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ArtPrize artist profile: Jake Gless and Jaina's Rabbit

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Left: Gless with Jaina. Right: Jaina's Rabbit displayed at Biggby Coffee in Monroe Mall.

Left: Gless with Jaina. Right: Jaina's Rabbit displayed at Biggby Coffee in Monroe Mall.

by Katie Talsma and Camille VanderWeide

Wayland-born Jake Gless is a man who likes working with his hands. “I like having something physical in front of me.” Gless adds with a smirk, “I like to do everything as well as I can, even if it comes to cutting grass.”

The 28-year-old art student turned landscaper and the hand-sewn rabbit he made from a homemade pattern embodies the spirit of ArtPrize 2009: one part local talent, two parts dedication, and mix in a little lovable charm – Jaina’s Rabbit was created in anticipation of his daughter’s arrival. “I wanted her to be proud of me. I wanted to show her how much I was thinking about her.”  

Why a rabbit? "I don't know," Gless says, "I didn't want to give her a teddy bear." But after a few weeks of shopping around town, he couldn't find a rabbit that felt right. So he set out to make one. Gless had no prior sewing experience and learned through trail and error, from the beginning stages of developing a pattern and then a 3-D paper model, to the arduous and blind hand sewing of the rabbit’s thick, dense fur.  Gless, who “love[s] the process of making art,” started and stopped the process many times. When he stuffed the rabbit’s face and its eyes lost the expression he was after, he unstuffed the head and placed leather straps in strategic places, pulling and sewing to create the tension needed to work the eyes, ears, nose and mouth into shape.

Despite six years of formal art training from two highly reputable schools, Jake is hesitant to define himself as an artist. He hopes to one day make a living as an artist, and to see his work distributed to a larger audience. Whatever his creative pursuits, it is important to Gless that his work doesn't cater solely to the super rich. Reminiscing on a recent experience landscaping the grounds of a mansion, he cuts himself off abruptly, saying, "That's just not who I want to serve."

Gless' current project is a picture book targeted at older children. But the book has been trapped in the developmental stage for a long time. "One of the major reasons I've left so many things unfinished is that then the artwork always has the potential to be so much better. Once it's 'finished,' that is all it will ever be." But with a new daughter comes a new sense of purpose and responsibility, just the thing to motivate the hesitant artist. And despite his cynicism with the art scene as a whole, “I don’t appreciate the pretentiousness that comes with the art world,” Gless retains a strong but humble sense of his own creative talent, specifically when it comes to Jaina's Rabbit. "It's the most special thing I've made," he said. "It has a strong human quality to it."

The open-to-anyone-and-anything nature of ArtPrize poses a unique question for Gless. How does a piece like Jaina's Rabbit, which he describes as "more of a craft" than traditional art, compare in the public eye to a giant, corporate sponsored sculpture or an exceptional technically accurate oil painting? Which factors will sway public vote most are yet to be seen. But for those like Gless, the competition is perhaps less about placing in the top ten and more about self evaluation. Through the ArtPrize catalyst Jaina's Rabbit now exists as a finished, focused symbol of both Gless' adoration for his daughter and of his potential as a professional artist.

Jaina’s Rabbit is on display at Biggby Coffee, at the Monroe Mall and Monroe Avenue. Biggby is hosting a public reception for the venue’s artists on Saturday, September 26 from 6-9 pm.

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