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. 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. 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. Can you talk about how you choose your framing devices?
Yes, beauty is what I strive for! 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.
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. 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! I find refinishing furniture very enjoyable. It provides me with a different outlet to express my creativity.
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 - Aug. 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!