Date published: February 1, 2010
We've all had times when we were ready to throw in the towel, pack a toothbrush and a clean tee shirt, and leave It... whatever It may be... all behind to start a new life in a new town, state, country... take your pick.
Well, with the flip of a coin. Jane Ryan did just that.
"I was divorced, my children had left home, and I felt it was time for me to leave home as well. I seized the opportunity without much thought. I flipped a coin. Heads would mean a move to Aspen, Colorado and tails was St. Thomas in the Caribbean. Tails won."
That was 25 years ago. and this adventuresome artist has recently returned to Louisville from St. Thomas. U.S. Virgin Islands, set up a home studio, and continues in her creative ways.
For those who are geographically challenged, St. Thomas is southeast of Cuba.
It is a tourist destination and in high season has 10,000 to 20.000 visitors a day. It is very cosmopolitan, Jane says. Cruise ships come from all over the world.
Some tourists only see the shops, she says. It is a duty free port, and there are good prices on jewelry, perfume, and liquor. A few take the island tour and see the natural beauty of the place.
"Living in St. Thomas awakened my sense of color." she says. "The turquoise sea, the blue skies, the bright sun."
Jane took advantage of her surroundings. The most enjoyable time is the summer when there are fewer tourists. "The locals get to enjoy the beaches and restaurants without crowds."
She became known as a Caribbean folk artist. She made shapes out of shapes. Triangles, circles, and squares became palm trees or lizards. Another creation were Jane's mocko jumbie dolls, the colorful stilt dancers from West Africa that are prevalent in the island's carnivals and festivals.
She lived in a house that was open and tried to contain her five Jack Russell terriers. Chickens and roosters roamed the yard. "When I left Louisville, the idea of roughing it meant I didn't have a trash masher or garage door opener. Little did I know that I would be living with no garage. On the other hand, there was a freedom that I had never felt. I let myself go with it. I restarted my life."
Jane melted into the culture. She learned to eat the local food-chicken dishes, mangoes, papayas, rice, and peas (what the locals call black beans), and to satisfy a sweet tooth, there were Johnny cakes made from sweet fried dough and doused with powdered sugar.
"The West Indian culture is very beautiful. It has an easy flow. People greet you with a 'good morning' or 'good evening.' There people know how to stop and smell the roses."
She learned to slow down. A trip to the post office became a social event. She began to lose the sense of hurry and didn't miss all the efficiencies of mainland culture. Well, maybe a few. "I did miss White Castles and Derby Pie," she said with a laugh.
Today. Jane is back in Louisville and starting another life, one that is familiar but oh, so different. "I moved home, but to a new city, she says about once again living here.
"My art has always been my healing. It is what has brought me back through physical or emotional difficulties."
Now she has taken on a new a creative career- wearable art. Her Frou Frou Fun Furs are more conducive to life in a cold climate. Instead of finding inspiration from the sand and sea. Jane finds artistic ideas in charity shops.
"I recycle furs that people have donated to Goodwill or some other charity shop and turn them into wearable art. The money I spend will go to someone in need." Eh, voila! A stole gets reí i ned in a colorful fabric, detachable fur cuffs or collars are created to add a spark of style to a sweater, and handbags are magically formed from fur hats. Add a bit of bead, feather, and fabric flower and you have the makings of high fashion with an attitude.
"I do believe there is a little trash and flash in every woman. We don't outgrow the need to dress up. It's fun."
JANE'S OWN STYLE MANTRA?
"I don't have to wear the uniform. I can be an individual. My style is ever changing. I can respect the environment I live in but also respect who I am."