Uncommon Buy: The Amazing Glass Art of Jan Mitchell-Larsen
Just as you’ll find Sonya’s original Crucian Hook Bracelets on the wrists of most everyone with strong ties to St. Croix, so too will you find colorful works of art like these adorning most every Crucian home. These are the handmade glass art creations of Jan Mitchell-Larsen, and if you ever get to St. Croix and have the chance to visit Jan’s studio, you won’t want to return home without one.
Finding the Mitchell-Larsen Studio is easy – it’s in the heart of the historic downtown Christiansted district just a few paces up from Sonya’s on Company Street.
Leaving, however, is another matter as there are just so many wonderful pieces to look at, consider, admire and purchase that one could easily enjoy a couple hours in here without even knowing it.
Jan’s glass art encompasses a wide variety of shapes, bright colors and sizes. Some of it is purely ornamental, like the Christmas ornaments she’s been commissioned to produce for The White House in recent years, or Mocko Jumbies like the one I have hanging in my house. Her plates, trays and clocks, on the other hand, are quite durable and functional in an everyday sense.
One thing that all Jan’s pieces have in common, though, is their innate embodiment of St. Croix. Hibiscus flowers, sea turtles, sugar mills, lizards, coconut palms, fish, birds, fruits and tropical insects – all say St. Croix to those of us who grew up there, and all abound in Jan’s art.
This, of course, makes these pieces quite popular with locals and visitors desirous of having a nice remembrance of the island to display in their homes, but it’s not so much what’s featured on Jan’s art that makes it unique as it is the process Jan employs to make it.
We think we’re very different… In fact, we know we’re very different.
Slight of build with short-cropped hair and a warm smile you’ll likely feel more than you’ll see, Jan espouses artistic genius, minus the arrogance you might expect from someone so gifted. When she uttered the words above in response to my query about her process, she spoke as someone so infallible, so utterly comfortable in her own skin that I knew there would be some real substance behind whatever she was about to tell me.
Then she showed me a simple drawing of a snowman… in pencil.
Everything starts out with a drawing… I do a drawing. I then fax it over to my husband… He then scans the drawing into his computer. He changes the drawing into a file, which runs our cutting machine.
Nothing earth-shattering yet, right? Well, it’s right here at the cutting machine that Jan separates herself from the rest.
As she told me, Jan and her husband employ a high-tech water jet machine to make the precise cuts that result in her whimsical pieces. There’s is no ordinary cutting machine. It pushes a whopping 40,000 psi, or enough pressure to cut steel for use in producing airplane and car parts, which is exactly what the machine was originally designed to do.
When they purchased their massive water jet in 2001, Jan and her husband were the only folks anywhere who ever even thought to use such a machine to produce glass art. Today, they’re still the only ones doing it this way, an advantage that enables them to produce intricate pieces in seconds versus the hours it would normally take with a diamond circular saw cutter of the variety Jan formerly used.
Once the shapes are created, Jan adds colors by placing cut glass on each piece by hand. A stencil of whatever pattern Jan wishes to achieve is placed over the shapes and cut glass sprinkled on carefully. Pieces are then placed in large kilns and heated to 1,5000-degrees Fahrenheit, melting the powdered glass into the shape.
The result is a unique piece of Caribbean art you simply can not find anywhere else.
For more on the Mitchell-Larsen Studio, visit Jan and Co. online.