By Dan Wine
Jonah Bienhoff’s artwork reflects her experiences and struggles — “almost like a self-portrait.”
Bienhoff, who is studying studio arts and anthrozoology at Beacon College, had three of her pieces accepted for the “Womanmade” exhibit at three galleries in Lake County, Fla. This will be her first art exhibition outside of school.
“Being pushed to apply to the show, and it happening — being accepted — was kind of mind-blowing to me,” Bienhoff said. “It’s almost that moment like, ‘I’m a real artist!’”
“Womanmade” is a collaborative effort among the Leesburg Center for the Arts, Mount Dora Center for the Arts and Lake County Museum of Art in Tavares. The show opens March 6 and runs through April 11.
Chelsey Velilla, gallery manager and volunteer coordinator for the Mount Dora Center for the Arts, said more than 70 artists applied for the exhibit.
“The idea was to really highlight the talent of our female artists in Central Florida,” Velilla said. “We have so many amazing women around.”
Bienhoff’s sculptures are titled “Neurons,” “Anxiety Cocoon” and “What’s the point? Rrrump.” She used materials such as fiberglass, resin, sticks, cheesecloth, pantyhose, metal, pens and motors to create them.
In her artist statement, Bienhoff revealed her work represents her anxiety.
“I pull from my own experiences,” she wrote. “These pieces end up being a self-portrait of my anxiety and overwhelming experiences.”
Bienhoff, 28, started drawing when she was young and was inspired by her great-grandmother’s many talents, from cooking to painting to woodworking to doll making.
“Almost everything she tried, she would accomplish,” said Bienhoff, who is from Ottawa, Kansas. “I thought that was really cool, and I wanted to learn things.”
Bienhoff, who also struggles with ADHD and sensory processing disorders, was raised by her grandparents and had a hard time in school growing up. She persevered, but a couple of other colleges didn’t work out.
She worked for a few years, and then Bienhoff’s grandmother urged her to try Beacon College. Bienhoff credits the teachers for helping her succeed, and now she’s in her last semester.
“The teachers here have helped me learn things about myself, manage, and I have taught myself things without realizing it,” she said. “I’ve grown in ways because of this school.”
Russ Bellamy, chair of Beacon’s studio arts department, said Bienhoff has grown a lot as an artist the past few years and has taken on bigger challenges.
“Her work pushes boundaries and touches on relatable conceptual ideas that are depicted in a way that forces empathy and self-reflection,” Bellamy wrote in an email. “Her sculptures are amusing, provocative and aesthetically touch upon bodily processes, the human machine and ask us to question our perception and interpretation of beauty.”
Bienhoff has enjoyed art since elementary school, but what attracted her to sculpture?
“I like buildings, so I think sculpture hit me because it was hands on,” she said. “I can draw things realistically and paint them if I want. But with sculptures … I kind of just learn to let go in that part.
“I think I get more out of the process than the finished product.”
Velilla said Bienhoff’s work wowed the jurists and really stood out from the other entries.
“Her pieces blew us away,” Velilla said. “We were really amazed with the scale — and for me, to see a student who’s willing to be that bold with her work — I was really impressed.”
Receptions for the “Womanmade” exhibit are planned at all three galleries: March 6 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. in Leesburg, March 13 from 6-8 p.m. in Mount Dora and March 27 from 6-8 p.m. in Tavares.