Jenna von Benedikt

Jenna von Benedikt’s “Wild Saints” series will hang at Gallery Wild from Thursday to Aug. 21. An opening reception is set to run from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday during the Jackson Hole Gallery Association’s August gallery walk.

When Jenna von Benedikt was looking for names for her child, she stumbled upon a meaning for her own first name: “little bird.”

The name stuck and, along with other meanings she discovered, like “paradise,” became a guiding light of sorts for her as she painted.

“I like the little bird definition,” von Benedikt said. “It’s a neat way to think that it could bridge the two places, you know, where I’m at now, physically, and then a more faith-based place, too.”

Von Benedikt, who will show her work from Thursday to Aug. 21 at Gallery Wild, paints vivid portraits of wildlife, usually hummingbirds, but large ungulates, too.

She was drawn to the hummingbird as a symbol in part because of the name-based discovery, but also because it’s a uniquely relatable animal.

“They’re gorgeous, they’re fascinating to watch, there’s something slightly magical about them,” von Benedikt said.

When people see her paintings, von Benedikt said, they often connect with the hummingbird. It reminds them of relatives — grandparents, aunts, uncles — who are no longer with them.

“It’s a strange thing,” von Benedikt said, “but it’s also not like many people would say that about a bison.”

That doesn’t stop her from painting larger animals.

Her husband grew up in southern Utah and she and her family now travel all over the Mountain West: to Moab, to Jackson and many other places between. That inspires her to bring in some imagery of Western wildlife into her paintings, works that usually feature a stark color gradient.

Whether depicting a flock of hummingbirds, a lone bison, or a few bees — von Benedikt is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is drawn to the bee, not only for its cultural symbolism but also because of its ability to do “nothing but good for the environment” — the artist usually keeps one side of her painting dark, and the other side light.

For her that’s a nod, in some way, to the paths people take in life, regardless of belief system.

“I feel like we all came from somewhere, and we’re all going somewhere,” von Benedikt said. “We go from different points in our lives and we see growth and we change and we experience new things and that makes us different people. And that’s a good thing.”

Change is, after all, what got her to where she is now.

The painter grew up in England, before moving to California and Illinois and then ultimately settling with her husband and four kids outside of Salt Lake City.

After graduating in 2006 from Brigham Young University with a Bachelor in Fine Arts she started her family and, after her second child, decided to get back into painting. She shed the abstract and landscape work she’d been doing in school, focusing instead on a project like the #sainted series — #saintedbirds, #saintedbeasts and #saintedbugs — that became personal as she was figuring out her kids’ names.

She often paints with them in her kitchen, where they paint alongside her and oftentimes come up and give her feedback, welcome or not.

“They’re into it, too,” von Benedikt said.

For her, the outdoors is central. In her faith she talks a lot about her connection to the earth and its “more spiritual side.” Birds are often used as symbolic messengers and she thinks of them similarly in her work, asking herself “What message am I giving?”

And while painting and her use of symbolism is, as she said, more of a personal project, she’s happy to see other people engage with it.

“It’s been kind of neat to have other people connect with that, too,” von Benedikt said. “They seem to get something out of it as well.”

Von Benedikt will attend an opening reception for her “Wild Saints” show from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Gallery Wild. She’ll also offer an artist demonstration from noon to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday. 

Contact Billy Arnold at 732-7062 or entertainment@jhnewsandguide.com.

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