NINE-TO-FIVE: Jess Peterson - Mighty Oak Part I
To catch you up to speed real quick… Jess Peterson gets shit done. She’s a positive productive powerhouse who not only encourages others to carve out their own paths but also sets an inspiring example of where hard work and drive will take you.
Jess Peterson is the CEO and Creative Producer of Mighty Oak- a storytelling studio that specializes in hand-made animation and documentary techniques. Alongside Animation Directors Emily Collins and Michaela Olsen, Mighty Oak is establishing its own unique voice and style in both commercial and original content.
“I’ve always been a bit of a hustler. As a kid, I would create mix tapes and sell them to the other children during recess. I also loved to write and tell stories, producing plays for my 2nd grade class and offering storytelling workshops to high schoolers at age 9. I had at least 2 jobs at a time during college, in addition to my chair position on the school’s Special Events & Concerts Committee.
But when I got into the “real world,” I just kinda stopped. For some reason, I never connected this creative entrepreneurial spirit with something I could use in the future. No one had really encouraged that idea before, so I went to work for a variety of music industry companies and arts organizations. I learned a lot from those experiences; sometimes by really screwing up. Eventually, I found myself wanting to implement systems that would improve our process, creativity, and teamwork in the workplace. Even though they didn’t always work out, I think that those experiences were prepping me for what I do now: designing systems to make us more productive, establishing an environment that makes us feel our most creative, learning from mistakes, and always looking towards the next goal.”
Curious to visit the places that have influenced Jess creatively and productively, we spent the day hopping around New York. Stopping into a few of her favorite places that inspire her and her work.
“There’s a creative fire to this city that can’t be ignored. If it’s not an actual art piece, it’s a new pop-up shop, museum, networking event, strange dance party, impromptu concert, or amazing restaurant opening down the block.
But I think that I’m most motivated and inspired by the creative founders around me. I’ve met so many incredible women who are truly creating change in this world and bringing innovative ideas to the table. Those ladies inspire me to try harder, and continuously think outside of the box. That’s why we started a meet-up group for female founders called HATCH. We’ve heard from incredible founders and met in wild spaces such as Etsy HQ, General Assembly, and Spotify’s offices. We’re about to launch our latest project called HATCH Stories, the first ever Instagram animated series meant to pair inspiring founder stories with resources and events.”
How did you first stumble upon Foxy & Winston?
I jog a lot in the mornings, and one of my routes takes me down to the pier on Van Brunt Street in Red Hook. It’s a fantastic view of the Statue of Liberty that is generally clear of other people. I spotted this shop on one of my treks. It wasn’t open yet, so I cupped my hands to look through the window and marvel at all of the charming objects inside. I pretty much stop and stare at the storefront every time I run past. I try to keep myself from going in often too often, as it leads to trouble for my wallet.
What did you buy today?
Speaking of that trouble...too much! I bought the most adorable elephant and giraffe dolls, which will sit in our lounge perfectly next to my giraffe and elephant planters. And a phenomenal book-end shaped like a blue whale. Oh, and a package of greeting cards with crown-wearing sheep on them. It was my birthday yesterday, so I’m allowed, right? Don’t judge!
What keeps bringing you back besides the cute puppy?
This shop is just full of whimsy and imagination. And it’s a reminder that we’re never too old to love a good animal-shaped toilet paper holder.
Red Hook is a bit of an untapped area, making it pretty interesting in its own ways. What are your thoughts on the area? Do you see it growing in popularity/changing?
Maybe it’s just because I live over here, but I don’t see Red Hook as all that untapped. Van Brunt Street always seems to be buzzing with artists, tourists, and locals (see PioneerWorks to know what I mean.) That said, there’s a lot more to Red Hook than Van Brunt Street -- and some areas are still too often ignored. After Hurricane Sandy hit, there were several buildings in the projects without power or food for days. Some of the elderly were unable to walk down the stairs for help. My husband and I were volunteering with a local organization to bring food and blankets into the neighborhood, and I will say, while the government was not there for immediate aid, the community certainly was. It was that strong neighborhood camaraderie that really sealed my love for Red Hook. So I hope that if Red Hook does continue to grow in popularity, it won’t lose that spirit.
