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Inside the Collection: Jan Brooks

Jan Brooks forging. Photo Credit: Five Modern American Blacksmiths (Cleveland, OH: New Gallery of Contemporary Art, 1983), 30.

Jan Brooks was born in Quanah, Texas in 1950. She first fell in love with metalworking during a jewelry camp where she learned from Marion Cole, an art teacher with Dallas Public Schools. During the summer of 1968, Brooks studied under Thetis Lemmon at Texas Women’s University, and she went on to complete an Associate of Arts degree from Columbia College, Columbia, Missouri in 1970. She then transferred to Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), Carbondale, Illinois. Studying blacksmithing under the late L. Brent Kington, Brooks earned a BA in 1972 and an MFA in 1974.

After graduation, Brooks began a career as an educator. Immediately after completing her MFA, she joined SIUC’s faculty and taught metalsmithing at SIUC from 1974 to 1977. She then moved to North Carolina, where she was an Assistant Professor of Creative Arts and the Director of the Rowe Art Gallery at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, North Carolina. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Brooks exhibited widely, and she was even included in the groundbreaking 1982 exhibition Towards a New Iron Age, organized by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, England. This exhibition also traveled to the Metal Museum in the fall of 1982, and we have several copies of the accompanying catalog in our Library. Brooks stayed in North Carolina until the mid-1990s and was even featured in the 1989 exhibition Nine From North Carolina: An Exhibition of Women Artists at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Brooks has participated in over 200 exhibitions throughout the course of her career as an artist.

Jan Brooks, “Crossed Signals,” 1981. Mild steel, variously colored. Photo Credit: Towards a New Iron Age (London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 1982), 74.

“Jan Brooks Loyd, one of Kington’s students, had one of the most graphic pieces in the show. Her sculptural wall piece recognizes the basic plate form which it both denies and reveres simultaneously. Loyd typically explores surface texture and coloration of metal in her work and uses techniques for coloring that are centuries old, as well as those she has discovered herself. Within this exhibition, her piece was the most far- removed from a functional origin. A strong piece, it excellently represents contemporary applications of metalwork.” – (1)

In 1983, Brooks chose to leave academia behind to maintain her own studio practice, focused on commissioned work and public art projects. However, it was also during this time that she became heavily involved with the nonprofit sector. She has served on many boards, panels, and juries during her lifetime. Notably, she was on the board of the American Craft Council (ACC) from 1984 to 1989 and was even ACC’s Vice President for three years. According to Brooks, her time with ACC was “spent advocating the teaching of history and encouraging more scholarship and more rigorous critical discourse.” (2) In the early 1990s, she went to Duke University to do additional graduate work in the Liberal Studies program, with research focused primarily on the post-WWII development of the studio craft movement in American universities. She was also the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1990.

Jan Brooks, “Tornadic Vessel,” 1983. Forged steel, aluminum, paint coloration. Photo Credit: Five Modern American Blacksmiths (Cleveland, OH: New Gallery of Contemporary Art, 1983), 18.

“My work is principally about the vessel as container for imagery which represents specific personal experience or event. The character and atmosphere of each object reflect the particular emotional quality of the experience. These objects serve as a metaphorical diary.” (3)

When Brooks began working with metals in college, she was also a music major and originally intended to craft percussion instruments with her new metalworking skills. She was enraptured with the field and began making conceptual jewelry about the environment. Brooks’s work in the late 1970s and 1980s comprised mainly of iron plates and bowls. According to the authors of North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary, her award-wining 1983 “Tornadic Vessel” “reflects a technical wizardry fused, inextricably, to private expression.” (4) In the 1990’s she also began experimenting with making wooden shovels themed around politics and morals. To learn more about this work, check out David Butler’s review. According to Brooks, her later work “involved recycling antique objects and that is generally where I remain. I experienced a moral dilemma about putting more “stuff” in the world so feel that the ethics of recycling suit me best.” (5) Her work is in both private and public collections, including the Arkansas Art Center, the SIUC Museum, the Mint Museum of Art, and the Racine Art Museum.

The Metal Museum currently has two pieces by Jan Brooks in our collection: a spatula and a wall piece. The spatula was made in 1979 and included in one of the first exhibitions at the Metal Museum: Everyday Metal, on view October 6, 1979 - January 6, 1980. At the conclusion of the exhibition, the Museum purchased the spatula from Brooks directly. The spatula is made of steel, silver, and wood and features a delicately-patterned blade with a central heart-shape made of silver. It is currently on display in our Visible Storage Gallery, along with some other contemporary utensils. The same year Brooks made “Tornadic Vessel,” she created this wall piece called “Tornadic Drawing.” It is made from steel with rust and a chemical coloration and includes abstract images of tornadoes and rain. Brooks donated the piece to the Museum in 2007, and it is included in our Selections from the Permanent Collection exhibition in the Library Learning Space. To see more of her work, check out her entry in the SNAG Slide Archive.

Lane Coulter and Jan Brooks. Photo Credit: Coulter-Brooks Art & Antiques.

In 1995, Brooks moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she married life-long friend Lane Coulter. They initially met at the 1976 Blacksmithing Conference at SIUC, reconnected in 1993, and married in 2000. The two currently run the gallery Coulter-Brooks Art & Antiques, which specializes in Native American weaving, jewelry, and other objects as well as Spanish furnishings and devotional art. Brooks has been an antique dealer since college, and she has played a supporting role in the business while also working in organized philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. She was the Executive Director of New Mexico Association of Grantmakers for six years and continues to consult with other nonprofits today.


A special thanks to Jan Brooks for providing information about her life’s work for this blog.

2) Jan Brooks, ‘Re: Metal Museum Blog about Your Work,’ email, 2018.

3) Five Modern American Blacksmiths (Cleveland, OH: New Gallery of Contemporary Art, 1983), 30.

4) Jules Heller and Nancy G. Heller, ed., North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary, (New York, NY: Garland, 1995), 347.

5) Jan Brooks, ‘Re: Metal Museum Blog about Your Work,’ email, 2018.

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