Artist’s sculptures are inspired by a ‘loud and sexy’ muse
Jan Arthur Harrell’s enameled sculptures are Texas-sized. They’re what you’d see if you lived life on the edge of the rabbit hole and regularly knocked back bottles labeled “DRINK ME.”
The larger than life pieces are inspired by an imaginary woman Harrell has dubbed “The Muse,” who possesses an equally grandiose personality.
“You know the super woman that you want to be?” she said. “The one that’s the big, bawdy woman that’s loud and sexy?”
For seven years, Harrell has dreamed up objects celebrating life as her vivacious Muse would live it.
“She would have this great boudoir, and she would have these giant brushes,” Harrell said. “And she would have 20 perfume bottles that were made out of, you know, fifths that I sandblasted.”
And as inspirational as The Muse is, Harrell herself is equally intriguing. She abides by a strict rule of never telling her enameling students at Houston’s Glassell School of Art that they can’t do anything. And, it appears she’s even mastered the art of graciously moving through the end of a 43-year marriage.
It’s her love affair with enamel that seems to be her most enduring, dating all the way back to an art classroom at Lubbock High School, before dodge ball was deemed too dangerous, and students were allowed to play with kilns heated to 1500 F.
After graduating, Harrell enrolled at Texas Tech University and completed her jewelry degree with a minor in enameling. She then embarked on a seven-year career as a diamond grader with Stuckey and Speer, got married, and welcomed two children, Harrison and Taylor.
But while teaching enamel at Glassell, a position she took in 1993, she couldn’t shake her deep-seated desire to study under artist Val Link at the University of Houston or the sensation that her enameling education was incomplete.
So, in 2004, Harrell started graduate school at the age of 55. For her thesis project, she constructed 12 oversized rings that models wore around their arms as they strutted down the runway.
“I really liked the conversation that people can have with the piece when it’s that close,” she said.
Ideas strike in interesting places.
Inspiration for her 2012 grouping, “Offerings-Gifts for The Muse,” came at a hot yoga class she’d been attending routinely for 10 years.
“All of a sudden the instructor said at the end of class, ‘Lay your hands out to the universe so you can receive the offerings of the universe,’ and I just went, ‘Oh, that’s it. What gifts would you give a muse if you were trying to lure her?’”
Harrell fashioned classic tokens of courtship — roses and a box of Tiffany jewelry — but her favorite piece is the hairbrush from “Vanitas-The Muse in her Boudoir.” The piece took about 70 hours to make, and Harrell had to make two of them — one for a competition and another that already sold to a collector.
“That particular piece has six sheets of gold in it. It’s just a really time consuming process — making that band that exactly fits what you’ve constructed. There’s no easy part to it.”
The piece took about 20 firings in the kiln, and Harrell can only work with each piece for a few minutes after each firing. But her enthusiasm for the large-scale pieces is similar to her fervor for life.
“I went bigger, and I haven’t gone back,” she said.
Jan Harrell’s work can be found at DesignWorks Gallery, 2119 Postoffice St. in Galveston’s downtown.