What’s so special about a jar? Stop in at Whitney Art Works at 492 Congress Street in Portland, and you might just find an answer.

The Jar Project is the brainchild of Maine artist Alex Sax. The project comprises of 60 jars, in all shapes and sizes, and each jar is re-imagined by a different Maine artist. Included in this group are many USM faculty, staff and alumni.

The artists involved range in age and artistic experience, from budding college students to seasoned art professionals. However, when they each condense their varying talents into 12-ounce Mason jars and shelve them in a room together, these differences seem nearly indistinguishable.

All of the jars in this collection are similar. They are made of glass; they are transparent; they contain objects. But a jar is a funny thing — unlike canvas or clay, the glass is literally holding the art, cradling and encompassing it.

Upon closer inspection, each of the jars and the objects that fill them are deeply personal representations of each individual artist. Lifetimes of experience are whittled down to a few concepts, displayed through a selection of objects, packed into a very compact space. Just like with human beings, there is beauty in all of the many, sometimes subtle, sometimes brash, differences.

Lis Janes, 2007 USM alumna, said she believes each jar “tells a magnificent story about what we treasure, and relates to Maine in its own way.”

While this is a collaborative and cohesive project, each jar could conceivably stand on its own. While filling her jar, Janes focused on the ideas of nostalgia and nourishment. Her jar, like many others, is very straightforward in its physical presentation, but goes much deeper than one might imagine. It’s a piece of paper with writing on each side.

“My final resolution was to write a few of my grandmother’s recipes onto handmade paper on one side,” Janes said. “… and on the other, some of the more common ideas contemporary Americans tend to relate to in terms of eating and its more common effects on the body.”

While her jar is very personal, it’s also widely relatable. This is one of the many delights to be found in The Jar Project.

There is a jar filled with aquamarine slime that begs to be touched, created by print-maker Nicole Hogarty. Another, by photographer Michael Heiko, is filled with crabs, jammed in so tightly that viewers might feel uncomfortably cramped just by looking at it. Inside sculptor Lin Lisberger’s jar are knots which she says represent security and tangle.

Damir Porobic, lecturer of printmaking and digital arts at USM, decided to turn his jar, an old Fluff jar, into a sort of optical illusion. When creating this piece, Porobic said he wanted to explore the concept of an actual object and an image, all in one single experience. From far away, it looks like a small Fluff jar inside of a larger one. Up close, it becomes clear that this is a trick of the eye. The smaller jar inside Porobic’s jar is actually a 2-D print.

While some of the jars are much more aesthetically interesting than others, they each give a very intimate look into what each artist holds deep inside. The Jar Project is more than just a collection of jars on the shelves of a museum, it’s a deeply personal exploration into a lifetime of experience.

The Jar project will be open for viewing every first Friday and Saturday through April.


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