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Displaying an early interest in arts and crafts, Jan made her first articles of clothing, albeit for her doll, as a five year old. The development of planning and visualisation was further progressed when Jan was given a set of Lego blocks, a year later, and spent numerous hours building houses and laying out town developments complete with people, trees, roadways and cars.

Through primary and high school Jan maintained her arts interest and continued to draw and plan, particularly house designs. These activities seemed to point towards a career in architecture and in 1971 she enrolled in a degree course at the Western Australian Institute of Technology.

While studying at WAIT, Jan was tutored in painting by well known Western Australian artist, Howard Taylor  and took courses in ceramics and photography, all valuable assets in her later career. She also worked part time, as most students, as a waitress in a various venues around Perth.

At the completion of her degree and with the building industry in the doldrums, Jan found work as a roustabout in a shearing team out of Esperance. By the end of the season she was ready to return to Perth and was fortunate to find a job as ‘caretaker of the drawings’. These drawings were for the refurbishment of His Majesty’s Theatre, one of the highest profile projects in Perth in the late 70’s and early 80’s. At the end of the project, Jan worked as an usherette at The Maj for three months to get some indication of what worked and what didn’t and to see the building come to life again.

At that time the office was commissioned to design a new theatre in Geraldton and Jan joined the small team charged with this. This added to her experience when she was given the task of site supervision and contractual arrangements for smaller subcontracts when the project architect was on leave for a number of months.

In 1980 Jan responded to an advertisement for architects to join a team to design and build the New Parliament House in Canberra. Success in this venture saw her move to Canberra to join an initial small team of 14, she was the third Australian to be employed by the office.

The office was very cosmopolitan and was an eye opener for Jan. Influences from all around the world were centred on a small office and the exposure was stimulating. This was at a time when determination of an Australian style was pre-eminent particularly with the New Parliament House being designed by an American architectural team with an Italian project architect.

Jan had found the architectural course at WAIT an endurance course, endowed with the necessary attributes but not very exciting. From colleagues on the New Parliament House project, who had studied overseas, she discovered the excitement that was missing in the WAIT course. This excitement came from the discussion of ideas and participation in other art forms such as poetry, writing, painting and drawing. Jan began to paint and draw again and plastered her walls with her work. After so many years of being confined to the straight lines produced on a drawing board it was an enormous and flamboyant release.

In 1981 Jan travelled to the USA on holiday and realised that in America, where there were greater population densities, people had to get over being reserved if they wanted to get on. There was no where to hide, or even to get away, so people did their thing in full view and often with pizzazz and lots of colour. This provided the impetus for Jan to make some serious decisions about her self. On her return to Canberra she decided to resign and go back to Esperance to become more involved in the arts.

Returning to Esperance meant establishing an architectural practice or generating an income in some other way. Jan obtained work in the local government planning and developing a new park and then moving historic buildings to this facility. She also undertook some architectural commissions for private residences, joined the local repertory theatre and enrolled in TAFE courses in printmaking and painting and drawing.

With seemingly endless energy she also decided to engineer a series of summer festival events in the new park she was establishing, as very little occurred in Esperance over these holidays. These occasions proved to be a great success with over 10,000 people attending the four events. During this time Jan also attended a number of locally run workshops in sculpture and drawing and it was here that she met her future husband, Garry, who had come from Kalgoorlie to undertake one of the workshops.

In 1984 Jan moved to Kalgoorlie to live with Garry, who was teaching at Kalgoorlie College, and set up an architectural practice in the town. She was the only resident architect and undertook the gamut of projects from sheds, to houses, shops and factories. The move to Kalgoorlie and establishment of a new practice restricted time and energy available for pursuing other art forms but Jan did return to her interest in ceramics and found she could throw clay quite competently.

