April 2012: Paintings by Janet Couch
Paintings by Janet Couch

Featured Artist: Janet Couch

Last updated: April 1, 2012

The artistic temperament rarely restricts itself to a narrow field.  It’s more like what happens when one slips up and bundles a red sock into a white wash.  The red changes everything it touches—the towels, the sheets, the underwear . . .one small sock can change an entire load of wash . . . permanently.  Janet Couch is a painter, but she is also a fiber artist.  She even keeps angora rabbits and spins and dyes their fine, soft wool.  She knits, she weaves, she sculpts, and she hooks rugs.  Art permeates her life just as the red dye permeates a wash.

In Janet’s day job she works as an art psychotherapist.  She explains art therapy as “using art making or even images within the self to explore one’s concerns . . . often easier to talk about an image than it is to talk about one’s concerns . . . so the art piece or inner image becomes a metaphor for the issue that brings someone into counseling.”  When we asked why she chose art therapy, her reply was that because painting and clay work had helped her when she was going through difficult times. She pursued the  concept and earned her Master’s Degree in Art therapy from George Washington University at a time when art therapy was a relatively new field.  At the time of her decision to enter this study she was directing an art program in a retirement home.  Her employer offered to pay for her Master’s Degree in return for her remaining there after its completion. 

We wanted to know what keeps her in a high-stress profession and how she unwinds.  Her reply was that she is “fascinated by others’ stories, and the possibility of helping people figure out their life patterns, how these are working (or not)” but she admits that it is sometimes difficult to “leave it at the office”.  She unwinds by gardening and spinning.  Painting she uses to explore themes in her own life.

The themes in her paintings vary widely.  Paintings exploring personal themes, like her reaction to breast cancer or on learning of her daughter’s pregnancy, are abstract, with masses of intense color.  Paintings exploring trees, a recurrent theme, radiate serenity—there’s a spare look to them; details are finer, shapes are emphasized, colors are cooler.  Many of her painting explore light, shadow, and reflections.

Janet’s hooked rugs are a change of pace.  One sees a lot of animal themes—bunnies, sheep, geese, roosters—fur and feathers—tactile images in a tactile medium.  Although different aspects of her life are depicted in different media, she is interested in exploring the themes of growth and change, and these themes are evident in all her work.

Janet grew up in New England in a family of artists—musicians, furniture makers, stained glass artists and more—and was encouraged to make art from childhood.  Painting and drawing were her mediums, but she was also doing needlework—crocheting and embroidery—with her grandmother at an early age, though she didn’t think of these activities as “art” until later in life.  Her college undergraduate majors were English, sculpture, and painting.  And the family beat goes on.  Her children are artists—a writer and an architect—as well. 

Janet is a prolific artist but hasn’t chosen a regular sales venue, so we wondered what she does with all her work.  She said what she doesn’t sell she will give away and that she will “also paint over old paintings (which drives my husband crazy!)”.  We mention this because of one painting in which she does a magnificent job of capturing the early morning light reflected on the snow and in the sky.  The painting is titled Early Dawn (below).  She says she woke up, noted the light, had to capture it, and painted right over another painting on the wall.

We asked Janet how a person who grew up in the East and spent most of her life there ended up happily ensconced in the Sault.  Her answer echoed that of so many of our artists.  Her husband spent his college years in Ann Arbor, worked forestry in the western U.P. and loved it.  Later they came up to the U.P. and Canada to camp and vacation.  When he retired, they decided to retire here.  They now have a home in the Sault, a cabin on Sugar Island, and good friends.  This may be the secret of the enthusiasm, the camaraderie, and the contagious joy evident in the arts community here.  People are here because they want to be, because they chose to be, because they love it here!  Hooray!

In addition to her professional organizations, Janet is a member of the Group of Seven rug hookers and of the Eastern Upper Peninsula Craftsmen.  Two of her hooked rugs, Reflections and Sheep in a Meadow (both below) are currently in the Group of Seven’s Hooked on Wool show at the Bonifas Art Gallery in Escanaba.  (See News & Notes.)  Reflections was hooked using her own rovings.

Although still working in her profession, Janet takes the time to help the gallery crew hang exhibits and has recently assumed the onerous task of seeing that the gallery and shop are staffed.  You can help her out by giving her a call when you can volunteer:  906-440-6802.

Works by Janet Couch
Click to see a larger version.

Purple Tree by Janet Couch

Purple Tree

Early Dawn by Janet Couch

Early Dawn

Cooper’s Lilac by Janet Couch

Cooper’s Lilac

Metamorphous by Janet Couch

Metamorphous

Summer Storm by Janet Couch

Summer Storm

Hooked rug: Bunny, by Janet Couch

Hooked rug: Bunny

Hooked rug: Sheep in a Meadow, by Janet Couch

Hooked rug: Sheep in a Meadow

Hooked rug: Reflections, by Janet Couch

Hooked rug: Reflections

Sault Area Arts Council Home Page 217 Ferris Street, Sault Ste. Marie, MI 49783
e-mail: saac@saultarts.org Phone: (906) 635-1312