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ISSUE 116 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/14/2003

Shoger reveals inspired life

By Meredith Johnson
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 14, 2003

Students walk into Jan Shoger’s art exhibit and encounter a broad range of media: drawings, jewelry, prints and more. The variety in Shoger’s media forms is matched only by the scope of her inspiration – everything from shadows to cells to Japanese life has blossomed into some part of Shoger’s work, which is being shown in the Dittmann Center until March 21.

The exhibit, "Drawn from Nature," is a retrospective spanning 34 years. "Looking back this way, and showing it all together, it’s exciting," Shoger said. "You sort of see your life passing in front of you. It’s odd, but it’s exciting."

Shoger’s artstic career began as a child, during which time she attended Saturday art lessons at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Those art lessons were followed by high school art classes in Winnipeg, Canada, and eventually led to an art education degree from the University of Minnesota. Shoger taught art at the elementary, junior high and high school levels before taking her position at St. Olaf in 1982.

As the faculty wife of a Carleton biologist, Shoger took silversmithing classes at Carleton and then got her master’s degree at age 40. "I’ve had this wonderful, rich life as an artist, but I started at age 40," Shoger said. "You don’t have to do just one thing in your life, and that’s really wonderful."

Among the other things encompassed in Shoger’s life was her time spent in Asia; Shoger lived in Japan four times and led a group of students for a Term in Asia. That time has inspired both her works and methods of creating art. Pieces such as "Spirit House" and "The Tree of Wisdom" depict images from those trips, and Shoger employs the Japanese technique of wood-cutting in works such as "Is It Real, Is It Illusion?" and "Early Morning Shugakuin-so II."

While Shoger has found inspiration and meaning in experiences on the other side of the Pacific, she has been just as influenced by experiences here in Northfield. Her latest work, a series of lithographs with titles like "Remembrances" and "Looking Back" were inspired by shadows she saw in town and while cross-country skiing in the arboretum at Carleton. Shoger saw the shadows as being an appropriate metaphor for memory: "They taper and get elongated and changed," she said, "but they come from the real thing … and I think that’s how memory is, too."

The morphing together of several images is symbolic of Shoger’s idea that "sometimes in our memory we recall things that don’t really belong together … I’m interested in these little snippets of experience we recall and remember. How we recall them is always kind of a mystery."

In another step closer to home, Shoger found inspiration as close as her own garden. For the "Night Garden" series of copper-plate etchings, Shoger looked at her plants in the middle of the night, when they were lit only by moonlight and street lights. "There’s something sort of subdued and eerie about them," she says, "and that’s what I was trying to capture."

Several of Shoger’s works were inspired by a book of black and white images from an electron-scanning microscope. The microscope, which her husband uses at work, magnifies images 250,000 times. Shoger’s illustrations of the blown-up images include "The Dance" and "Agaricus Bisporis," a depiction of the spores from a mushroom.

Just as Shoger’s art has had a variety of influences, her choice of media has also been equally diverse. "I let the concept lead me to the right process," Shoger said. Her open-minded approach to subject and form of art is also present in her views on teaching art.

"Anybody can be an artist if they have a passion to do it," Shoger said. "If you want to be an artist, I can teach you to draw. But making art is more than just drawing. It means you’re passionate about some idea, some concept you want to get across to people. It needs to be something from your own experience."

Five of Shoger’s former students have art on display in the exhibit – Shannon Roper Anderson ’95, Tim Frerichs ’88, Karl Nelson ’99, David Stordahl ’01 and Pamela Wesolek ’98.

"Because I’ve been a teacher at St. Olaf for all this time, I thought it was important to ask some of my students to participate," Shoger said.

In her artist’s statement, Shoger wrote, "To me, the natural world is an amazing phenomenon." The same wonder and appreciation Shoger expressed for the world reverberates through her art, making the pieces in "Drawn from Nature" an extraordinarily powerful body of work.

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