To reach the Myersville studio of artist Jane Petitt, one must drive through a set of iron gates.
Before rounding the corner, the sight of the historic barn emerges before several outdoor sculptures in the yard. Each sculpture is covered in an array of mediums like glass and broken china that reflect in the autumn sunshine.
Those who take part in the Valley Craft Network Studio Tour — a driving tour set for this weekend — will be able to see Pettit’s work up close as her studio is one of 12 stops that include 17 artists. There is no admission for the tour.
Mosaics and sculpting
“I used to call myself just a mosaic artist, but I’m really a sculptor,” Pettit said on a recent afternoon at her studio.
Pettit does a lot of mixed media mosaic artwork but she said many people often think of the Ravenna style, which is named after the Italian town known as the City of Mosaics. She has, in fact, studied there.
However, Pettit discovered another form of mosaic called spilimbergo, which is more of an ornamental mosaic.
“It’s from northeast Italy and it’s more how I do things,” she said.
Pettit said she is constantly looking at objects that might be used in her work.
“I just love to recycle. I love to mix things together, and I love the surprise that comes with it,” she said.
The 1700s barn is filled with a variety of media that will end up in her work. She has shelves lined with pint-sized clear ice cream containers filled with a variety of colors of glass. Nearby there is a hodgepodge of found items on another shelve that includes a variety of small figurines and vintage saucers.
Every part of the large barn shows either a piece finished or nearing completion. She will exhibit and show her artwork in the barn.
When she started, Pettit said she worked in pique assiette, which is when pieces of broken dishes or other items are cemented into a base.
Like with most artists, her work has grown and evolved. Right now she is working with crystals to make sculptures look almost like real geodes that have been broken with the inside exposed.
Art introduced early
Pettit said she has always been an artist. She remembers once asking her mother for a toy.
“She said to me, ‘You know, you don’t need it all. There are hundreds of colors of dirt out there, go make me a picture,” she said. “And so I would go outside and I would look around for different colors. And that’s just the way they were, they were Depression-era [people].”
As a teenager, Pettit said she would make copper enamel jewelry and paper tissue flowers and sell them.
But life intervened. She went on to get her master’s in social work where she worked in organizational development counseling for businesses and she had a family. Art wasn’t a priority until about 20 years ago when she started to refocus on her work.
Continuing to create
Today she spends her time not only creating pieces that are personal to her but she also builds commissioned work. She was working on a larger outdoor piece for a home during that afternoon.
Her outdoor sculptures came out of customers’ requests. She first sold her pieces at the Flower Market in D.C., and people would ask if they could put them out in their yards.
She would have to tell them no but turned to her brother in Kansas for help. He said he used a Fiberglas fabric and resin to help repair his saddles. That gave her the idea to use the same technique when making sculptures that could withstand the weather.
Pettit said it took some trial-and-error to find out how to correctly build a frame that would hold the weight of the Fiberglas and the art itself. She said she then found an online workshop that helped fill in some of the gaps in her workflow.
The outdoor work is what she loves, but she continues to make two-dimensional art as well.
She has examples in one part of the barn where the pieces line the wall along with three-dimensional pieces of varying sizes.
“I like for people to be able to look at it and then think about it again, and then next time it looks different,” she said. “The reflection does that, but so does having the materials that are kind of hidden in there. You focus on one thing because your brain doesn’t focus on all of it.”
Pettit is looking forward to the Valley Craft Network Tour, which she has participated in for about four years, especially because she can interact with the people who stop.
“It’s really great to meet them and hear their reactions and thoughts and to see their enjoyment in the hubbub of looking at art,” she said. “I think sometimes they’re surprised by it because my things aren’t things that somebody else has ever made before. I just love that kind of ‘aha,’ that shift or that startling sort of reaction that people have. They just stand there and absorb it for a while. That’s probably what I liked the most.”
Follow Crystal Schelle on Twitter: @crystalschelle.