In Memoriam For Sister Jane: Connections and Community

My sister Jane appreciated the value of connections and community. Connections is the name of a collaborative project she led together with her long-time friend and Owen Sound poet Liz Zetlin in 1994. When Jane was confronted with a personal crisis, her extensive network of friends rallied around her during a difficult time, playing a crucial role in her recovery. Connections was a tribute to these eight women.

Jane and Liz used totems to reflect the artistic concept of universal community, while also accurately portraying the qualities and strengths of each woman. Wrote Mary Baxter, an Owen Sound writer specializing in the arts, of the installation at the time:  “Totems have been used in many cultures to symbolize the animating spirit of a family or clan. They are often based on a particular animal or an object.”

Jane created a series of sculptures resembling totems because individual participants were associated with specific objects and forms. “Each sculpture was designed to represent one of the women. The images integrated with the sculptural forms were based on each woman’s experiences, symbols and ideas which constitute her personal iconography. Jane invited each woman to collaborate and contribute in some way to their piece. She then integrated these artistic statements into each women’s sculpture in such a way that the view can’t tell where Jane’s presence stops and the collaborator’s begins,” Baxter wrote.

Each sculpture was accompanied by an audio recording produced by Liz. In these recordings, the women describe in their own voices what has given them the strength to overcome difficulties in their lives. The audio recordings also served as a basis for Liz’s poetic portraits produced as a book to complement the artistic installation.

“The more I think about Connections, the more I see it as a reflection on community. Eight individual sculptures stand together. Eight individual voices speak together. Eight private lives shared with two artists. Two artists sharing a vision.  Art transforming private lives into public expression. When we view the installation, we participate in an act of sharing. We become responsible for the installation’s welfare. We become members of its community,” wrote Baxter.

Jane gave generously with her heart, her time and her talent. In Connections, Liz describes Jane this way: “Jane makes friends with the ease of a nuthatch walking upside down. Her home is a tangle of art, animals, and so many people we should have a new township to fit them all. Without her, half the kids in town couldn’t play the piano or castle a king. And the other half would never have set foot in an art gallery.”

Jane was a creative artist, printmaker, and sculptor whose award-winner work was exhibited throughout Ontario since 1976. She was a special education teacher, who taught many Grey County children to play chess, the piano or to discover drama in the school play. Jane’s teaching style was compassionate and she believed in empowering her students to be their best.

Jane was a mother, Mema, foster mom, daughter, sister, friend, neighbour and community advocate. She passed away surrounded by family at Markdale Hospital on September 17, 2020. September 14 was Jane’s 70th birthday.

In my early years, I spent a lot of time with Jane and her family. I remember laughter, kids, cats, dogs, pond swims, canoe trips, art, chaos, and a wonderful community of women who valued the art of conversation. I also remember being a witness to the breaking of Jane’s heart.

Then I had a family of my own and a full-blown career. My life was pulled in a different direction and geographically more distant. Life got complicated.

Whenever life felt overwhelming to me, Jane was always there as my big sister to provide encouragement. Jane made an effort to stay connected. She was the sister I called when I needed a good cry. Jane knew how to mend a broken heart. Today I am crying for Jane because there are so many layers of grief. I’m not ok and that’s ok.

Jane’s full obituary can be found here. In lieu of flowers, our family is requesting donations to The Hanley Institute This registered charity and community partner develops and implements unique ways of extending opportunities and removing barriers for youth in Grey County. They do this through compassion, empowerment, connection and education.

The Mane Intent

September 18, 2021

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