A&E » Arts

Few dare to copy Squamish artist’s work

Jan Phelan’s clay pieces collected, displayed around the world



The Squamish Valley Artists Society's annual fundraiser raffle offers the chance to win a Jan Phelan bowl valued at $900. Tickets will be available at VISUALS' Art at the Market show, held June 27, July 1 and Aug. 1 at the Squamish Arts Council Building, where the award-winning Phelan is also exhibiting. The winner will be drawn at the conclusion of ArtWalk, VISUALS' self-guided studio and gallery tour held on Sept. 19 and 20.

Phelan always knew she wanted to be an artist, creating three-dimensional pieces from paper at the age of four.

"As a kid I was always making things. It seemed like that was just the path that I was going to take," she said.

Her talent was recognized early; the Ontario College of Art admitted her as a student when she was only 16. Now her clay pieces are in collections of the Governor General of Canada, former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher, the late Canadian jazz pianist/composer Oscar Peterson as well as the Bronfmans and Reichmans.

Phelan's work has just been accepted into the Cheongju International Craft Biennale in South Korea in September, described as the Cannes Film Festival of Craft with more than half a million visitors attending each year.

Phelan creates her pieces through a complicated process.

"In a way I am lucky because I don't think there will be too many people who will dare copy. I make the original, then I make a mould of it and then it is cast with liquid clay. From there I start to draw on it and cut it out by hand with a little Exacto knife. I apply the stains and oxides to give it the colour, and then I fire it.

"Glazing is the next phase, before it is fired again. Then I put an opalescent Mother of Pearl lustre and fire it again."

She loves the contrast of her matte stains and oxides against the shiny glazes and gold because it gives her work tension and energy, she says. The final phase, in which she adds a 22k gold solution from a 100 ml jar costing $800 with painstaking precision, she finds the most exciting and brings back childhood memories.

"I'll always remember as a kid getting up really early, going outside and scooting across these fields. There was dew. The sun was coming up reflecting on that dew like a million diamonds. When I look at my work with the gold on top of it, sparkling, it reminds me so much of that - dewy grasses and flowers and the sun just shining. It is just so beautiful. That speaks to me and it is inspiring."

Phelan, who also paints with pastels, says her works are always based in nature.

"It's a reflection of the universe - that's what it is out there, and you see things that you love."

Phelan swapped her Ontario home permanently for Squamish in June 2008 after regular visits to her daughter, a professional skier who moved here five years ago.

Phelan is taking advantage of everything Squamish and its stunning surrounds have to offer, including hiking, cycling, skiing and sailing. She also loves the group of artists she's found here.

"VISUALS is really nice. It's a great group of creative people just all very mutually supportive and trying to do a lot of good for art."