Jan Kirsh

by Dana Kester-McCabe

Jan Kirsh is a sculptor and landscape designer from Bozman, Maryland in Talbot County. She creates large voluptuous fruits and vegetables that have a great sense of sensual whimsy. Jan knows how to cast an enchanted spell with her work. She says fun is really important in the garden and in art.

Like many artists we have introduced you to Jan Kirsh's love of art began early and has continued throughout her life. Jan describes her education as self taught though she studied design, photography, and sculpture at the Corcoran School of Arts and Design and a number of other places all while as she puts it she was doing "life".

Jan has had a long career in landscape design which became the starting point for the sculpture she is doing. Jan's sculpture evolved from all her work over the years "cogitating and observing nature, and the forms in nature, plant forms, shapes of leaves, wild things. Even bark patterns." She feels the greatest influence came from all the time she spent outdoors. Designing hardscapes - patios, pools, and walkways especially helped her develop a thought process for designing in three dimensions.

She has been doing garden design for so long. So, all those shapes and forms that came across her drawing board were just in her head and nurture her creative process. And, as a gardener herself she loves fruits and vegetables. Naturally she loves their forms.

Now both forms of landscape design and sculpture complement each other. Jan begins her sculptures in clay. She works on each piece in clay until she thinks they are fully developed. She usually has a number of pieces in progress. She feels that the minute details of one piece can be taxing and uses the broader movements of working on the smother portions of the pieces as a refresher.

The piece starts out in oil based clay. She takes it as far as she can, then she has a mold made from which she makes a plaster casting. On this she uses rasps and files to refine the piece making details sharper and the other surfaces perfectly smooth. Then Jan has a three dimensional scan taken of the plaster form to create a 3-D model. She says she is sculpting with one foot in the techniques of the 16th century and one in those of the 21st century. She then sends the computer file to a fabricator who can reproduce the work in various sizes and materials. She can produce anything from jewelry sized pieces like gold onion she wears on a chain around her neck to larger pieces like a twenty inch pear she is doing for a garden she is redoing in Easton for the Bartlett Pear Inn. Jan says this process gives her lots of options.

Some of Jan's works are produced in some in stone, and some in bronze. Some are made with fiber glass and gel coat. Others are cast resin painted with automobile body paint giving them a durable lustrous finish. All her pieces can live outdoors. She chooses the materials and finishes based on a patron's needs and aesthetics. About half of her sculptures are for commissions and half are simply to fulfill something she is inspired to explore. She feels one leads the other.

Jan has only been pursuing sculpture this intentionally since 2004 with her work making a New York debut in 2009 at the prestigious Architectural Digest show. The leap from individual handcrafted works of art to production fine art sculpture was born from her approach to gardening.

In her landscapes she loves to use sweeps of plants like Astilbe or Asian Ginger. She says - not just and 3 or for of a plant, but "nineteen. That's where the impact lay." She became fascinated with the idea of seeing series of her sculptures scattered throughout the gardens she designed.

Jan says that artists need to embrace the lessons learned from failure. Once while in the middle of explaining a sculpture during a class critique, Jan's sculpture of an ear of corn fell over and was ruined. She had spent days creating each kernel of corn. She went back and remade the piece again. The second one was better than the first.

An early project has had a long life with continued requests to produce more. Jan loves asparagus, the way they emerge from the ground. She says it is a great shape. She built one that was 45 inches tall. This was before she had begun to use the 3-D modeling process. Though she had recreated the features of an asparagus, she felt it was not done with a smooth stalk.

She awoke on morning with the idea to put a pattern of knives and forks on the lower part of the stalk. She says "they just deserved to be on that asparagus." People do not always seem them at first. Jan often hears from people who have seen and love the asparagus stalks, for example some are sited in a garden near Dupont Circle in Washington D.C. She says she thanks heaven because she "must dream well." Jan says fun is really important in the garden and in art.

Jan's is represented by galleries in the Chesapeake Bay region of Maryland; Cape Charles, Virginia; Colorado; and New York.