How did you first discover the Ray Smith Gallery?
I stumbled upon this gem during the Gowanus Open Studios. I was floored from the moment I walked in, and Ray’s daughter was kind enough to show us around. It was amazing to see his works in progress. The rooms are just filled with so much creativity -- it’s humbling.
The first thing you notice when walking up to the studio is the stained glass water tower by Tom Fruin. I love that that iconic piece lives in the middle of a neighborhood. Do you have a favorite piece or one you connected with most?
Did you notice the 15-foot disco ball in the gallery that looks like it’s melting?! That piece is the one I saw when I first came to visit, and it stuck with me ever since. Not just because I found a space in NYC actually big enough to host such a thing, but it was the character I saw in the disco ball. It was shaped in a way that seemed to tell a story. Like the disco ball that partied too hard the night before. I just loved it.
Do you have any advice for people looking to explore more art at the studio level?
Keep an eye out for open studios, or simply reach out and ask for a visit. We’re happy to invite people into our space at Mighty Oak, and I’ve found the same to be true of most of the studios I’ve visited.
This particular location you chose is interesting because it’s a place where people are making things. How does seeing other people’s work environment influence you and your studio? This answer would be better answered by Emily or Michaela, but I can say that I find a lot of inspiration in the way people organize their studios. I’m fascinated by the way people get into their process -- some folks are so clearly meticulous, while others have tools and drafts all over the floor. The final artwork usually reflects this process in wonderful ways, so it helps me check in about the way we work.
Based on the other places you chose, this seems the most ‘unlike the others’. What inspires you about it?
Well, it all comes down to imagination. Imagination can fill your mind with whimsical thoughts, but it can also take dark turns. I just happen to love both. Yes, you can be as obsessed with taxidermy as you are with oddly-shaped stuffed animals. I’ve always been fascinated by the Cabinets of Curiosity trend which was popular in the late 19th century. It seemed so secretive and special -- that’s what this place reminds me of.
This place is both equal parts amazing and unexpected. As a creator and business owner, how do you strive to make things that you’re not only proud of but are also interesting and new?
Wow, big question! I think that because of our fairly niche style, we’ve been lucky enough to draw in a lot of projects that really resonate with us. But when commercial projects can’t allow for that, we turn to our social media outlets to share visual ideas with our community. We also have an abundance of internal work in progress and are starting to experiment with new forms of storytelling with technology. We’ll be sure to keep you posted!
Extra thoughts: I am almost certain that we saw Tom Waits shopping for records in here. Don’t you think?
This store is everything I never knew I needed. What are some of your favorite items in the shop?
There’s so much to choose from! As of right now, the Chiaozza plant sculptures are my absolute fave. I’ll start saving my money now to buy one (or if you’re reading this Chiaozza, let’s talk bartering!) I am also a huge lover of mid-century furniture and ceramics, so it was fun to find the milk-glass tableware here. I had no idea that the same company had been in business since the 1950’s. A good reminder to hone your craft and stick with it!
I got the feeling that there is some great story behind Coming Soon, not just some shop stocked with impossibly cool items. What do you know of the shop?
Sadly I don’t know all too much either, but I believe that owners Fabiana and Helena both come from high-end 21st century design world. This is definitely a superbly curated shop, which speaks to their expertise. It also comes with a sense of humor, which is what I love most about it. For a while, there was a silver ‘meditation room’ installation that you could relax in -- I’ve found people actually napping in there when I was shopping around.
What inspires you at Coming Soon?
The colors! The humorous spirit! And the guts it takes to curate a shop exactly as you want. Makes me want to open a Mighty Oak shop. Actually...