Become an artist at any age |

Become an artist at any age

Jan-Michelle Sawyer proves that successful careers can begin at any age.

A University of Hawaii communications professor for 10 years, and before that an award-winning publications director for Sutter Community Hospitals, Sawyer wanted more from her professional life.

“I was one of those classic cases where my parents had always said ‘you can’t make money in the arts,'” Sawyer chuckled last week in her Nevada City studio. “I had turned 40, the big turning point, and I asked myself, what do I want to do with the next 40 years?”

The answer 13 years ago was for Sawyer to pursue sculpting as a full-time profession: “I took contemporary sculpture classes while I was still teaching, but I still had a hunger for realistic (not abstract) sculptures. I went to Canada, Colorado, South Carolina and Arizona for one-week intensive classes on fundamental stuff. Then I took more classes, this time on bronze casting and welding for bronze.”

Even breaking a rib while pouring more than 200 pounds of bronze during a class didn’t undermine Sawyer’s determination. She just brought in a doctor’s note to show she really did hurt herself – Sawyer laughed that she was the first student to ever break a rib in class – and continued her studies.

Today, Sawyer has works displayed in galleries in Hawaii and at San Francisco’s California Institute of Integral Studies.

Besides working every day on her sculptures, Sawyer writes monthly sculpture articles for the online Oceanic Cable (available on and teaches art history online for Westwood College in Colorado. Sawyer will also teach a local three-week sculpture introduction class in November.

“I get hits from all over the world. People ask ‘how do I do this,’ or ‘how do I do that,'” Sawyer said. “When I was hungry about finding out about realistic sculptures, I had to travel off the Island and read books to get answers. I’m more than happy to help. I always tell folks you can expect to have three or four careers in your life. It’s never too late. I started when I was 40.”

Sawyer, who moved to Nevada City two years ago, will have her first area show featuring her bronze sculptures on Sunday, and then Oct. 16 and 17, from noon to 6 p.m. all three days. Besides her works featuring Hawaiian subjects, she will have a new sculpture inspired by Nevada County’s fauna.

Her studio is at 590 Searls Ave., Suite D, off of Gold Flat Road. Call 265-6884 or e-mail for more details.

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