I first encountered Lauren Wenrich’s artwork at Mondragon Books in Lewisburg, PA. Set between two shelves was a wall of grotesque and beautiful art: mini dioramas, magnets, jewelry—eyeballs with delicate feathery lashes, tiny woodland creatures, an elegantly dressed skeleton woman in a coffin. When I asked the store owner who this mysterious artist was, I was surprised to learn that she lived nearby (I don’t know what I was expecting . . . Maybe a treehouse in the Black Forest? A Baba Yaga-style hut in some enchanted glade?). I immediately looked her up on social media, and I was astonished by her prolific creativity, her inventiveness, and the sheer intricacy of her work (such a range of tiny tools: like a dollhouse surgeon or a miniature mad scientist!).
I recently had the honor of conversing with Lauren about her life, her art, her process, and her various sources of inspiration.
Meghan Lamb: What were some of your earliest artistic influences? I'm curious about anything and everything that has inspired you, but I'm especially interested in the influences that made you realize, "I need to create my own art."
Lauren Wenrich: I guess I have always been making art. My mom has an artistic eye and so I was encouraged at a young age.
I spent a good amount of time outdoors playing by a little creek and in the woods by our house. I would build miniature huts and scenes out of sticks, mud, and pebbles for my toys. I encountered a lot of insects and creatures this way and learned to appreciate them.
I really love the 1993 film adaptation of The Secret Garden. It was one of my favorite movies growing up. The Aunt’s overgrown bedroom and the time lapse videos of roots growing underground are imprinted in my mind. I was also very jealous of Dickon’s relationship with animals.
I was just an awkward shy kid and it was easier (for me) to keep my face down in a sketchbook than to interact. Feeling out of place made me turn inward. This is partially why my subject matter is a mix of internal issues and nature themes, with a touch of fantasy and folklore.
Meghan Lamb: You create such a wide variety of beautiful, singular things, including jewelry, paintings, dioramas, and stop motion films. Did any of these come first (or inspire your processes for other creations), or have you always been working on a multitude of different projects at once?
Lauren Wenrich: Drawing and painting came first, then sculpture. I feel like there have always been narratives with my work, though often I didn’t divulge it. Even now they can be subtle, or a jumping-off point. I made a few goofy stop motions on a cassette video camera in middle school. During my time at the University of the Arts, I came across the Quay Brothers, and they inspired me to explore film again. I dabbled the summer before my senior year with building a little set and a puppet. I was struggling with what I wanted to paint anymore and decided my thesis would involve stop motion without having any real training or education. Since college I've primarily been sculpting. I do tend to have multiple projects going at once so I can hop around if I get stuck. There are pros and cons to that. I get distracted with too many ideas and plan to revisit projects in different mediums but end up starting new things instead.
Meghan Lamb: So much of your art combines what might seem (to some) like contradictory ideas and aesthetics: the delicate and the ferocious, the beautiful and the grotesque. Did you set out to challenge expectations and encourage people to reconsider ideas like "beauty" and "grotesquerie," or did you just create work that interested you and eventually notice a kind of "grotesque" theme between the things you were making?
Lauren Wenrich: Blending the beauty of nature with the grotesque has been an overarching theme in my work for a few reasons. I was drawing melancholic figures in middle school, and grotesque ideas started to find their way into my art a few years later. I still enjoyed drawing beautiful things, but once I was able to get away with some wacky stuff in college, I had to find a way to combine it all.
I feel like a little part of it was rebellion as to what the small town idea of art should be. I didn’t want to be a boring person. Strange things are interesting and life is unpleasant at times, so why create pretty things just for pretty’s sake?
Meghan Lamb: On the subject of themes: while you always seem to be working on a wide variety of artistic projects, you've also been making particular objects-such as your worm jewelry and your portals-for a long time. I'd love to hear how you came up with these objects, and hear a bit about your process.
