You can find art all over town — not just on gallery walls. In this series, we look at some of the local artists who serve up their work in coffeehouses and other non-gallery businesses around town.
Jan Friedman is showing her chalk compositions at La Cour Bistro & Art Bar through April 30. The exhibition is the 73-year-old’s debut in the local art scene. “It’s exciting to launch a new career at my age,” says the grandmother of eight.
Technically, this is Friedman’s fourth career. She grew up in India, where her father was a missionary, and didn’t come to the United States until she was fifteen. Starting high school in Los Angeles was “sort of a culture shock,” admits Friedman, who ended up relocating to Greeley and starting college there.
“And then I got married and moved to Ohio,” she says. She and her husband eventually returned to Greeley – by way of Buffalo, New York – and the young mother was able to finish up the undergraduate degree she’d started years earlier. She went on to get a master’s degree in art, music and drama, and taught special classes at primary schools in North Dakota and Missouri, winning Title I funding for the arts- and music-based curriculum she wrote.
“I’ve always had an interest in art, but never really had much time to do my own art because of the fact that I had three children, was teaching in two schools, writing curriculum, giving piano lessons, directing choirs,” she says, and the list goes on. “I look back, and I’m tired.”
Forty years ago, she moved again — this time to Denver with her family. When teaching here didn’t pan out, Friedman “needed to do something, but wasn’t sure what,” she recalls. “I was driving along and went past a huge house with about seven Rolls-Royces, and I said to myself, ‘I have no idea what that guy does, but I’m going to do it!’”
It turned out the homeowner was an interior designer, and Friedman ended up working for him as an apprentice before launching her own design firm focusing on homes and commercial spaces along the Front Range, as well as Winter Park and Granby. “I did that for many, many years,” says Friedman. During that period, she and her first husband divorced, and she met her second husband.
“Three years after I was remarried, I had gone to pick my then-husband up at the airport,” she recalls. But the plane he was on crashed, and everyone was killed before Friedman’s eyes. “That was a pretty low part of my life,” she says.
While Friedman was managing her deceased husband’s estate, a mutual friend coaxed her into the jewelry business, and she began importing jewelry. Years later – when she was closing down that business – Friedman met her current husband, who worked in the liquidation business. In 1999, after surviving stage 4 breast cancer – Friedman and her husband, Merle, officially retired.
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That left Friedman plenty of time to dote on her grandchildren and great-grandchild. “I’m teaching my four-year-old great-granddaughter piano, which is my other love,” she says. “I practice piano three to four hours a day; the rest of the time, I practice my art.”
While she'd done art as a hobby, she didn't anticipate putting together a collection of her work. “I never thought I was good enough to make a show,” Friedman admits. But then her son, guitarist Danny Masters, took a piece of his mother’s art into La Cour, and the owner asked Friedman to hang her work there.
“I do mostly chalk, but I’ve also done oil and acrylic,” explains Friedman, adding that chalk is “a lot of fun, and it’s a medium people have to learn to use because it is extremely messy....You’ll notice most of my artwork is very colorful — very bright and colorful, because I guess that’s my mood and personality,” she says. "I like to appeal to the familiarity of the everyday man."
Friedman describes her work as amusing and folksy: “I’m not attempting to create a big art piece that will live on in eternity,” she says. “What I do like is that I have art pieces priced very moderately to sell; the idea is that people will buy them and find a place for them in their homes.” Her work is popular for children's bedrooms, as well as family and living rooms.
Friedman’s pieces start at $75, and on Sunday, April 24, she’ll be donating portions of her proceeds to filmmaker Steve Moon, who is working to increase awareness about veterans struggling with PTSD via his upcoming movie Out of the Fight. For this special veterans' night that starts at 7 p.m., La Cour will offer half-priced food, and Friedman will also raffle off a collage she created, “Hands to Help.” La Cour is closed on Monday but opens at 4 p.m. every other day; find out more about the fundraiser at denversartbar.com.
Friedman plans to work with other venues after her debut wraps up. In the meantime, you can learn more about her work on her Facebook page.