MFA Student Jill Adler '21 Reflects on Her Art Practice and Community

As you approach Jill Adler’s collection at PAFA’s Annual Student Exhibition (ASE), it is clear that the newly-minted Master of Fine Arts is comfortable with all sorts of materials. “I definitely start out with a concept and then the choice of medium comes after,” she says, with her ASE exhibition primarily representing painting and sculpture. Jill often tries out multiple iterations of the same concept to find which translates best. And the medium can also suggest added meaning for the piece: ceramics can harken to relics and create a sense of the historic, while papier-mâché’s imperfections can speak to the fuzziness of one’s memory of an object. “I think it’s a lot of play and being open to things not working, as scary as that can be sometimes.”

Jill is always game to try a new medium, but indeed is considerate. During her time at PAFA, she has helped to impart the fundamentals to many of her student colleagues as the Studio Manager of the Richard C. von Hess Papermaking Studio, and has availed herself of similar opportunities to learn from her peers. Exploration remains key: “I'll think of something and be like ‘Wait, I don't know how to do that’ and find somebody. You learn the right way to do it, learn a couple basics, and then you can run free with it. Learning a new material opens up a whole new avenue.”

Exhibiting her works at ASE, which occupy not just wall space, introduced some unexpected considerations for Jill—“How do I make sure people don’t step on these?”—and triumphs. “I think about all of the things that I make like words in a sentence, laying them all out and letting them form a complete thing. A victory was just having that space: white walls and space to play with really helps you see your work in a more well-rounded way.”

ASE opens close to PAFA’s graduation ceremony, and the timing contributed to Jill’s sense of accomplishment. “It felt like seeing friends I hadn’t seen in a while. To see everyone’s hard work paid off on the walls of PAFA—it reaffirmed the community I built here.”

In addition to her immediate community of classmates, Philadelphia itself has provided her with a new sense of home. Jill grew up in Manhattan, but has come to love her adopted city for its sense of history, in which she feels she can truly immerse herself. She also found the community accessible as a student. “There’s a lot of artists and spaces that feel less intimidating than Manhattan, which I think makes it a really good place for somebody going to school. There’s a community here that helped me feel a lot less worried about the daunting life after school. There’s people here that if you want to connect, they’re always ready to have a conversation with you.”

Jill isn’t quite done with PAFA yet. She will continue to help with coordination of the school’s Low-Residency MFA program over the summer. She also recently began work with an artist residency at the Brodsky Center at PAFA, using her skills in hand papermaking to help other artists, including Sarah McEneaney. Graduation is only the next step in her journey of self-exploration. “I came [into PAFA] doing many things,” she says. “And I still came out doing many things, but in a more considered way. I’m definitely looking forward to finding my own rhythm and really what works for me.”

—Diana Wensley, content writer

Jill Adler installation view 2021 ASE
Jill Adler, installation view at the 120th Annual Student Exhibition, 2021, including:
"A Possible Combination of Remembered Desks"
Acrylic on plaster bandage-covered foam, polymer clay, 25”x48”x18”

"The E-ZPass from the Volvo Windshield"
Glazed earthenware, .5”x4”x2”

"Classic Dadwear"
Screenprint on artist’s handmade denim paper (Edition of ten), .25”x9”x10”

"I Forgot, He Loved Olives"
Glazed earthenware and toothpicks in plastic container, 4"x4"x4"
Jill Adler installation view 2021 ASE detail
Jill Adler, installation view at the 120th Annual Student Exhibition, 2021, including:
"Dad(’s) Shoes"
Acrylic on paper mache and canvas, 5”x13”x11”

"New York’s Passed Time"
Screenprint on artist’s handmade cotton paper (Edition of eight), 1”x15”x2.5”

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is the United States’ first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers a world-class collection of American art, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and educational opportunities in the fine arts. The PAFA Museum aims to tell America's diverse story through art, expanding who has been included in the canon of art history through its collections, exhibitions, and public programs, while classes educate artists and appreciators with a deep understanding of traditions and the ability to challenge conventions. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.