Jenni Bateman Finds Inspiration in the Grit

If Jenni Bateman resists easy categorization as an artist, blame her husband, David. An executive for Easterseals, he has moved them around the country: to the Pacific Northwest, Colorado, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida. And along the way, she has worked in textiles, watercolor, mixed media, ink and alcohol, illustrations, graphic arts and acrylics – often based on demand and the space she had available in which to work. 

“We have not just traveled through, but rather, put our feet down and put some roots down in each place,” Bateman said. “There’s just this sense of knowing people and letting them settle in my heart, in my head. The people that we’ve met along the way made us very rich.”
Living in so many different areas also gave her the chance to explore a variety of job opportunities.

When the couple planted their roots in Bloomington, Illinois – the headquarters of State Farm Insurance – Bateman was senior copywriter for the company’s direct marketing. 

In western Pennsylvania, where David was president and CEO of the state’s Easterseals branch, she went back to school to learn digital graphic design at South Hills School of Business & Technology in State College. She also developed art and portfolio design courses for the graphic-arts students there because many of them didn’t have any art background. 

In Sarasota, the Ringling School of Art + Design needed people who could teach studio art courses over Zoom during the pandemic, so Bateman developed a rig with iPhones showing the instructor and the work as it evolved, and then sent the art courses out to students all over the world.

At times, the working space for her art has been very tight.

“I’ve often been restricted to a certain square inch or square foot of studio,” she said. “Sometimes it’s in a closet; I’d have a little, little desk in the closet – that’s where I worked. So a lot of my work is very intimate.”

But not all of it. Bateman has also created giant murals.

“Sunflower IV” by Jenni Bateman.

“And so there I am, 30 feet up in the air like a monkey, climbing up the scaffold,” she said. “Those are ginormous. But I typically work very small because of my restrictions of space.” 

After living all around the county, she eventually came to Sturgeon Bay – by boat.

“We were sailing up from Chicago with friends and sailed into Egg Harbor, and we fell in love,” Bateman said.

They weren’t entirely new to the Upper Midwest or to the joys of living near water, however – David had spent some summer time visiting Traverse City, Michigan, years ago.

They also lived for six years on the Key Peninsula, located south of the Bremerton shipyards on Puget Sound. It’s the home of the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, where Bateman got government clearance to install some artwork on the USS Nimitz when it was in for repairs.

Her fondness for shipyards is reflective in her work. 

“This feels so comfortable – I love the grittiness of Sturgeon Bay,” she said.

In one work, called “Ballet Over the Bay,” Bateman combines a sense of a shipyard in watercolor and ink with a leaping ballerina constructed out of multi-colored threads. 

“In Venice a couple years ago, we actually engaged with the Sarasota Ballet Company. There were 10 of us, and the ballerinas would just strike a pose or keep dancing,” she said. “We were quickly capturing the forms, and I captured this gesture, and I just love it. She was dancing with abandon – she was wonderful.”

“Ballet over the Bay” by Jenni Bateman.

Bateman created the image by placing a soluble, cloth-like material in an embroidery-hoop frame and creating the design on her sewing machine, overlapping the threads so they would hold the image after she dissolved the backing in a tub of water with a little dish detergent. In front of the painting, but behind the glass, she backed the figure made of threads with small pieces of foam core so the dancer casts a shadow – which changes with the time of day – onto the painting.

“I like to cast shadows,” Bateman said. “I think they are intriguing.”

She also creates seasonal cards by the thousands – four by six inches, with a drawing, watercolor and perhaps some bits of cut-out paper, looking like seagulls in one case – and sells them around the world. Each one takes five minutes or fewer – she sets a timer – and although she may do 400 similar designs, they are all original drawings, suitable for framing.

Bateman exhibits her work at ARTicipation Studio and Gallery, 10 E. Oak St. in Sturgeon Bay, and teaches workshops at Peninsula School of Art, 3900 Cty F in Fish Creek.

“Female in Silk III” by Jenni Bateman.