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The Beadist: Artworks by Jan Huling

August 2 - September 13, 2015

You can tell that an artist has achieved a measure of success when she can give up her day job to produce her art full-time. You can tell that she has a real passion for her artwork when she gives up a fun job like product designer and children's book author. Trained as a commercial artist at the Kansas City Art Institute, Jan Huling stumbled into beadwork on a lark. In 2001, her sister showed her some Pez candy dispensers that she had decorated with beads. Jan thought it looked like fun, and tried her hand at gluing beads onto a kazoo. She has always been fond of musical instruments, and had played kazoo in her college band. She then beaded a box to hold the kazoo, and when she heard about a program on HGTV that was seeking unusual examples of handcrafted objects, she submitted the work, which was featured on the show.

From kazoos, Jan moved on to beading other objects that struck her fancy--kewpie dolls, toys, animal figurines, old musical instruments--things she found mostly at thrift shops and flea markets. Sometimes she combines items, such as an exotic taxidermied beetle and matchbox, in a beaded frame, called "Forgiven."

For the show in the Hoboken Museum's Upper Gallery, Jan had to borrow back from a collector one of her favorite recent works, "Taming the Tiger" (2015, pictured above), which started out as an ugly, shiny black plaster figurine she picked up in a thrift shop in her home town of St. Louis. Once she spray-painted it a matte green to prep it for beading, she could see the tiger's graceful pose and muscles more clearly. It gained character as she added colorful beads. It became one of her favorite works, and she regretted that she didn't have much time to enjoy it herself before a collector claimed it.

"I start with the eyes, and soon it feels like I'm having a conversation with the piece," Jan says. She doesn't plan out the pattern in advance, instead, she lets the piece tell her how to develop the patterns of whorls, stripes and zigzags. She credits her experience as a professional product designer for honing her innate sense of pattern and color combinations. Over the years, she's developed her own technique, and discovered new tools, such as a very fine-nosed air pen, to apply the glue. She's largely self-taught, and while she's met a few other serious "beadists," it's not a technique taught in art schools. She sometimes teaches classes herself now, at Peters Valley School of Craft in Layton, N.J., and in resort destinations like Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

She and her husband Phil met while both were working at Hallmark in Kansas City. They moved to Hoboken in the late 1980s, when she was pregnant, and says it has been a great place to raise her son, and they truly love living here.

Huling's works have been described as "oddball assemblages" by The New York Times, a description she's proud of. Her work has also been featured in national and regional arts and craft magazines, and is frequently exhibited. She recently earned a fellowship from the NJ State Council on the Arts, with a show at the end of the year. A gallery in St. Louis, Duane Reed Gallery, represents her work. To see more examples, visit her website at janhuling.com, or follow her on Facebook.

The exhibit is supported by a block grant from the State/County Partnership program for the Arts, administered by the Hudson County Division of Cultural and Heritage Affairs.

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