Jennifer Danza is an illustrator, painter and sculptor and is the owner and operator of Jenn Danza Studios in Nanticoke. Danza, 45, is a graduate of the former Bishop O’Reilly High School in Kingston. She attended Marywood College for three years before relocating to New York City, where she graduated from Pratt Institute with a degree in communication design. Upon graduation, she worked at Marvel Comics. She and her 10 year-old son live in Nanticoke.
Tell us a little about your business and your work. I’m a freelance illustrator, painter and a sculptor. In general, I’m hired by publishers to draw/paint specific scenes – mostly with little animals – to accompany poems or stories. But, being an independent artist within the Equine Collectibles industry is my joy and my favorite type of art that I’m professionally involved in. Basically, I sculpt horses in clay or wax and then cast and sell them to collectors. I sell them both unpainted, for others to paint, and I sell them already painted. Collectors also hire me to paint sculptures from other artists in the industry. Their paint requests can get very specific. Sometimes, the paint specifications are of a famous real horse, like Trigger or California Chrome, or of a beloved pet. I guess you could say that it’s like an extremely detailed 3-D portrait.
Equine Collectibles sounds interesting. Is there a large market for it? The industry is very similar to the miniature railroad hobby or the miniature dollhouse industry, except that the main subject to the industry is horses. Everything and anything that has to do with real horses, including tack, wagons, gear, cattle and housing is made and sold in the industry. Sizes for the horse miniatures range from 1 inch to 11 inches and are made in plastic, resin, earthenware china or porcelain. There is a yearly convention held at the Louisville Kentucky Horse Park. There are also rated shows both in North America and in Europe, so there is a tremendous amount of competition in the industry. We have a yearly national show held in alternating locations. One of those alternating locations is at the Pennsylvania Farm Complex in Harrisburg.
What is it that you enjoy about it most? Seeing a beautiful horse in a field or a gorgeous landscape and being able to recreate those visions through paint or in a sculpture is very fulfilling and addicting. And being able to share images or characters from inside my head on paper, or in three-dimensional form with others, is a really rewarding form of communication.
You’ve also had some books published, correct? Yes. I’ve had illustrations published by Field & Stream magazine, Spider magazine and Marvel Comics, and I’ve illustrated two published books by Henry Holt & Company. The first book is titled, “The Friendship of Milly and Tug” and the second is, “Equinox.”
What do you enjoy doing in your free time? I enjoy going to the casino, but not to gamble. I usually go with my sketchbook and enjoy sketching people walking about or sitting at the tables and machines. There are so many different types of people at the casino and so much to draw that it’s always a fun challenge. I also like to visit bars and sketch people, especially when a good local band is playing. I find that once I open the sketchbook and start drawing, people get very curious and are attracted to what I’m doing. Inevitably, we all wind up talking to each other, which is always a lot of fun. It’s fun to talk to new people.
Any hobbies? Rockhounding and dumpster diving. I’m always picking up rocks that interest me when I go in the woods or visit new places. I was recently invited by a friend to go digging for crystals in Tamaqua. I instantly became hooked on hunting crystals and can’t wait to go digging again. So, you could say I’m a bit of a rockhound. And dumpster diving is a little pleasure of mine that I can’t resist. I drive around on garbage day and look for discarded furniture or items I can repurpose, and I grab them and turn them into something beautiful and useful again.
Favorite music? I love music and I love all types of music, but I’m very pulled to listen to stuff from the ‘80s like Tears for Fears, Depeche Mode, New Order, U2, The Smiths, and A-Ha. I even love the post-punk stuff like Siouxsie & The Banshees. But when I’m creating in the studio I can’t listen to music with words. I can only listen to instrumental stuff. Stuff like what Patrick O’Hearn and Michael Whalen compose. New Age stuff.
Follow sports? Through my neighbors, who are big fans, I’ve started to follow the Minnesota Vikings.
Favorite color? Blue.
First car? A 1982 Chevy Monte Carlo. I wish I still had that car.
Favorite city? Manhattan. Manhattan has an unending pulse and the best of everything. It has the best museums, the best food, the best shopping and it seriously never sleeps, and I love that. It’s an exciting city to visit.
Favorite thing about NEPA? I find quiet inspiration in this valley. Perhaps it’s because it’s where my love of art started. It’s my roots. Maybe it’s because it’s more quiet here and I find that helpful for creating my art. Although, things have changed physically about the area – Walmart, the arena, Mohegan Sun – some things just don’t seem to change, like the old fashioned sense of community between neighbors, families and friends. People still love to get together around a campfire and enjoy each other’s company without modern technology distracting them. Old and young all coming together in their journey. There is something very genuine and rejuvenating about not keeping up with the “latest or greatest” and something truly rewarding in that act of coming together and sharing life experiences. It was like that before I left the valley and it’s still like that now, and that is a huge comfort to me.
Favorite food? Sushi.
Favorite vacation spot? Maui, Hawaii. My brother lives in Maui so I try and visit as often as I can. It’s a place full of amazing beauty and healing.
Favorite holiday? Valentine’s Day. A holiday that revolves around love is my kind of holiday.
Pets? I love animals and I have a few. I have two dogs. A German Shepherd named “Bear” and a Shih Tzu named “Oreo” I also own seven chickens. They all have names, too. I try to name the gals based on their personalities. My most interesting hens in the henhouse at the moment are “Diva” and “Gadzooki.” They both live up to their respective names. I also own two pet rats.
Favorite movie? “The Black Stallion.”
Favorite quote? The Pratt motto: “Be true to your work and your work will be true to you.”
Favorite book/author? “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger. And I love the work of Jack Finney. His book of short stories, “The Third Level” is just brilliant. Great stories.
Pet peeves? Cheaters and liars. You’re not suppose to lie or cheat. It hurts people.
Most defining personal moment? That would have to be when Henry Holt & Company hired me to illustrate my first picture book. I was very excited because the book was set to be available in every North American book store. A month into production of the sketches the publisher decided, on a whim, to go in a different direction, illustratively, and I was taken off the book. I was paid a “kill fee” and a new illustrator was hired. I cried for two weeks. It was like my dreams were all crushed. I decided at that moment to pick up my pieces and not give up. I was determined, and I sent the art director an original hand-drawn greeting card every month. After six months she called me and asked me to stop sending original art. She said she did not forget about me and that she found another book for me. That book turned out to be my first published book with Henry Holt & Company: “The Friendship of Milly and Tug.” It was the first of their “Red Feather” chapter series and it went on to win some awards and honors for the company. The best part was when I went into her Manhattan office and all my original drawings were framed and hung by her computer. I learned that persistence really makes dreams come true.
Alan K. Stout is a regular contributor to Weekender. In addition to the MEET feature, he also writes about the NEPA music scene.
MEET is a new feature in Weekender that profiles local people from throughout NEPA.