Corey Jenny, a recent UW–Platteville studio art graduate, has created a historical ceramic mural, now displayed in the lobby of UW–Platteville’s Center for the Arts.
Jenny, who graduated from UW–Platteville in spring 2013 and is from Platteville, was commissioned by the university to create the mural specifically for the Center for the Arts. He invested more than 400 hours to sculpt this unique, 14 feet 9 inches wide by 9 feet tall artistic masterpiece.
Jenny titled the piece “Forward,” the Wisconsin state motto. The mural depicts a historical scene from the 1800s of pioneers traveling to unchartered territory in the west on horseback and in covered wagons. The scene features a free-standing, life-size figure of a pioneer, his hand outstretched, his finger pointing to the west; a pioneer on horseback, his rifle resting on his shoulder; a young girl, her face gaunt from lack of food and prolonged hardship; and oxen, heads down, neck muscles straining against their yokes, laboring to pull the covered wagons laden with treasured possessions and supplies.
Jenny said inspiration for the mural came from his ancestral history, as both sides of his family settled in the Southwest Wisconsin region in the 1880s. Jenny conducted research to ensure that the clothes, wagons and other items in the mural were historically accurate. The young girl in the piece is modeled after his niece, Claudia.
Jenny views the mural not only as a historical depiction but as an allegory for modern life.
“As I worked on the mural, I considered how the ‘forward’ concept related to younger students who were away from their friends and family and in new surroundings for the first time, having left behind everything and everyone they’ve ever known to blaze their own trails,” said Jenny. “Lives that may be hard and full of trials can be the most fulfilling. What could be a better reminder of that than the pioneering spirit of our forebears?
“I wanted the gaunt face of the half-starved little girl first gazing on her new home to remind modern students that life wasn’t always video games and Facebook. I wanted the hard, wrinkled face of the father brusquely scanning the horizon to remind them of how hard we struggled to have the amenities and opportunities afforded us by our modern society. I wanted the slow and lumbering oxen, heads down, yokes on their necks, to remind them that nothing worth having has ever been gotten without a struggle. And lastly, I wanted the plant life and scenic rolling hills to remind them that the ground here was once, and still is, a brand new world to explore and cultivate.”
To create the mural, Jenny built an 8-foot by 15-foot easel from scratch. He then made approximately one ton of clay by hand – the amount required for the mural. Following, he built the framing for the freestanding figure out of galvanized piping then hand-sculpted the entire piece. After it had been sculpted, he cut the clay into pieces, hollowed out the pieces and fired them in a kiln. Next, he glazed the pieces using under-glazes and a clear over-glaze then fired the pieces again. To finish, he cut all of the backings and the hanging cleats and re-assembled the pieces using an industrial adhesive.
“The rough-hewn clay, contrasted with the smoothness of the sculpted figures and animals, is a contrast that represents timelessness, but the emotion feels real and contemporary,” said Jenny. “The topography of the sculpture draws you into the piece as your eyes flitter from the four-dimensional to the three-dimensional to the two-dimensional. I feel that I gave the people and animals living life and breath, set in hard clay that conveys integrity, apprehension, resilience and permanence. I believe that an amount of real adversity shown will not only hearten and inspire, but reassure and bolster the vital drive of young Pioneers for many years to come.”
Jenny was born in Southwest Wisconsin in 1978. He started playing guitar and drawing cartoons when he was seven and started his first band when he was 12. In his freshman year of high school, he was art director for the high school newspaper, which went on to win awards for its graphics. At age 19, Jenny graduated from Madison Media Institute with a degree in recording and music technology.
At 20, he returned to school and studied for two years under the late UW–Platteville professor Weldon T. “Bud” Wall as a fine arts major.
He then started playing music professionally and has been the opening act for groups such as Hootie and the Blowfish, David Allen Coe, Sugarland, Trick Pony, Miranda Lambert, Cross Canadian Ragweed and others. At 30, he returned to UW–Platteville to study under Bruce Howdle, art lecturer and owner of Howdle Studio Inc., in Mineral Point.
“Bruce Howdle is one of the best artists I’ve ever met, let alone had the pleasure to learn from,” said Jenny. “He makes magnificent ceramic sculptures and is infinitely patient and extremely knowledgeable. He possesses a true passion for teaching.”
“Corey’s passion for historical themes, his artistry, his collage of experiences in art and music and his extraordinary dedication to do things right made him a natural fit for this project,” said Howdle. “His artistic statement reinforces the meticulous research he completed to create this historical piece. I couldn’t have chosen anyone better.”
Jenny made the dean’s list five out of six semesters and the Chancellor’s List while a student at UW–Platteville. He has sold many pieces over the years, but his first sculpture commission was for a 15-piece wall plaque sculpture that is on permanent display at the Manx (Isle of Man) Museum in Ullsvik Hall at UW–Platteville. Jenny continues to make music and is currently finishing a novel about the death of Nikola Tesla, a Serbian American inventor, engineer and physicist, set during World War II.