Life is an art

 Jeanna Gienke


A friend once shared her theory that human souls are perfectly formed by the age of 10, and after that we stretch out and try on so many things that are not necessarily who we are, just to finally mature and return back to our 10-year-old selves.

At age 10 I was rearranging rocks and branches in the woods I grew up in, attempting to create little rooms that I could enjoy and return to. My work with living walls and terrariums is reminiscent of how I played when I was small, and I hope to inspire others who need something to enjoy that's untamed and alive.

I have always been aware that I am wired a little differently than other people that I've come to know. I can get extremely quiet and still, enough to notice subtleties and small details. I can absolutely enjoy a science journal over a novel any day! I am easily entertained by studying things that cannot speak or even move, and I can find inspiration in color alone. I really don't like moving fast in the world; I feel as though I am missing too much!


Over the years I have tried to learn not to project my mind on nature, but to attempt to learn from it. If there is one thing that has impacted me the most, it was becoming a mother. After 36 hours of labor giving birth to my son and deeply being in every moment of his entering the world, my midwife said to me, "Now don't you feel like you can do just about anything?"

I think of her often when people say to me, "You're doing what?"

I feel most creative when I’m trusting my own explorations as opposed to learning a method or a program.

In raising my now-13-year-old son, Kayo, and I've learned that there is another person on the planet very similar to me. My lessons now are about learning who he is — and understanding how not to project my mind on his nature.

To be very honest, I'm not sure that I am a believer in formal education. I have tried to navigate it because it's what everyone tells you you're meant to be doing with your life, but I feel most creative when I'm trusting my own explorations as opposed to learning a method or a program. Somehow this creative path has worked for me, and I have stumbled upon masters that have shared their knowledge along the way. I trust that my ideas are my own and there is real freedom in that; it is in that freedom that I can explore possibilities. Life is an art; designing is being a human.

Physics has proven that time is circular, so my advice to others would be to not get too stuck in any one moment. We can be dancing as children do and sitting quietly reflecting as the elderly do and everything in between all at once! Don't let your need for defining yourself in the world pin you down into any expectations of what others label you as. They are simply trying to understand you in their way, but how many of us truly see and understand each other — and why does that matter so much? Know yourself!


Looking back at women who have inspired me along the way, I think of my grandmother, who was a woodcarver. She had beautiful scars on her hands and raised four kids all on her own, and most important she was unapologeticlly her own person. I remember being 14 years old and spending about two hours in the bathroom piercing my nose with a needle and an ice cube. I remember feeling like I had to decorate myself, like it was marking a new chapter. My dad had a meltdown about this, but my grandmother, with her wrinkled smile, looked at me and said, "You look beautiful, honey." She had a way of justifying my curiosities. It is powerful when people encourage you through your explorations.

I was born and raised in Oberlin, Ohio, and grew up on my family's grass and sheep farm about five miles away from Oberlin College. I finished my primary schooling at a technical school, and graduated high school with a diploma as well as my cosmetology license. When I was attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, after, I wanted to be self-supporting so I worked as a stylist — and I quickly fell in love with the medium of hair itself. So I changed course to study at the Vidal Sassoon Academy in Toronto. In my 20 years of working as a stylist, I have been a creative director, I have had my work published in industry magazines, and I have been an instructor and a salon owner.

It is powerful when people encourage you through your explorations.

Interested in landscape and curious about the interconnectivity between humans and the spaces we inhabit, in 2014 I changed paths once again, going back to college to study landscape architecture. That's when I discovered Biophilic Design. Biophilia is the theory that human beings possess an innate tendency to seek connections with nature.

Combining that with the memories of the plants and pastures I grew up among and my experience with fashion and design, I'm now designing interior plant installations for homes and businesses here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Last year my partner, Todd Spitzer, and I opened Opuntia Cafe, a plant-scaped teahouse in the Baca District of the Santa Fe Railyard.

In moments of self-doubt, I know that I am very lucky when one 30-minute walk in the woods completely resets me. We aren't meant to be separate from nature.

If I could give every person I know one living thing to care for, whether it be a small plant or a tree, or a fish, or an animal just to be in practice of caring for something that deeply relies on them, I think it would make for a different society. I believe we were naturally inclined to care about nature; we just need to notice it in ourselves. 


Jeanna was born and raised in Oberlin, Ohio. She finished her primary schooling at a technical school and graduated high school with both a diploma and her cosmetology license. She attended the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, then moved into working as a stylist. After studying at the Vidal Sassoon Academy in Toronto, she spent 20 years working as a stylist. She now designs interior plant installations for homes and businesses and with her partner, Todd Spitzer, runs Opuntia Cafe, a plant-scaped teahouse in Santa Fe.

Words: Jeanna Gienke