A chat with Jeanette Cullum of The Dreaming Place.
CdF: When did you first realize your passion for the arts and how has it developed?
Jeanette: I have been involved in one way or another since childhood, I suppose, with theatre, music and visual arts always somewhere in my life. I had piano lessons since the age of 8, always sang in choirs and usually received art supplies for birthdays and Christmas. My mother always saved things to use for art and enjoyed arts and crafts with my sister and I when we were growing up. Theatre came in when I was in 9th grade. I was painfully shy as a child, but encouragement from a friend enabled me to try out for a small part in a Somerset Maugham play called “Rain”. I got the part, and the bug bit me after that. Later I had quite a lot of fun when I started a folk music coffeehouse where I was able to produce, host and even sometimes perform shows myself. It was a great venue for music, stage, community and art. I did a lot of concert posters, freelance illustrations and greeting cards and I also had a business called Blisswerks for quite a few years through which I sold my jewelry and art. Later, after moving to Texas, I started The Dreaming Place.
CdF: How did you come up with the name for your business?
Jeanette: “To sleep, perchance to dream” — This Shakespearean quote seems to apply to most of my life. The dreaming place has always been a secret pleasure of mine, calling up the most treasured memories and images from my childhood. I still love to sleep (too much so, most likely). I have always identified with Sleeping Beauty, but never could quite understand why she woke up in the end. “The Dreaming Place” is taken from the title of a book by Charles de Lint. I found it fitting, and Charles gave my business name his blessings when I asked him if I could use it.
CdF: Where did your fascination with fairy tales and fantasy originate?
Jeanette: Books are and have always been a huge part of my life. I have a collection of fairy tale and adventure books I inherited from an aunt when I was little that I’ve read and reread so many times I know some of them by heart. I loved these old stories; they made up the interior of my life. The line drawings were precious to me, and the colored plates even more so. The stories that were about hardship, struggles in the wilderness and eventual triumphs were the most appealing to me. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson was my favorite.
Later, when visiting the public library with my father who was a teacher, I grew bored very quickly with the children’s book section and discovered the Sci-fi and Fantasy section in the adult books. I had to cajol my father into checking them out for me because I was too young to do so on my own. It was true love after that! I read the entire Tolkien Trilogy several times over by the age of ten, discovered the strange new worlds of Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and many others soon after. I harbor a secret desire to be an illustrator for books someday, partially due to the influence these stories had on me as a child.
CdF: What value, if any, do you find in the stories of your youth?
When I was young, fairy tales represented adventure, fantasy, a life not yet lived but full of possibilities regardless of the hardships borne along the way. The hardships were what made things exciting! Now, as an adult, I see them in a different light. Fairy tales are instructional tales that teach you, over and over in different ways, how to get through horrible times and come out the other side still alive and better for the experience. Never give up, always believe in yourself and just keep putting one foot in front of the other until you are there. It’s an important lesson to learn about life and it is one I am living right now. If you keep the faith, good and miraculous things can and do happen.
CdF: Tell us about why you’ve decided to return to university, and why you’ve chosen the field of art history as your focus.
Jeanette: College has always been something of a problem for me. This is my fifth time attending and I really hope I can graduate before I am fifty! I started out as a starry eyed actress, majoring in Theatre Arts for a couple of years. I really enjoyed set design and painting, and later I went on to study Graphic Design, Fine Arts, Psychology and Communications. Now I am trying to finish up finally with a degree in Liberal Arts with my concentration in Art History (minor in Philosophy). Apparently I find just about everything worth studying. I am hopelessly curious.
My return to school has enhanced my own personal journey and inspires me as well artistically. It’s amazing to learn the history of art, it is endlessly fascinating and provides a long, byzantine chain of reactions and counter-reactions through the centuries of artists to the world around them. It’s also a very effective and interesting way to view history, through the eyes of the artists who lived it. I am really going through an interesting time right now in regards to art. I am absorbing and learning about so many things as I’m being exposed to new art that has not previously been on my radar. I think this is going to be influencing my own art in the very near future, so be prepared for possible radical departures from what I had been doing. It’s all a learning process and an evolution of thought. I intend to work and grow as an artist along with the academia. I like the idea of this synthesis. It feeds my intellectual side as well as my artistic, creative self.
CdF: Your work reminds us that visual artists are storytellers as well. Is the storytelling aspect of it a conscious act on your part?
Jeanette: To me, jewelry is not just a pretty adornment one wears as an accessory to complement an outfit. It can be, but it can be so much more. Jewelry can be a little work of art with personal meaning you can wear according to your own story and personal mythology. Talismans, amulets and ancient adornments have always had a deeper meaning to humans throughout the tens of thousands of years we have been wearing such things. Today is really no different; although the symbols may have changed, humans essentially haven’t. We want adornment, personal symbols, a piece of history, a hint of an alternate life or fantasy from a rich inner life. Jewelry is a way to express that in an intimate and personal way. It’s fun to figure out what resonates with people when I come up with new designs.
I enjoy making stories out of objects placed just so, but if the viewer makes up their own stories when viewing the scenario, so much the better. Whether it’s just materials like cuttings from old dictionaries or a scenario in a collage or a shadowbox made with objects with a secret history, the story is always there if you look hard enough.
(image: The Hunting King, © Jeanette Cullum, All Rights Reserved)