Jen Wagner's unrelenting enthusiasm for the medium inspires students and collectors around the world
Written by Joe Willey | Photography by Jill Jasuta
The Eastern Shore of Maryland is distinct for its tributaries, shorelines and transient tides. Layers of shapes and colors move languidly throughout the seasons as the crisp light of spring slowly transforms into the dull glow of winter. Photography and painting have traditionally isolated a moment, but mosaic art, using shaped bits of glass, tile and stone, changes with the vibrating reflection of water, earth and light. Mosaic artist and Eastern Shore native Jen Wagner is immersed in the area and creates work that shimmers like the landscape she loves.
Jen was born in Cambridge but moved to St. Michaels when she was only three. Now, she has a love for the town that nurtured her. She says, “When I’m in St. Michaels, I’m home.” Like many, the benefits of growing up in a small community were hidden by hopes of adventure. After moving away, she discovered what she had lost. Jen returned a few years later.
Initially, she wanted to be a writer and had no interest in the visual arts. When she took a class with a ceramics and jewelry artist, she discovered her creativity had a tactile side. The physicality of creating mosaic art intrigued and excited her. The materials, from glassy smooth to dryly coarse, piqued an untapped talent. This new outlet was a joyful obsession. Even between waves of nausea while pregnant with her first child, she would work on a mosaic project — shaping glass and tile, securing it to a backing board, and locking the tiles in place with grout.
The process inherent in constructing each mosaic impacts how she works. Each new piece begins with a well-thought-out design, but the creation is fluid, and each work has surprises. Jen is a problem solver. Admittedly, that skill is used more than any other.
Mosaic art: Using shaped bits of glass, tile and stone, she captures changes in the vibrating reflection of water, earth and light.
A one-person operation by nature and choice, Jen relishes being on a ladder or scaffold, placing glass or tiles, and finalizing the nearly finished piece before it is ready to be revealed. Her mosaic installations embellish buildings across the Eastern Shore, Washington DC, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Smaller stained glass and mosaic creations are sold to buyers around the world.
Like the materials she uses, her untiring love of the medium is durable. So is her reputation with those who have learned in her classes. The classes are a dialogue — her students learn from her and she from them. She takes her time. Instead of limiting a class to six weeks, Jen is flexible. Some students have worked on a piece for years, coming to the studio to add tiles and glass when there is an opportunity. Instead of frustration, she is excited to see someone’s progress.
FLUID DESIGN Jen Wagner creates work that shimmers like the landscape she loves.
An enthusiasm for teaching extends to young people, also. Jen teaches youth camps during the summer — June and August at the Easton YMCA and July at the Queen Anne’s County YMCA. Like the adult classes, she allows the students to own the process and think through and around the problems. “The kids go at it like the adults,” she says. When the piece is complete, they know it is all their work.
Ironically, the solidity of mosaic art can eloquently capture movement. Jen’s personality and willingness to share her talent with others impact the mosaics she creates. Her work flashes and changes instead of sitting solid and immobile. The process that captured her now captures what she sees glinting in the sun or hidden in the fields. The more she continues to create art and teach others to create, the more we see it, too. CS