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Artist Feature: Jan Phelan


Jan Phelan knew she wanted to be an artist from the time she could hold crayons and a pair of scissors. Her desire to create led her to the Ontario College of Art from 1966-1970 where she graduated with first class honours. She supplemented this achievement with further courses at the Banff School of Fine Arts. Having worked with clay for over twenty years, Jan has developed her own unique style of decorative, semi functional art. Her elegant porcelain stoneware is universally praised and can be found in collections throughout the world.


When beginning a new project Jan draws on a wealth of inspiration. Her mother’s love of gardens and her constant encouragement of Jan’s artistic talents played a crucial role in Jan’s career. Jan was also inspired by artists such as Kayo O’Young and Steve Irvine for their exquisite perfection of the discipline and creativity of clay. Being outside and a part of nature has also nurtured Jan’s passion, as she says, “I used to love getting up early enough to see the sun sparkling on the dewy fields and wildflowers, so I would say inspiration comes from Mother Nature in all her complex and beautiful ways.”

 Original in their style and form, Jan builds vases, bowls, and decorative eggs with the utmost care. Each piece is decorated with an image of flowers, which Jan draws on by hand, then carves out with an X- acto knife, before firing 22K gold onto each piece. The structure of the carving is important for the integrity of the piece, and Jan credits her patience and steady hands for achieving realistic and flowing images, which she compliments by using stains and oxides to create bright vibrant colours. Every artist wants to be original and stand out from the crowd, and Jan is no different. “It is important for me to be unique, and luckily, I seem to have carved out a niche that no one else has been able to follow very well, probably because the loss rate is pretty high.”


Recently Jan has been experimenting with colours and making new forms and designs. The desire to try new things is essential for Jan, as she continues to push herself, saying, “It is very important to keep trying out new ideas even if 9 out of 10 don’t work.” Jan’s determination and creativity has led her to create artwork that has been lauded both nationally and internationally. Throughout her career Jan has won a national contest to create tableware for the Governor General in Ottawa, and her work has been presented to many notable people, such as Margaret Thatcher, Oscar Peterson, The Reichmans of Olympia and York, among others. 


While Jan has successfully carved out a unique niche for her art, she is determined to continue learning. She explains, “I hope that I can continue to be creative and to grow, experiment, and change for as long as I live. Artists aren’t able to just stop working, are they? It is who you are not just what you do.” Jan Phelan’s art continues to evolve, and she is currently working on some new designs. Jan is hopeful that these new designs will make a large impact and leave a lasting impression on those who view them. Jan Phelan’s work is available at all four Mountain Galleries locations.


Written by Christine De Brabandere, Assistant Curator at Mountain Galleries