While recovering from surgery, Jan Reich had a dream in which she asked an elder for a woman’s healing song. The elder suggested she look to the Pleiades, the star sisters in the night sky.
She didn’t receive a song, but instead received an image in her dream. She created the art quilt, “Three Sister’s Song Dream,” featured on the cover of this month’s magazine.
On a black, background fabric representing the night sky, Reich hand-appliqued fabrics, creating an image of three women – sisters. She painted some of the fabrics in their apparel with soft, flexible acrylics.
“The quilt represents all women, womankind. We’re all sisters,” Reich says. “It’s probably one of the more simple art quilts I’ve made.”
Change of course
Growing up in south Minneapolis, Reich fell in love with art during her weekly visits to the public library. “I poured through art books in the second floor arts section of the Fourth Avenue library,” she says. At eight years old, she declared she was going to be an artist. A drawing kit with charcoal, given to her by her aunt, cemented her thoughts, as she discovered she could create depth with shading.
Art was Reich’s favorite subject in high school and she hoped to go on to art school, but that dream was delayed. She started working as a technical illustrator, which led to a career path as a commercial artist. In her forties, her dream of art school was realized when she studied at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) and received her MFA.
After being at MCAD, she found she wasn’t interested in being a commercial artist anymore. “I had four wonderful years, learning about all kinds of art – papermaking, sculpting, metal pouring, fiber – and doing what I wanted,” Reich says. But she had become allergic to the inks and chemicals in printmaking and needed to look elsewhere for a career. She went back to school and got her Masters in psychology, followed by a Post-Masters in marriage and family therapy, and became a therapist. “I’ve been doing it ever since.”
For ten years, Reich focused on her work as a family therapist and had her own family practice. “There was no art,” she says.
Fiber arts as personal therapy
Reich was making star quilts for a giveaway, while taking a few months away from work to recover from surgery. When she got to her fourteenth quilt, she started painting on them. The star quilts brought her back to her own artwork again.
“I realized how black and white my world had been, totally left-brained, intellectual and analytic. I started seeing color and design again. I had missed that,” Reich says. “I didn’t even realize there was such a thing as art quilts. But there was this whole world going on.”
Now, semi-retired from her therapy practice, she devotes a big share of time to her work in fiber arts.
“I’ve always loved fiber. I love the tactile part of it,” Reich says. Recently she started working with a technique of gunpowder blasting on fabrics.
“It’s pretty fascinating,” she says.
Working on a flat surface, she sprinkles the area with gunpowder and lays her fireproofed fabric facedown on the gunpowder. When lit, the powder ignites and the flames travel across the fabric. Smoke and gunpowder residue settle into the fabric.
“The first time I did it, I tried musket powder.” Big mistake, she says. Musket powder is highly flammable. “It just exploded. The piece blew three feet up in the air and created a huge mushroom cloud.” Now she uses a slow-burning, rifle reloading powder to create her gunpowder-blasted fabrics.
“It feels really liberating,” Reich says. “Of course, I was doing my own art therapy, right?” She has PTSD issues from past experiences of violence. She’s looked objectively at those issues and, as a bold step, decided to go to a gun range and learn to shoot. “That was terrifying, and [surprisingly] really fun.” She took fabrics to the gun range and shot at them. “They weren’t quite sure what to make of me,” she laughs.
She created an art quilt with her gunpowder-blasted, bullet-holed, painted fabric named “Escape Perspective.” “It’s a really cool piece. I feel that art is one of the most therapeutic things you can do,” Reich says. “Art can help you find your inner strength.”