Our interview this time iw with Jan Hopkins, renowned contemporary weaver. Or shall we call her a basketry artist? Jan is a sculptor who uses a variety of alternative materials to create her compelling forms, including dried lunaria and orange peels.
Jan, you have been creating torsos for awhile and mentioned that each figure has a heart, soul and spirit. Do you also imagine that each one has a very particular feel/theme or story behind her?
Yes, most of my pieces are narrative. The torsos remained basketry sculptures to symbolically “contain” the heart, soul and spirit of each piece. My latest series of torsos are the most narrative in nature, celebrating women icons, such as Marilyn Monroe, Gertrude Stein, Helen Keller, etc. I research each person that I have admired and design the sculpture to portray the person that I am honoring. Often times I use their own words/quotes to capture their essence.
Because of your materials and forms, your work is easily identified. Do you feel pressure to continue with similar forms and materials, since that's what people know you for?
I am known for the torso forms and there is pressure because of the demand, but I have also made baskets, shoes and chicken and duck teapots to give my mind some time to be inspired for the next torso. Most of my work is to honor women, so I have to feel the inspiration to feel motivated. Sometimes I feel pressure because of a looming deadline, but I feel very fortunate that people like my work.
There is no pressure when it comes to finding new materials…I have a fascination with materials that aren’t traditionally used. It is really why I continue to make art. Experimenting and using materials that are thought of as mundane and unusable is an adventure that I am addicted to.
What captures your community the most? Do you think it is the unique materials, your forms, or do you have a backstory to the pieces that attracts people?
I am not sure, I feel as though it may be a little of all of those elements. I know on my end, every step I take toward making art whether, gathering, processing or designing and creating a piece is equally important. I have always thought of my work as 3-dimensional illustrations. There is always a story behind each piece. My initial thought isn’t to make a piece to sell, it is to enjoy every step of the process that also satisfies and calms my obsessive nature.
Tell us a story about when you have created, sold or showed a piece when something completely surprising happened.
Sure! One day, I received a box in the mail. It was from a gallery that was representing me. I opened it and I saw a basket that looked like someone very angry had gotten it and tried to rip it to shreds. There was no explanation from the gallery enclosed in the box. I sat for two days wondering what happened. I finally mustered up the courage to call the Gallery to find out what had happened.
They were very apologetic and said that they had forgotten to send me a note to let me know that while the collector was away, a pack rat had gotten into their home and dragged my piece and a very expensive scarf to its nest. Apparently, the rat was trying to get to the inner sculpture that was made of bull kelp. I was able to repair it and sent it back to the collector. I saw her years later and we laughed about it and decided that it was nice that the rodent had good taste in apparel and in baskets (...liked the taste of baskets)!!!
What a great story, Jan! Thanks for your time. Keep up with Jan and her work at http://hopkinsfamilyart.blogspot.com.