Lauren Wenrich: The worm jewelry is another case of combining the beauty and grotesque. I started including worms into sculptures while I was making smaller items for vending and to have things available for anyone's budget. I thought that some could be twisted into interesting shapes, painted pink, and look pretty from a distance. I find it a little humorous.
The Portals go back to an idea I had for a stop motion around 2013. It involved a bog and being sucked into another dimension. The mirrors serve as literal portals but also water depending on the piece. A driving force behind it all is not feeling like I fit into this world, wishing I could disappear to a place where I can be at peace.
Meghan Lamb: Building upon your process: when did you start sharing those wonderful videos that showcase the creation of an object from beginning to end? What does it mean-to you-to share these behind-the-scenes views into your creative labor?
Lauren Wenrich: I have had people ask, “How do you do that?” enough times to decide that it's easier to show than explain it. It started with me recording snippets and sharing them to my Instagram stories for a while. As the other features on Instagram became important for building an audience and customers, I figured I would edit them together. Now it's a pretty common sight, especially on TikTok.
I think it's important to see the process and not just the final product. So much time is spent creating, and due to people's attention span on social media, the pieces are only seen for a few moments. The time lapses are like a reveal as the piece progresses. You get to see the piece emerge from nothing.
Meghan Lamb: What's your favorite piece of art you've ever created (or the piece you're most proud of)?
Lauren Wenrich: My stop motion Sisters is one of my favorites. It was very labor intensive and an emotional process. There are several Portals I am pretty fond of, and out of my figurative work, I think Daphne and Consuming Thoughts are fun. I would love to be able to do similar pieces on a larger scale, along with some paintings.
One of my favorite commissions to date is the Troll Bridge Diorama. It's 12x8 inches and only 1.75 inches deep, so I had to force perspective into the shallow space. It was just enough of a challenge, like a puzzle for me to figure out. I thought about this troll and tried to incorporate details that would make it feel as though he lived there for some time.
Meghan Lamb: When I first saw your work at Mondragon Books in Lewisburg, PA I was surprised to learn that you live in Northumberland, PA (a small town of about 4,000 people). What's it like living and working as an artist in Northumberland? Have you been able to find any local artistic communities, or do you have to look more broadly to find other like minded artists?
Lauren Wenrich: I currently live in Sunbury (a bigger neighboring town within the same school district), but I spent the majority of my childhood living outside of Northumberland on a hobby farm. It was a difficult decision to move back after living in a city, but I thrive in a quieter setting. I miss the access to better art stores and restaurants. There is a small community of artists around but for the most part I network online.
Meghan Lamb: I'd love to hear about what has inspired you and influenced you lately. Could you refer us to some other artists we should check out?
Lauren Wenrich: Anytime I hike or spend time in nature is a reset button. I take reference photos but there’s a point I reach where it's almost meditative and I am more focused on my body. I have always lived inside my head but I have been starting to dive deeper.
There are so many talented people, but two that come to the forefront for me currently are Miles Johnston and Jessica Dalva. Their work speaks to me. It's beautiful, eerie, melancholic, surreal, and expresses emotions of the human experience.
Lauren Wenrich is a sculptor, painter, and animator. Currently based in Sunbury, PA, Lauren graduated from The University of the Arts in 2013 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. She enjoys immersing herself in nature and incorporating observations. Through miniatures she often pulls into focus overlooked or unappreciated creatures and organisms. Humanity and its connection to nature is explored with her figurative work while also incorporating personal topics.
Meghan Lamb is the author of Failure to Thrive (Apocalypse Party, 2021) All of Your Most Private Places (Spork Press, 2020) and Silk Flowers (Birds of Lace, 2017). She recently served as the Philip Roth Writer-in-Residence at Bucknell University, and has led workshops at the University of Chicago, Eötvös Loránd University, Interlochen Center for the Arts, and Washington University in St. Louis. Her work has appeared in Quarterly West, DIAGRAM, Redivider, Passages North, and The Rumpus, among other publications. She currently serves as the nonfiction editor of Nat. Brut.