By Cady Kuzmich
Vischers Ferry — Turning hardship and loss into something beautiful and empowering has become a common thread through much of Jen Wojtowicz’s artwork.
Wojtowicz said she has known her life’s work would involve art since she was old enough to hold a crayon.
Her artistic inclinations were nurtured by her mother who made sure she had just the right paper and brushes with which to paint. “My mom was my biggest fan, my biggest supporter,” said Wojtowicz. “My mother claimed to have no artistic ability but she would take adult education classes like woodcarving,” noted Wojtowicz with a smile.
Wojtowicz grew up in Halfmoon, just across the street from her grandmother, before studying downstate at Alfred University and later moving to Vischers Ferry where she now lives with her husband and two children. Her older brother Wally, who was autistic, couldn’t communicate with the family until he was introduced to facilitated communication — a technique that involves supporting an individual’s arm so they can use a keyboard to communicate their thoughts. Once he was able to communicate, he began writing a book and became an advocate for people with disabilities. Wally was later diagnosed with ALS and passed away in 2014
Wojtowicz carries her brother’s story of resilience with her and it shows in her work. Early in her career she decided she wouldn’t just create art for the sake of creating something. Her work would have a purpose — helping others find strength. She decided to paint saints. Though she considers herself spiritual rather than religious, she said she chose to paint saints in hopes that the images would help people find strength in times of hardship.
Whenever she paints Saint Jude, the patron saint of difficult causes, she makes them look like her brother Wally. “He put up with a lot of indignity and became a strong advocate for people with disabilities,” said Wojtowicz.
Wojtowicz made a point to depict saints in a way that would represent all races. “It’s an invitation to see there is holiness in every person and to step outside preconceived prejudices and notions,” she said.
After losing her newborn baby, Wojtowicz illustrated “Bunny Girl” for her three year old daughter to better understand the process of loss and grieving. “It’s about recognition of the process of loss and realizing love doesn’t die. Your person may not be with you but they are always present,” said Wojtowicz.
Wojtowicz doesn’t limit herself to one medium. She’s actively working on a comic called Avenging Angel, which tells the story of the spirit of a woman who had been raped. The spirit returns to Earth and becomes a force of divine justice. “When any uninvited person gets into a woman’s space, it is wrong,” she said. “There is no wiggle room.
A passion of storytelling through comics led Wojtowicz to meeting her husband who just happens to be her favorite artist.
“He’s one of the only people I can collaborate with,” she said.
The two have been working on a long-term project called the City of Dreams, which is made up of intricately painted wooden homes, trees and people. Vines sprawl in the gardens, chickens peck at insects in the grass, a Muslim woman sells goods at a shop and there’s even a hidden bird’s nest on the backside of a mini billboard.
“When I create a world, I want everyone in it,” she said.