Above and below, examples of Jennifer McLaughlin’s
driftwood and whelk chandeliers. Bottom right,
McLaughlin collectecting wood.
November/December 2018 GASPARILLA ISLAND 55
One such person is artist Jennifer
McLaughlin, who can often be found
taking her little boat out to scope the
shady mangroves and back water of Southwest
Florida. It isn’t all fun and games; she is a woman
on a mission, searching for perfect pieces of
driftwood. Once a potential piece is spotted
(sometimes floating under the surface, other
times almost entirely concealed within the live
mangrove roots) she jumps right in, not seeming
to mind the bugs or questionable life forms
under her feet that she can’t see in the murky
depths. Since she has moved to Florida her
spiritual journey always begins and ends with the
water – it is where she is in her element.
It’s a far cry from her former life as an artist in
a much higher profile setting. She remembers in
middle school she would stay long after the bell
had rung, utilizing the resources her teachers
made available to her. Sculpting, painting, sketching
were all mediums she found soothing to her soul,
and it didn’t hurt she was good at almost
everything she tried.
After high school she studied at the School of
the Arts Institute of Chicago, then began her
professional career selling through a gallery in
Santa Fe, New Mexico. From there she started
to get work from galleries in San Francisco,
Chicago, Miami and New York City.
The abstract expressionalism pieces she
creates and is known for in the art community for
are very large – normally between four feet and 10
feet wide. Sometimes she would sell several a week.
“It was always so amazing to me to go to the
mailbox and find checks, sometimes five or six a
week,” she said. “I don’t think I ever stopped being
amazed that I could make a living doing what I loved.”
Jennifer also trained to be a professional bicycle
racer, and almost went to the Olympics before an
injury occurred. Throughout it all she painted, and still
continues to paint in her small studio now, though
she’s not quite ready to start selling them again.
When she moved to Florida in 2007 she wasn’t
even thinking about creating any other kind of art.
The shells on the beach and the natural, stark beauty
of the mangroves always fascinated her, but she never