Petaluma artist has found ‘wings to fly’

As a girl she imagined fantastical worlds, and now she creates them.|

Once, when asked about the inspiration for her paintings, Frida Kahlo replied, “Nunca pinto suenos o pesadillas. Pinto mi propia realidad.”

“I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.”

Petaluma’s Jessica Jacobsen — another Latina artist with a gift for the visual expression of personal realities — is generously gifting her community with her own creations.

Raised in the projects of Manhattan, Jacobsen would often spend time sitting upside-down on her couch, imagining an alternative inner world without the fear and tragedy that often existed outside her apartment door.

“This world was my sanctuary,” she said, describing the realm of her own individual imagination and the creations that came from that place. As one of the owners of Petaluma’s downtown Vibe gallery, Jacobsen’s vivid art and hand-made jewelry now provide a similarly sanctuary-like draw to anyone looking for a tantalizing and beautiful glimpse into the brain of a courageous artist.

Her mother was an artist who expressed herself through cooking and sewing. When growing up, Jacobsen knew early on that she loved art but, has always hesitated to call herself an artist.

In fact, it wasn’t until after meeting her best friend — and Vibe co-owner — Maude Bradley, when Jacobsen was 19 and Bradley was 18, that she really started drawing.

“We were in Costa Rica and I was trying to convey all that I was experiencing,” she said, of the process that started as journaling and would eventually lead to a B.F.A in painting from Sonoma State University and a masters degree in museum education. Her painting, “El Cubano,” was chosen for SSU’s juried end-of-year art show, having won Best in Class at the National Arts Program in Santa Rosa in 2016. Her drawing “Wisdom and Roots” won Best in Show the following year at the National Arts Program, and through that was invited to do a solo exhibition for The city of Santa Rosa.

In her bio, Jacobsen describes her aforementioned Costa Rica sojourn as the real beginning of her artistic journey: “It was there, under the canopy of trees, with wildness all around, that I made a commitment to learn how to draw. During that exploration, I developed a personal style that I still call upon today.”

That style, often mixing bold, simple lines with intricately detailed patterns, frequently features the images of women, who, Jacobsen wrote, “Hang in space in a fantastical world that I tend to spend a lot of time imagining myself in.”

Much like her hero Frida Kahlo — who once explained that she painted so many self-portraits because she was the person she knew best — all of Jacobsen’s art is extremely personal. Her body of work, having started with those journals in Costa Rica, now serves as a personal testament to one woman waking up to herself and who she really is.

“It can be a little scary,” she admits of how personal her art is, adding, “But true art comes from the most authentic place inside you.”

Since becoming a mother to her son, who she describes as her “anchor,” Jacobsen sees her work less as individual pieces but more as storytelling. “Becoming a mother rewrote my story,” she said. Moving to Petaluma, with its kind people, vibrant downtown and access to spectacular hikes — her favorite is in Helen Putnam Regional Park, if you are looking for a recommendation — has also helped solidify Jacobsen’s voice and the story she has to tell.

One of those stories is the one she wants other little girls of color to hear, an assurance that they too have a voice, they too can be artists if that’s what they want — and to not be swayed by anyone else’s views of what is and is not art. Most of all, Jacobsen wants to share her belief that all art has to be is truthful.

As for the strength of her own voice, she credits Bradley for helping her find the courage to express it.

“Maude is really my hero,” she said. “She is so fearless. She has such inner strength and doesn’t play by the rules.”

For Jacobsen, this contrasts with her own shy nature, and while she does recognize Bradley’s influence in pushing her to share her voice, her art and jewelry speak strongly for themselves.

If her drawings are a look into her own psyche then her earrings are a multi-generational tree crafted from leather and beadwork. The handmade, wearable art pieces channel Jacobsen’s Afro-Caribbean, Black, Puerto Rican, and Italian roots into astounding expressions of beauty derived from her family’s vibrant blend of cultures. Her jewelry also helped Jacobsen stay occupied during the pandemic and today, she is thrilled when she sees people wearing her creations.

Though Jacobsen is humble when talking about her work, she is jubilant when speaking of her son who she looks on as her legacy. With justifiable pride, she added that he himself has started dabbling in art.

“As people of color we have to work extra hard to find our way,” she said, her cheerfulness giving way to a more sorrowful tone. “But, if you are a child of color who wants to be an artist, know that you have already had to experience so much more.” For just a moment, Jacobsen paused, briefly tearing up, with a touch of the strength she draws from her art visible in her eyes. After another moment, she said, “Use that knowledge as your power when you are feeling powerless.”

Frida Kahlo was once asked about her physical handicap, specifically her polio-encumbered feet. She replied, “Pies, para que los quiero si tengo alas para volar?”

“Feet, why would I want them if I have wings to fly?”

It’s hard not to think of Frida’s wings when experiencing the strength and power of Jessica Jacobsen’s own imagined worlds, and the life-embracing art she creates within them.

Jessica’s work can be seen at Vibe Gallery, 1 Petaluma Blvd. North. Her jewelry is viewable at Instagram @sheesheeart.

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