Zipperworks by Janet R Petrell
The studio is located in Kingston Springs, TN
Most kids in 4-H begin making crafts from egg cartons or soda pop bottles. But I’ve always had a rather unique view of the world, so I saw art in broken zippers—the vibrant colors, the dance of the gold and silver metals, the distinct shape.
My first piece was not rich in detail, but I thought the idea had “teeth.” Of course, my art classes in high school and college never explored such a unique medium, so I taught myself. To this day, I am a one of a kind folk artist. Often called outside art because it fails to be defined by a category, my work speaks to an audience who enjoys the unique.
As a young adult, I couldn’t see myself living the life of a starving artist, so I began my career in Clinical Research. However, my mother, Donna Jean Graham Petrell (1927-2012), picked up on the idea and created amazing zipper art for over twenty years. I did all of the resourcing in finding the zippers, marketing, framing and presentation. She created art until two weeks prior to her passing, and to this day, her art adorns the walls of my own home.
Needless to say, she left a lot of zippers. Each one represented memories, love, and a shared pastime. I could not waste this treasure, so I went back to making zipperart as a way to honor my mother’s talent, and in the process, it rekindled my own creative spirit.
As an artist, I challenge myself to adhere to one medium—“found” zippers, which can be the teeth, clasps and the buttons from zippers. Zipper teeth can be made of metal, plastic and vinyl, and when combined, they add dimension and texture. Since zipper teeth come in every color imaginable, my design is limited only by my imagination. Scissors, glue, clasps, blank canvas are my tools used in creating these works. I strive reuse canvas which can consist of paper, recycled paneling, wood, and form board.
I do not create my art in themes or styles. I get my inspiration from my global travels, Tennessean gardens and landscapes, the designs from the frames, abstract images from my imagination, or what colors or types of zippers that I have in my inventory. To maintain the integrity of my “found art,” I do not color or purchase zippers to create pieces. I call out to the universe, and the universe answers through garage sales, thrift stores, and generous gifts from friends.
My art is like Monet with working with dots in that the image changes depending upon the viewing distance. I also incorporate movement and 3D design with playing with how the zipper captures light and layering to provide depth and shadowing. My design choices and colors are more often attributed to Van Gogh because of the flowing lines and lively colors.
I have toured with Zipperart throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Inevitably, the casual shopper will ask if it was made from beads. I smile and ask the viewer to touch the piece and feel the contours of the zippers. “Beads?” I ask. Upon the recognition of the zipper, I see a big smile appear and hear, “It’s a zipper!” as if they have suddenly remembered their childhood fascination while learning to work its magic.
There is something about a zipper that harkens back to that place of curiosity and wonder, as people remember their three year old self fumbling with catch, watching the teeth fall into place, hoping the entire universe will be this ordered and perfectly connected. Of course, it’s not, which is why, I think, adults find a new beauty in the free flowing beauty that emerges when rigid expectation gives way to imagination.