The Athenaeum Music and Arts Library is featuring the glittering pop art of mosaic sculptor and graphic designer Jean Wells Hamerslag in the Rotunda Gallery and the exterior of the library through May 3.
The exhibition includes a 16-foot “tree” sprouting giant soda bottles and candy, a super-sized hamburger, larger-than-life Hershey’s kisses and other everyday items.
When not on display, the sculptures reside at Hamerslag’s home in Rancho Santa Fe, which resembles a sparkling toy store.
A seven-foot ice cream cone and four-foot hotdog stand guard in her entry. Her backyard is adorned with a 16-foot Phantom jet, a bright red plane rescued from the graveyard at Gillespie Field, a life-size cow, “Bertha” the mosaic mannequin and a rowboat, complete with figurehead, floating in her swimming pool.
“I like anything that sparkles,” Hamerslag said.
Working from her home studio, she creates artwork that takes the everyday from “ordinary to extraordinary.” Much of her work is influenced by the ‘50s and ‘60s, a time when “the fast-food culture was just taking hold,” she said.
Hamerslag uses a variety of materials to create her sculptures: ceramics, glass tiles, fiberglass, foam, and even products available at craft stores such as “Model Magic.”
One of her most popular sculptures, Ice Cream Moosaic, was inspired by a TV commercial. Hamerslag envisioned an ice cream cone that merged into a cow. To study the effect of color, she experimented with vanilla ice cream drizzled with chocolate syrup.
Hamerslag didn’t start creating her sculptures with any intent to pursue a serious art career. A hobby crafter, she became more focused on her work after both of her children left home.
“Before that, it was very difficult because it’s almost 24/7,” Hamerslag said of her art.
Raised in a family of artisans, Hamerslag apprenticed with her father, a professional mosaic artist, at age 12, working on the Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle, Wash. She went on to obtain a fine arts degree from the University of Washington and got a job in advertising.
After marrying Steve Hamerslag in 1984, she spent the next two decades focused on her children, Carrie and Blake.
Faced with an empty nest after her kids left for college, Hamerslag took advantage of her unencumbered time to resume her artistic pursuits, which have included ceramics, painting and mosaics.
A chance visit by a neighbor who saw her artwork led to a valuable mentoring relationship with a well-known gallery owner. As she developed her style, several other people began to take an interest in her work.
After completing several pieces, Hamerslag’s premiere exhibition was held on Nov. 7, 2007, at the San Diego Museum of Art. The show met with overwhelming success, a response that “flabbergasted” Hamerslag.
“I didn’t have a plan,” she said. “It just kind of evolved.”
She is currently showing in New York, Myconos, Greece and La Jolla, and has received several commissions.
Hamerslag has used her talent to benefit charitable causes, including wounded military service members.
“That’s another passion of mine,” she said, “giving back to the community.”
When asked what she thinks makes her artwork so appealing, Hamerslag said not only is it playful and unique, but her subject matter often takes people down Memory Lane.
“I think people let themselves down around (my art),” said Hamerslag, adding that her sculptures seem to inspire a lot of laughter. “Everybody could just let their guard down and be kind of childlike.”
To view the artwork of Jean Wells Hamerslag, visit