Do you have a budding Michelangelo or Georgia O’Keeffe in your home, and are you wondering how to guide him or her on the artist’s journey? We can take children to museums, provide them with art materials, talk about art, and sign them up for classes. We can watch videos and read books on how to inspire creativity. We can learn from an artist who’s traveled on this road, like the sculptor Jane DeDecker, who lives and works in Loveland, Colorado, where I live.
Across the street from my house is the Benson Sculpture Garden, where some of Jane’s statues are installed. Out of curiosity and admiration for her work, I decided to ask for an interview to find out about what influences were at play as she developed her talent. We met in her studio, a big barn behind my favorite coffee shop, the Muse, a business her family owns and operates.
On the day of the interview, Jane and her husband Kyle graciously invited me into a workshop filled with books, paintings, photos, construction materials, and clay and bronze statues of all sizes. The tallest ones towered above us, statues of women known for their contributions to women’s suffrage in America. I got a glimpse of the process of building these huge pieces because the layers of unfinished sculptures were visible. This made me wonder if she had any help. Jane told me that the whole family, including their children, mostly adults now, and some of her siblings, gets involved in creating them. They all live right on the property where the studio is.
She began her life story by telling me about her mother, Barbara Ellen DeDecker (née Sauter), who was attending the prestigious Chicago Art Institute when World War I broke out and her brothers joined the war effort. This talented woman was unable to finish her studies there because she was needed on the family farm in Marengo, Iowa. This sacrifice prevented her from pursuing a potentially successful career as an artist. Jane explained in tears that her mother didn’t have time to go back to school. She took care of the farm, married, and raised a big Catholic family of 10 children, providing them with everything they needed in spite of the difficult times they were living in.
I learned that Barbara Ellen DeDecker didn’t produce any famous art, but she raised children who inherited the creative gene, most notably the person sitting across from me in the studio, who recently earned the status of USA Today’s “Colorado Woman of the Year 2022” for her work as a sculptor. Jane said her journey as an artist really began with her mother, the greatest influencer on her creativity.
“My mom was a resourceful person. She could make anything out of cardboard and feed sacks, such as toys and costumes for playtime on the property. She sewed all our clothing. She recycled and reused everything she could—old jeans were repurposed, and if something was broken, she knew how to fix it. The dining room table was always covered with paper for sketching. Her words, as we left for school, ‘Make something beautiful today’ and ‘Make a friend today,’ are engraved in my heart.” Jane and her siblings were inspired to be creative by their mother’s example and her encouraging words.
Being part of a big family and farm life had an impact on Jane’s artwork as well. On her website, this becomes very obvious—there are many sculptures of children taking walks in nature, playing with animals, enjoying the outdoors. In fact, her favorite piece, the one that launched her career, “Kids Walking on a Log,” was from her childhood memories. The inspiration for this was “a grove of cottonwoods, branching out trying to grab a place in the nourishing sunlight.” It made Jane think about how “children are always looking for their place in the light, their unique connection to life and nature.”
Indeed, creativity is for all ages. It can be very personal and public at the same time, carry messages for everyone, and last beyond one’s lifetime to touch generations in the future. In Jane’s words:
“My work is not static, nor is it a finished thought, but rather tied to a moment in time and place that reflects the unfinished story that is our humanity. The permanence of my sculptures cast in bronze drives me to respect the message I leave behind—positive affirmations about life.”
Jane has always felt that art is a public mission, not just for an individual’s satisfaction and expression. As a teenager, she made posters and set designs for plays at school. As a career sculptor, she continues to create art for the community, evidenced by the many public installations where her statues are viewed. One of her passions is history, and in the last few years, the stories of suffragists have come alive in her work. She wants people to know and honor the incredible effort it took to get women the right to vote. As she was telling me about the gigantic statue behind me of suffragist Ida B. Wells, Jane’s son David walked in. He does the patinas, or finishes on the statues. When I asked him what his beliefs are about the value of art, he was very eloquent: “The work of an artist is to invite the viewer to experience empathy, learn to walk in someone else’s shoes, learn their story.” He feels that his involvement in artistic expression has made him a better person, and that is “the purpose of art, to respond to the higher calling of elevating the human experience and give it dignity.” Jane encourages her children to discover their own journeys as artists, because she believes that art is deeply personal. “All my children have a gift for creativity, and they are finding their own artistic expression, in addition to helping with my projects.”
We can learn a lot from Jane DeDecker and others who create for the enjoyment and education of present and future generations. Accomplished artists like Jane can inspire budding creators and give them hope and inspiration to develop their talents. Let’s encourage our young artists to continue the work of “elevating the human spirit.”