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Spotlight Iowa City: Being adaptive in the nude deal

BY CHRIS CURTLAND | NOVEMBER 11, 2009 7:20 AM

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Hundreds of people have seen Jenny Edwards, 42, nude.

But even on her first day of art modeling for a UI class two years ago, Edwards said she always felt comfortable, invoking the artistic musings onto nudity.

“Being naked is more of an exposure,” said Edwards, relaxing in a plush chair in the Studio Arts Building on Monday. “It’s about vulnerabilities. But being nude in front of a class or artist, I don’t feel exposed.”

For Edwards, being naked is a personal thing. Nudity is about being the form and essence of a person.

“To be nude is to be a human being,” Edwards, wearing a V-neck blue sweater and black low-top Chuck Taylors. “To be naked is to be oneself.”

This mindset allows Edwards to feel confident, even liberated, when posing nude — feelings that have developed into a fervent passion for the artistic process.

“When posing, the challenge is to be a presence, to be an energy, to be an expression,” said Edwards, who stands just 5 feet fall. “And some days it is harder than others. Sometimes I’m just tired.” Then she laughed and admitted being a professional muse is, at times, tough work.

A friend had told Edwards she might like nude modeling a couple years ago, noting its freedom of expression. Edwards applied at the UI, was put on a list, and one day got the call after another model canceled.

Since that day, Edwards has logged 1,000 hours reaching, stretching, or arching her back for drawings, paintings, and sculptures for anywhere between $10 to $20 hourly. Watching them unfold is amazing, Edwards said.

“There’s this block of clay, and after awhile, next thing you know, there you are.”

Edwards’ passion breeds inspiration for working artists, drawing groups, and students at the UI, Mount Mercy College, Coe College, and Kirkwood Community College.

Philip Dorothy, a working artist and the model coordinator for the Cedar Rapids Drawing Group, has worked with Edwards for two years and values how adaptive, accommodating, and flexible she is.

“She can make herself look angry, sullen, coquettish, or whatever the individual professor or artist wants,” Dorothy said. “And her popularity at the UI is a reflection of the fact that she provides that.”

Susan White, an associate UI art professor, calls on Edwards, whom she describes as “pliable, tuned-in,” for her classes.

“The class was working with ‘the figure,’ so I put it under precarious situations,” White said. “Doing so proposes an intense narrative about being human in the world. She really brings that narrative to the scene.”

To build on the boring, classic idea of a model on the stand, White has twisted Edwards into tense poses, laid her underneath or on top of objects, and incorporated costumes: wedding dresses, gowns with petticoats, and even a raincoat. But two summers ago on a misty day at the old Art Building, the raincoat was missing.

“She was in the garden outside, wearing these elaborate fairy wings, wandering through woods,” White said. “She was gorgeous in the wings but wasn’t very well-clothed besides that.”

While most days are fun, Edwards said sometimes sustaining the poses can be uncomfortable.

“It’s mind over matter,” she said, noting that the mental process of narrative is more important than the material, physical figure in it.

“Art’s not a thing. It’s a process, and I love being part of it,” she said. “I’ll model as long as my body lets me.”


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