Vintage Vessels Revisited with Jan Thomas

Resurgent interest in The Arts and Crafts Movement in the 1970s along with the Feminist Movement propelled me in the direction of exploring previously designated domestic crafts with the intention of raising the status to a fine art form. This concept originated in Victorian England under the influence of John Ruskin and William Morris, who felt that the Decorative Arts could and should be elevated to reflect fine art while preserving function.

Jan Thomas’ “Siena” vessel as a flat before piecing & construction.

The Feminist Art Movement resurrected woman’s crafts and the decorative arts as a viable artistic means to express the female experience and to enact change in social/political norms of society ending sexism and oppression. I had always traditionally sewn and stitched so the challenge was to reinterpret the use of techniques to create meaningful pieces of art. This intent has been an almost constant theme throughout my career as an artist.

My selection as a WAP artist (working artist program) in the Tiger Lily Press print studio gave me the opportunity to combine what I knew as a fine crafts artist with what I was to learn as a printmaker. Collagraphs, an intaglio print process, which has a natural tendency towards textural surfaces, became my print technique of choice.

My interest in collecting old ephemera introduced me to vintage card baskets. This largely domestic craft popular in the early 1900s made use of greeting cards cut into template patterns and stitched or crocheted together. It was just a matter of time before I reimagined the stitched card baskets using collagraph prints reminiscent of old world decorative arts patterns, cut and assembled into dimensional contemporary vessels.

Jan Thomas’ “Morocco” pieced but not assembled yet.

The process begins with printing an edition of collagraph prints to be used in the formation of the inside and outside container walls. Sometimes I develop my own patterns drawing into gel medium on the plate or I may be lucky enough to find an old embossed piece of paper or textural fabric that fits my need. All templates are the result of first drawing container shapes multiple times as an exercise for developing a form with classic beauty.

The form will dictate the number of cut pieces to be stitched together. Using a blanket stitch, each pattern piece is separately sewn before all pieces are assembled together. The assembly stitch will vary dependent on decorative elements I wish to incorporate.

My current series of vessels contain printed impressions that remind me of my travels in Europe. I have always considered my basketry to be functional containers of thoughts or messages. It is within this context that these latest pieces are designed.

These classic forms, made from decorative patterns with old world charm, hopefully trigger memories of distant land and culture. The viewer may reflect on a personal experience they’ve had while traveling or studying about another ancient time in history, perhaps relate to modern culture, and the nostalgic idea of reshaping and recycling our greeting cards into baskets. These thoughts link together like segments of the stitched basket recreating a fond memory or familiar feeling of place.

Jan Thomas
Sayler Park Studio


Jan Thomas received her BFA in Art Education at the University of Cincinnati in 1975. She continued her graduate studies at Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) and Xavier University. She is a Rhode Island School of Design Honors Educator and a participant in The Savannah College of Art and Design Summer Seminars for Distinguished Educators. Thomas retired in 1999 from a long and rewarding career as an art educator at Oak Hills High School, Cincinnati, Ohio.


Ohio Craft Museum » “Best of 2017,” the 34th annual juried exhibition, showcasing works in clay, glass, fiber, wood, metal and mixed media by Ohio Designer Craftsmen artists, runs May 7–June 18, 2017. Jan’s “Morocco” will appear in this show.