Jen has the kind of wild, free, and fulfilling life stories that give you pause.
To hear of her college years in Colombia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua during the tumultuous late 1980s, her passion for the Andes mountains, her obsession with cultural exchange and unflagging energy for exploration, you can’t help but wonder…what more is possible? How can I open my arms to embrace the world and people around me?
By the time Jen joined EF Education First as Director of Service Learning Tours, Peru Tours, she had seen many remarkable places and made many friends along the way. But nothing, in her words, can compare to the profound friendship she’s built with a ceramicist whose studio she stumbled upon while wandering her way through Peru’s Sacred Valley.
Jen on one of her many visits to Peru
When Jen ventured into Seminario Ceramics, she was awestruck. Surrounded by a sprawling red clay collection of saucers, cups, tiles and towering sculptures, she was wide-eyed, agape at the artistic paradise that gripped her imagination.
This was in 2008. Today, the Seminario family and their ceramic studio are a precious part of Jen’s personal and professional life in ways she could never have imagined during that first visit so many years ago.
Recently, Jen shared her reflections on the joys of friendships that grow across cultures, time zones, languages, and everything in between.
How did you find the Seminario’s ceramic studio in 2008? How did that first visit come about?
I had gone to Peru after a terrible heartbreak. I was on a mission to refill my joy bucket, immerse myself in the mountains, and find myself again. I had spent so much time in Latin America over the years, but even though I wrote my college thesis on the great Peruvian novelist José María Arguedas, 2008 was actually my first time in Peru.
One day, at the end of a very long day of group touring, everyone was wiped out from the altitude. The ceramic studio was the last stop on our itinerary. No one knew anything about it, and because we were all so tired, the group just wanted to go home. But I was on my mission to see everything I could in Peru, so I begged the group to just drop me off for a few minutes so I could peek into the studio on my own.
Ceramics is a family affair. Left to Right Kusi, Pablo and Marilu Seminario
When I opened the studio door, it was like a secret garden with art, plants, and beauty everywhere. A crazy luscious courtyard. And ceramics everywhere. It was a totally magical place. I went back to the bus and convinced my whole group to come in. When they did, they were mindblown, too. We all did a tour of the studio together. No one was tired anymore!
How did you end up meeting Pablo Seminario, the studio owner?
Our tour guide happened to be a friend of the Seminario family, so when it became clear that our whole group was fascinated by the studio, he introduced us to Pablo. But I didn’t speak with Pablo one-on-one at all. I was too awestruck to really talk to him.
The Maestro, Pablo in his workshop
At the time, I thought, “I can’t believe this place even exists, and we almost passed it by. I am SO GRATEFUL we came here…”
Fast forward a decade and Pablo and his family are among your dearest friends! How did your friendship start and stay strong over the years?
After that first trip, I actually got to lead tour groups to Peru in 2010 and 2011. My fellow travelers were eagerly anticipating our visit to the Seminario Workshop because my own excitement to return there was contagious. So on my second visit, I burst into the studio with elation. I felt so alive and grateful to share the experience with other travelers. Pablo was working and, inspired by my enthusiastic entrance, he invited my group back upstairs into his personal studio. He gave us an intimate look at his creation process; his deep love of ceramics and passion for including his community in the artistic process shined through. I was hooked.
Pablo and Marilu Seminario on a visit with Jen in New York City
From there, things just grew and have never stopped. I continued to bring tour groups to the studio, and Pablo, his wife Marilu, and their sons Kusi and Pasu would always welcome me with so much warmth. And as I started spending more and more time in Peru, I continued to connect with the family as much as I could. Their home was a place I could go to breathe and feel centered. And over the years I’ve seen them on their many trips to New York City and even hosted them for my 50th birthday party in Vermont.
It takes a lot of heart to maintain a long-distance friendship like this over the years — especially in the years before the super tech-connected way we live today. What is it about Pablo and his family that sustained your connection in such a powerful way?
They are just so humble and warm, yet extraordinary. Some of Pablo’s work is in the Smithsonian, for example, but you’d never know it. No ego, no pretension. He and his family took me in as a friend and never let go.
When I would happen to be in Peru around a big holiday, I would spend it with them; sharing those kinds of moments together deepened our bond. They even took care of me when I got sick while traveling in Peru! And for me, I am not an artsy person, but the whole Seminario family inspires me into a more creative life that I value so much.
How did the Seminario’s studio become a part of your work at EF?
When I joined EF and started designing a Service Learning tours to Peru for EF Educational Tours, of course I included the studio. As a place where art lives and breathes, it’s a very different experience than visiting most museums, and students really drink it in.
EF Educational Tours student group on a visit to the Seminario’s workshop
And what’s beautiful is that the Seminarios are always innovating, expanding their art and exploring new ways to share art with their local community. As EF continued to visit the studio, they expanded to include a ceramics workshop for students. But not just to host EF travelers – for their local community, too. The family has even come to our EF office in Boston to share their story and art with our staff.
To know that EF was part of the momentum that helped push them toward their goal of sharing art more broadly feels wonderful and to have them among our network of EF partners is such an honor.