Bonna Nelson - November 2010


Jan Kirsh Creates Beauty in Art and Nature
Bonna Nelson

The Persians, Egyptians and Babylonians did it. The Greeks and Romans did it. The Chinese and Japanese did it. The Byzantines and Spanish did it. The Dutch, English, French and Italians went crazy doing it. And the Americans have learned from what went before. For over 4,000 years, the most advanced civilizations have done it – created expressions of art and beauty in gardens and landscape.
For over twenty-seven years, Jan Kirsh, landscape designer and sculptor, has done it – created art and beauty in gardens and landscapes on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. And for over six years Jan has been creating intriguing sculptures to further enhance the beauty of settings both indoors and out.
Visitors to Easton’s 2010 Waterfowl Festival will have a special opportunity to view her fascinating fruit, vegetable and bird sculptures in the gardens surrounding the Inn at 202 Dover, location of the Festival Headquarters and the VIP reception.
“Jan’s sculptures are a fantastic addition to our gardens. People come by just to see her work,” raved Shelby Mitchell, owner of the historic 1874 mansion, the Inn at 202 Dover, which she and her husband, Ron, restored. In one corner of the garden, purple, yellow and bronze asparagus stand guard while a lovely lounging ebony chile pepper greets guests by the front gate. All are ready for the Waterfowl Festival.
Years ago archaeologists discovered Egyptian tomb paintings, frescoes dating to the 1500s B.C., depicting ornamental horticulture and landscape designs including hedgerows of fruit trees and palms. Ancient Egyptian gardens adorned private homes and temples.
Around 600 B.C., King Nebuchadnezzar II designed one of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, built on terraces and filled with flowers, shrubs and trees. Greek historians wrote extensively about the lush Babylonian gardens.
Lush, sensual and artistic are words frequently used to describe Jan Kirsh’s landscapes and sculptures. I met the vivacious Jan on a nearly perfect late-summer day in St. Michaels with an azure sky and white ruffled clouds overhead, flags blowing in the breeze and butterflies flitting over pink-blossomed crepe myrtles. As we drove toward her home, studio and gardens on Caulk Creek, we passed several farm stands selling ripened tomatoes, peppers and corn. Perhaps they were inspiration for the beautiful fruit and vegetable sculptures I viewed in the peaceful garden spaces surrounding Jan’s home. Here an ear of bronze corn reclining on a raised stand, there several stalks of purple asparagus, sentinels to an inviting chair, all amidst privacy hedgerows – as important to Jan as they were to the Egyptians. Each of her tranquil garden spaces and surrounding hedgerows beckoned the visitor to sit, enjoy the spectacular waterfront views, lush vegetation and meditate on nature and art.
Visitors are welcome to tour Jan’s gardens and studio by appointment. On my visit to Jan’s studio, bright with light from windows overlooking the water, there were sculptures in various stages of completion arranged on shelves and tables. There were gray clay grapes, birds, persimmons and artichokes and completed works of golden pears and peaches, red chile peppers, lavender figs, black habanera peppers, etched onions,Oriental eggplants and bronze corncobs. The graceful leek and purple ichiban eggplant were particular favorites.
Archaeological evidence reveals Greek and Roman gardens including water features, topiary and shaded arcades. The Greek gardens were usually public and around temples while the Romans went for private gardens for tranquility. The Greeks and Romans were also fond of sculptures in gardens, in temples in homes and along roads.
Like the Greeks and Romans, visitors to exhibits of Jan Kirsh’s bold-hued sculptures in shows and installations in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Easton and other sites along the Atlantic coast are fond of Jan’s nature-inspired forms. Excited customer responses to her sculptures keep Jan’s creative juices flowing. She continues to add new pieces to her repertoire, the latest a half avocado bird bath, a set of small perched birds, variations of squash blossoms, a voluptuous eggplant and a series of grape clusters.
It was the first special pot that Jan created at age five in South Jersey that started her on the road to designing landscapes and sculpture. In high school and college, Jan focused on photography, ceramics and design. When she later moved to Florida, she worked in horticulture and studied fine arts, and from that point on she has always had an art studio. This multi-dimensional, talented, self-made woman was always attracted to landscape design and takes pleasure in working with texture, color and design in the garden and as a sculptor.
Jan designs and creates landscapes with an artist’s eye. She told me she likes to “paint with plants.” When she relocated to the Shore over 32 years ago, Jan was mentored in the landscape design business by Elizabeth Arthur, Vassar professor of landscape architecture history and a landscape design professional. Arthur gave Jan the initial training, knowledge, experience and confidence that she needed to start her own practice.
Jan designs traditional or contemporary foundation plantings with sweeps of plants for color impact; hedge and tree privacy screenings; native grasses and other native plant materials to attract songbirds; four-season concepts for year-round color beauty; low maintenance plantings and garden rooms for living or entertaining. She views “natures vitality as a partner in the design process,” and she works to integrate architectural forms within the natural landscape.
Jan also credits her assistant, Margaret Faiella, for her success. With a background in landscape architecture, Margaret has worked with Jan for 12 years, staffing the office and drafting landscape plans. “Margaret’s contributions have evolved as the business has evolved, and now she tackles landscape and sculpture projects together with equal success,” Jan declared.
Kirsh’s sculptures are gaining notice beyond the Shore. In addition to the 2009 New York City Architectural Digest Show, she exhibited in the Philadelphia Flower Show, Washington Home and Garden Show and the Allentown Designer Show House, as well as local shows this year.
Her dramatic sculptures can be custom ordered in various materials including bronze, polished concrete, marble, stone, fiberglass or resin; created for outdoors or in; in any size or color at prices affordable to all. They make an artful addition to garden foliage and add interest to interior hallways, tables and galleries.
Jan is evolving and growing in the landscape design innovations just as her collection of sculptures continues to evolve and grow. I am hoping to beautify my waterfront landscape with a Kirsh design and sculpture, a luscious pear, a sensual pepper, an inviting birdbath ... yes!
You can get in touch with Jan at 410-745-5252 or visit her Websites at or