I first started creating and doing art because I was a mother of eight. I never understood the term “starving artist” because I took care of eight children by making with my hands. —Sallah Jenkins
Sallah Jenkins has been working, making, and teaching in Baltimore communities for decades. Engaging in creative work was crucial to building her life there. She has dedicated thirty years to raising children and supporting her family through the many creative opportunities that Baltimore offers. She has taken part in ArtScape, the largest free outdoor arts festival in the country, taught in schools and after-school programs, worked in museums, and even at the Baltimore Zoo. Through her work, she not only earned money to support her children but also paid homage to her heritage as an African American. At the zoo, she painted huts according to a South African tradition in which the elders of the young women doing the painting followed behind them to touch up anything that needed fixing—an authentic community effort that ensured success. Jenkins proudly recollects, “I had my mom there with me, following along and touching up all I did. I was able to create an African experience for the people of Baltimore.”
Over the years, Jenkins has worked in various artistic fields and media: dancing, painting, singing, poetry, clay, fiber, and more. In 1999, she began teaching at Baltimore Clayworks, where she still offers classes. They are joyful environments, where she supports her students in finding creative fulfillment. “Sallah knows everyone by name,” her student Shirley says, “she gives us a hug when we come in, and we always listen to music, she always breaks out in a dance.”
Diana, another student, says, “She helps bring out our creativity. She’ll show us how to take a look at our work from a different perspective and see something new. She’s inspirational.”
Jenkins elaborates on what inspires her: "What I love most about my work is the joy it brings me; most of all, the joy of my students as they are encouraged to reach for the sky when creating. I say to them, ‘If you want, be more ambitious!’ I love how ‘I can’t’ becomes ‘I did it!’ My love for ceramics is far more than creating beautiful things out of clay, it’s the therapeutic qualities that it possesses. Clay takes you to a place of total relaxation and peace, if you allow it. I find my classes never end on time because all of us go into the ‘clay zone’. What a wonderful place to be.”...