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Jane S. Teller

Printmaker · Sculptor
Born July 5, 1911, Rochester, New York
Died December 23, 1990, Princeton, New Jersey

I am dealing with elusive stuff! Mysterious stuff...energy. And I concentrate on getting it into my work.


Jane Simon Teller was a sculptor whose work in wood, iron, and Plexiglas evokes a mythic sense of "tender connections" between "powerful presences." Spiritual in its emphasis, her work endeavors to show how human action intersects with nature to create cosmic unity, and to remind the observer of art's primitive function as a totem, or religious object. Her work strives for a vision of wholeness that goes beyond representation to express the essence, or life quality of an object- its "thingness." In her wooden sculptures, Teller used roughly textured wood and shaped it by hand, positioning various components with dowels or lag screws. These constructions self-consciously analyze the nature of structures themselves - the surface features of a place or object and how they are related and balanced, often precariously "(in)the way one piece of wood touches another, making a tender connection."
By using recurring symbols, such as circles, arcs, cubes, and linking these forms as if they were a language, she believed the artist could "create a presence related to prehistoric monuments, ritual sites, or places for meditation," as in ancient monuments like Stonehenge or medieval cathedrals. Although serious in her philosophical intent, Teller initially approached her sculptures playfully and spontaneously; then there were "a thousand adjustments...but each one calculated to trap the quality that will be the expression of the sculptor...to leave enough unsaid."
Apprenticed in her father's woodworking factory in upstate New York, Teller proceeded to study at Rochester Institute of Technology and Columbia University, absorbing ideas from Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and eastern philosophy. In New York City, she met photographer Aaron Siskind, her lifelong friend and mentor, in an art class sponsored by the Works Progress Administration. During the 1940s, Siskind introduced her to abstract expressionist artists who inspired her: Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kline. Around the same time, Teller became acquainted with Lloyd (Bill) Ney and other members of Bucks County's artistic community, when she exhibited her work in New Hope. She and her husband, Walter Teller, a writer who cofounded the New Hope Gazette, bought a large farm near Plumsteadville in 1938, and later moved their family to Lahaska and Princeton. A stroke in 1984 left her partially paralyzed, but she continued to work, primarily on drawings, until her death in 1990. Her husband published Art, Age, and the River, a collection of her memoirs and essays, following her death.

Image: Jane Teller, James A. Michener Art Museum archives


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