?
Thank you! I don’t do any commercial work, as I am completely freelance! That does mean I have more control over the creative process. I imagine that commercial or contract work would still allow the manifestation of creativity.
While I was looking at your work on the Web, I noticed you also recondition furniture! Can you tell us a little about that?
Sure! Sage & Balm is a twofold business where half is dedicated to photography, and the other to home decor (my two favourite things!) I have two types of customers in respect to the furniture side of business: those who visit my Etsy e-commerce shop to buy ready-made pieces; and those who request custom orders for their own existing furniture pieces.
I really enjoy transforming and restoring antiques or vintage furniture in particular, since these pieces are almost always solid wood and have stood the test of time with their excellent construction. They are naturally high quality and they usually have very appealing woodwork or shapes. I think a lot of people have realized that the cheap, particle board furniture of modern invention has a short lifespan, and now people are turning to refinished or restored vintage or antique pieces. I’ve been refinishing furniture for about 8-9 years and my mother did the same thing! The “shabby chic/cottage style or flea market styles” that are so popular now are really just experiencing a come back, since these styles have been around for decades. I find refinishing furniture very enjoyable. It provides me with a different outlet to express my creativity.
Thank you for the interview, Jennifer!
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or is there a way the public can view your work online?
I have a photography exhibition coming up at the Albion Hotel, July 15 – August 26, 2018. My work will be on display and available for purchase. I may only partake in that show this year since I am expecting my second child in October. So no festivals or markets this year!