By 1988 Garry had almost completed a degree in Fine Arts and was required to put in a year at university in Perth. The couple decided to move to Perth permanently and eventually found a parcel of land in the Swan Valley with a very large shed. Jan obtained work in a Perth architectural office and was given the role of project architect for the refurbishment of the Weld Club, the most exclusive men’s club in the city. After many years of studying and working with men, it didn’t deter Jan although at one stage her team of women may have appeared somewhat frightening to the members. While working in the city Jan was invited to tutor in drafting at Curtin University (formerly WAIT), a role she continued for four years.

The early 90’s saw a return to lethargy in the building industry and as staff was being laid off, Jan decided to leave of her own accord. After many years of boom and bust in the building industry, Jan determined that it couldn’t be much worse in the arts world and although she continued to work part time for some local architects and teach at Curtin, she started to undertake some work in her husband’s studio and make her own ceramic work.

It seemed appropriate to become involved in ceramics as this was the main focus of the Studio and the arts and crafts movement of the 80’s still had enough energy to provide an income, albeit minimal. Jan helped Garry to make clay, hand build, prepare glazes, glaze up and fire the kilns learning on the job the technical knowledge that is part and parcel of the craft.

By the late 90’s Jan was exhibiting her ceramics in group shows around Perth and experimenting with print making and textile dyeing and printing. She enrolled in TAFE courses at Midland over two years in textile printing and dyeing and a few years later, pattern making. During this time she produced multicoloured silk scarves, screen printed tea towels and hand built ceramics.

The Studio was involved in producing a lot of domestic wares and ceramics for commercial applications such as restaurants, tourist outlets etc, but towards the end of the 90’s there was a decline in support for locally made ceramics and it was much harder to make a living. The emphasis of the Studio had to change to remain viable and the profile of the work coming in and being sort began to change.

Two projects undertaken around 2000 heralded the shape of things to come. One was for a small printed tile for the Perth Mint that was set into a wooden box crafted to present a commemorative gold coin and the other was for a large tile, screen printed with a logo for a housing estate. This was the beginning of Jan and Garry working as equal partners on projects and bringing together skills developed individually.

The creation of Zeckwerkz facilitated this partnership and propelled the couple to pursue projects in the architectural arena. Jan provides the architectural interface and manages the projects and together Jan and Garry create, manufacture and install the works. With Jan taking responsibility for the managerial aspects of projects, Garry is free to pursue his fine art career in painting, drawing and ceramics, something that he enthusiastically embraces.

Exercising the collaborative processes of Zeckwerkz generates a plethora of ideas and proposals, as by-products, and it is Jan’s role to analyse these ideas and assess whether they have merit. Skills learnt in textile printing, pattern making and creating repeat patterns along with expertise in computer assisted drafting have all assisted in developing the breadth of Zeckwerkz’s diversity.

Jan is also talented at adaptation and can see opportunities to translate a form, motif and pattern into another object. This has led to the creation of a small range of pewter brooches which she designs and has made in Perth. Many of the designs are Jan’s original work and some are the modification of motifs developed in partnership with Garry.

In 2012 Jan was invited to create a commemorative brooch for the University of Western Australia to celebrate its one hundred year anniversary. This brooch will be launched in 2013 by the UWA.

Jan owes much to her architectural training and years of practice. She says that architecture is a great introduction to life. It teaches one determination, endurance, the ability to visualise, the benefits of planning, the necessity to see and attend to details, business and managerial skills and the importance of contextual settings. It also gave her the skill to translate ideas into drawings so they could be understood by others and the technical know how to make them a reality.

Much of Jan’s art skills and technology have been gleaned along the way, the great majority while living and working with and around her husband, particularly the ceramic aspects which have been learnt in an apprenticed role. A great deal of everyday conversation is related to the operation of the pottery, the development of a painting or the fabrication of an artwork with many interactions beginning with, “What about this as an idea...”. The aspect Jan finds so rewarding and successful is the opportunity to work with someone else in a related field, unlike so many artists who have a singularly solitary existence.

Photo: Sue Warrington

© Copyright - Sue Warrington | Zeckwerkz 2012