Exploring Nature through Clay
Artist Janis Kolenda
By Helene Foster
As a child growing up in a small town in Michigan, Janis Kolenda was always infatuated with nature. She curiously explored everything “wild and wonderful outside.” Trees, insects, animals, flowers and plants all captivated her. As an adult living in South Florida, she is just as much the explorer, combining her artwork with nature and sharing a love of art with children and adults in the community.
“In college, I needed to find the artistic material that best represented my interest in nature,” she explains. “As soon as I touched clay, I knew I had found my material.” As a college art major with biology as her minor, she carved her niche in the creative world.
Clay sculpture is Kolenda’s unique way of melding nature and art. “I am drawn to the plasticity of the medium and its responsiveness to touch. No matter how many times I take wet clay, manipulate it and finally fire it, turning the material and my impressions to stone, I am continually amazed with the transformation.”
It is this passion for clay work that has taken Kolenda all over South Florida: to high schools, museums, galleries and even community events to share her artistry. For more than 14 years, Kolenda and her art work have graced the halls of the Coral Springs Museum of Art. There, she teaches students how to mold clay into their own masterpieces. And, this past year, she worked with Coral Glades High School art students to craft a massive mural, entitled Florida Wilderness, that is a permanent fixture at the school.
Kolenda also enjoyed being one of six artists to work with area middle and high schools in an art contest for the recent Water Tank Project. A collaborative effort between the Community Foundation of Broward, the Coral Springs Museum of Art and the City of Coral Springs, Kolenda explains that one student’s work was selected out of 350 entries and painted on the water tank in Mullins Park. The community was then invited to help paint the last four feet of the tank.
“Volunteers helped finish the painting during community painting days and then there was a dedication in March,” she adds.
After having met the executive director of the Sawgrass Nature Center, Dotty Molski, she knew instantly that it was the right place for her to propose another large-scale work. She envisioned a relief tile mural, which would depict a scene of South Florida and all “birds, raccoons, opossums, squirrels and tortoises’ enjoying the outdoor habitat.”
Through the Our Backyard Wilderness project, she will work on site at the nature center, speak to visitors and get them involved hands-on in the project. Partial funding for this effort has come via a grant from the Broward Cultural Division’s Creative Investment Program. She was delighted to be notified in late June that the CIP grant funding will be $2,000. This will allow all visitors to make their own tiles that Kolenda will fire in her personal kiln along with other hands-on opportunities. She is currently hard at work fundraising and promoting the project to make this dream a reality.
“We share our outdoor space with these creatures and countless others,” she says. “Their lives are at risk daily by their close proximity to man.”
For more information on these and other art and nature projects with which Kolenda is involved, please visit her website at www.sticks-n-stonesstudio.com.