Just in time for the holiday season, we’re launching an online store of Marjorie swag for the #FloridaWoman in your life! Our new greeting cards and tote bags are the creation of talented Florida artist and conservationist Jesse Wilson—we’re so pleased to have her in our collaborative fold. Each item is hand-printed and lovingly prepared. All proceeds go to helping The Marjorie develop and grow. But hurry—order by December 12th to get your package by Christmas.
Why Jesse? Her artistic creations are ecstatic celebrations of wild Florida, coloring ecological moments we’re often too busy to see. But don’t take it from us. Hear from Jesse in her own words:
Marjorie: Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for our readers, Jesse! How did you become interested in Florida’s environmental and conservation issues?
Jesse: I was raised as a dirty outdoor nature kid on Sanibel Island. I feel so lucky to have had parents that encouraged a love of the outdoors in me, both by appreciating nature themselves, but also by letting me enjoy unrestrained time playing outside. I think any kid who grew up with a favorite tree, or a favorite hidden spot can’t help but grow up to be an environmentalist or conservationist, even if those aren’t the words they use to describe themselves. There was a huge mahoe tree in our backyard that my brother and I would play in endlessly. We made face paint with the flowers, chose favorite boughs to be our make believe homes and plucked leaves pretending they were stars. We made makeshift forts in buttonwood hollows and captured poor anole lizards and ringneck snakes as pets. These memories and places feel as close to me as family, and I think once you create an attachment to a place that feels as familial as that, your natural instinct is to protect it.
M: What is your artistic origin story?
J: My parents worked to earn money to do the things they loved – to go camping with their kids, to garden, to pay for supplies to paint, to have free time to restore old cars. There wasn’t the same high-pressure childhoods that I think some kids are forced into. I had so much time to play and make art and daydream and I feel for kids who don’t have time for that in their lives. And it wasn’t an accident, it was placing real value on having time to be creative—not as an afterthought but as an important and equal part of a full life.
In that way, I fell into printmaking just for the heck of it, and after six years of doing it had gotten a bit better and had a lot of completed lino blocks. I made prints for friends and family, and finally friends convinced me to sell my stuff, in part to open access to it. I find the process of making prints soothing—sketching a picture, transferring it to a block, imagining it is black and white, and, of course, carving it. The great thing about linoleum printmaking is that you can make infinite prints (at least until the linoleum deteriorates). In some ways it just felt selfish to keep all these prints to myself. So I’m still a newbie at selling my art and sharing with strangers. But I’ve been honored by the positive feedback I’ve gotten, so I’m happy to be sharing. It’s kind of like having pen pals from all over the world. I just sold my first out-of-country print to someone in New Zealand!
M: Tell us about your business’s namesake.
J: An early 19th century map marks the area I live as “Watkahootee.” This area, now known as Wacahoota, is not a township but a blip you can drive by in the blink of an eye—an old church, a defunct railroad station. These names, Watkahootee and Wacahoota, derive from a mash up of Spanish (“vaca” = cow) and Muskogee/Seminole (“hute” = cow barn) words. In the 1700s and early 1800s the Alachua Seminoles were working cattle on these lands, grazing them on the abundant wet prairies, and rounding them up to dryer areas like Wacahoota to hold them in pens before selling them.
M: What role does art play in influencing environmental change?
J: I feel like art is a great equalizer. And I don’t mean capital-“A” Art that you see in big cities and museums—I mean all kinds of art. For kids, art is just natural. It’s a way to think about what they see around them and process it into something that belongs to them. I think art can be very private or very public, and that doesn’t change it’s importance. Art is also a nonpolitical way for people to connect to an issue. Unfortunately, a lot of issues surrounding the environment have become strangely partisan in a way that I don’t see in my day-to-day interactions with people. I think having a focal point that pulls us away from politics when we talk about the environment is a great start.
“Because art is inherently human, it allows us to see the human dimension of the environmental movement and conservation.”
So to me, art is a way to process and capture and meditate on that feeling as an individual, and as a group it’s a way to look at and focus on what’s really there and what the conversation is really about. It’s so easy to make decisions in the abstract “protect florida” or “drill the gulf,” “don’t overdevelop Florida,” or “develop Florida” way—they are just stances you can hold that are far removed from a single act. But when you start talking about your favorite spot, your favorite tree, those familial places—we defend those places like family.
And art increases empathy—it makes me realize that there are people who love every last speck of this earth. Every place is inspiring in some way to someone, even if that person isn’t me. So for people to see that I and my posse love Florida in this way, and for me to see other people loving their people and places in this way—it makes all of our circles of empathy larger. I think that because art is inherently human, it allows us to see the human dimension of the environmental movement and conservation: It’s people’s emotions and connections to these places and the people making homes in those places. How can we choose to destroy or disrupt that?
M: Where can our readers find your prints?
Jesse Wilson earned her bachelor’s degree in ecology from New College of Florida. While there, she pursued independent ecological research in South Florida and Thailand and worked in wildlife biology with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. After college she interned with Archbold Biological Station and the San Diego Institute for Conservation Research before becoming an environmental educator and unit director at an outdoor camp in Western Massachusetts. In 2012, Jesse moved to Alachua County and ran an after-school enrichment program and summer camps in local schools. She also co-owned and ran a small vegetable and egg CSA. She now works coordinating high school science programs for the University of Florida.