At Staples, Jenny Hampe was a disciple of Jim Wheeler. The popular art teacher advised her against art school though, warning, “It will ruin you.”
So after graduating in 1983, Jenny headed to New York University — for film.
In her senior year she moved to Kentucky, to study with Mike Skop — Wheeler’s own mentor.
“That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done,” Jenny says. She dropped out of NYU, and — she thought — left Westport and the East Coast behind.
She was drawn to “very remote, windswept, lonely, cold, isolated northern places, for philosophical retreats.” Jenny says.
She lived on the northwest coast of Scotland, and an island off Maine. Every once in a while though, she returned home. When she did, Soup’s On — the friendly, funky Main Street restaurant — always welcomed her back with work.
During one of those interludes, she met a customer wearing a Norwegian sweater. He lived in Weston, but was a legit Scandinavian. They fell in love, went to Norway, got married at Norfield Church, and moved back to his home country.
He went to organic farming school. They found a farm on a fjord. Accessible only by boat, there was sun less than 6 months a year. The nearest village was over 5 miles away.
It was quite a place. UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site. National Geographic called it one of the most beautiful spots on earth. “We were there in the wilderness,” Jenny says.
The 2 suburbanites with a small flock of sheep, some wild boars and chickens learned as they lived. Soon, Jenny had a child.
Their 2 1/2 years on the fjord farm ended when her husband got in a fistfight with their 75-year-old neighbor.
Jenny found an island for sale, elsewhere in Norway. With a loan from Westport Bank & Trust, they bought it. They lived there for 7 1/2 more years. She had 2 more babies.
There were Jersey cows, 75 sheep, pigs, turkeys, chickens and rabbits. Like the other farm, this one had minimal electricity and plumbing.
“It was another amazing chapter,” Jenny recalls.
She got divorced, and married another Norwegian. Soon, Jenny was living on her 3rd farm. It lacked road access, electricity and running water.
She was there for another 10 years. She had her 4th child there too.
Then she had a midlife crisis. “It’s a complex story,” she says. “I was homesick for my homeland.”
Which is why Jenny now lives in … Brooklyn.
She’s an artist there, working in collage and textiles. (She learned that craft while sewing her own and her family’s clothes in Norway). She also makes memory jugs.
And 4 days a week, she commutes to Westport. She’s got “an amazing job” here, as an estate gardener.
“It’s confusing to some people,” she admits. “I dress in wooden shoes and aprons, with dresses down to my ankles. But I’m a New Yorker.”
She looks back with gratitude on her life tending goats and making cheese. But, she realizes, “New York was always in my blood. And Westport is my home.”
Her 4 children — now in their teens and 20s — spent last summer with her. They all shared a 1-bedroom Brooklyn apartment.
“They love New York too,” she says.
So what does she make of all this?
“My life is exciting,” she concludes. “I’m a Jenny of all trades.”