Friday, May 17, 2013

Why handmade? Visiting an artist’s Studio: Jessica Burko

by Lynn Mohney of Prunella’s Workshop

There is nothing quite as exciting as getting to watch another artist work. Sometimes it inspires me to learn something new; other times I get itchy fingers to work my own craft. Last weekend, when I visited Jessica Burko’s studio was no exception.

Jessica’s studio is located in Boston's South End, in a building that only opens to the public twice a year, and I had the pleasure of joining her during the SoWa Art Walk. When you first arrive, you see an old warehouse building that appears to have seen better days. Many such buildings have been converted to art studios, and this is no surprise. However, once you enter the actual studio, you can feel the magic of a place where people create beautiful and imaginative pieces of art.

While it was a day that people could come in and browse work that was for sale, it was also a day of work for Jessica. As people trickled in through out the day, they could actually stop and see an artist at work, and hopefully appreciate the time and the effort that goes into creating a piece of art. Most who came, did stop and watch her.

Collage with photography; with mixed media original by Jessica Burko

Jessica creates encaustic mixed media collages, in which she collects discarded photographs, dilapidated books and paper, sewing patterns, and a variety of other paper she has found, and upcycles them along with her own original photography into lovely pieces that are displayed all over her workspace. The encaustic medium is a combination of beeswax and Damar resin that is heated to their liquid form and brushed over the piece. Jessica explained with pride that encaustic is the only true archival medium available dating back to the ancient Egyptians. As an artist who enjoys utilizing historical techniques in my own work, I found this aspect of her creations to be particularly intriguing.

All around Jessica’s studio you can see the different stages of her work, and witness how it has changed over time. In fact, she had a revelation while I was there, that her work had become very busy over time, as her life had become hectic, but as things have settled down, her work is becoming more simplified and cleaner. She took some older work that no longer appealed to her, and reworked it over the day. You could almost see as she worked, that she became more relaxed as she altered the pieces. As an onlooker, it appeared that uncluttering the artwork before her was emptying her mind of any troublesome thoughts of the past.

Original Encaustic Collage titled Boom Boom by Jessica Burko

Jessica’s creations have a feminine charm to them. They bring to life themes and issues that seem to particularly effect women, such as home, family, and work, in a way that celebrates the strength and power women have on our society. Jessica laughed as she explained to me that her mother thinks she is very domestic, but as I have thought about it, I would have to agree. However, I feel her work and her life are very domestic in a very modern way that should be celebrated. She is someone’s mother, with a home that requires care and attention. Jessica also works for a living as a professional artist, which brings many challenges as she balances career with family. It struck me, as I witnessed not only her work, but a slice of her life, that our grandmothers were completely domestic, and focused on their homes. They did not typically have professional jobs. Our mothers’ generation was all about having a career, and a family on the side. They tried to abandon all things considered to be domestic and “women’s work.” Now our generation has come along and we are trying to reconcile what was lost after our grandmothers’ generation while holding fast to what our mothers gained. I felt that all of these themes were prevalent and more in Jessica’s work.

I highly recommend you check it out!


  1. Lynn, your words and understanding of my work really means a lot to me. Thank you so much for this article and for spending time with me and my art.

  2. It was my pleasure. It was a very relaxing day!

  3. It was my pleasure. It was a very relaxing day!

  4. I definitely can identify with the themes you discussed at the end, Lynn. And I really enjoyed reading about the transformation of Jessica's work over the years, and how it has mirrored what has been going on in her on life. Great profile, Lynn!


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