Janet Nolan spent her life reimagining everyday objects into works of art. She would canvass the streets of New York City looking for colorful objects she could turn into art. Whether it was discarded umbrellas, men’s ties or plastic bottles, the objects Nolan found served as the foundation of her artwork. As an artist, she also placed intentional, underlying messages within her work which ask viewers and consumers to consider how their daily consumption produces waste for the planet. Nolan was also known for making bold statements with her artwork to show how much Americans waste. Her artwork has been on display in some of the nation’s most prominent galleries, universities and museums. Harvard University and a series of window displays at the famous New York store Bloomingdale’s have commissioned her work.
Nolan’s exhibit, “Reimagining the Everyday,” is on display at the International Arts Center on the Troy Campus through Jan. 9, 2022. Admission is free and the exhibit can be viewed Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.
Visitors will have the opportunity to experience the whimsical, colorful display that encourages and provides a positive view of recycling and reuse of objects that have been tossed away. The vastness of the collection immerses the viewer into an environment of textures from nature in order to celebrate them as a whole rather than as individual discarded items.
Upon entering the IAC, the first installation piece to capture attention in the exhibit is “Can-Can” (2006–2009). Plastic lids from jars and bottles, plastic straws, and various discarded items prance across the wall, coupled in what appears to be a ballroom dance. Alluding to the French can-can dance popular in the 1840s, the title also celebrates recycling and gently reminds us of the waste produced from our overwhelming consumerism habits as a society.
Also, on display is “Please Play Again” (2005), which crawls over a yellow portal in the foyer, in a form akin to kudzu, creating a flowing stream of playful dots and lines made by discarded bottle caps. The work can be appreciated as a unified, swarming form, as well as noting the important role each of the individual bottle caps served by providing a drink to a consumer. Nolan aptly titles the work “Please Play Again” in reference to the promotional pitch found on the inside of many caps, while also alluding to the celebration of recycling the material and providing new life to the discarded tops.
At the back of the foyer, Nolan’s iconic “Canopy” (1978) frames the windows overlooking the Janice Hawkins Cultural Arts Park. This work was created from the fabric of dozens of umbrellas stitched together in a quilt-like fashion creating a flowing piece of art 100-feet long and 12-feet wide, which was originally displayed waving in the breeze above Church Street in New York’s Tribeca.
The Nolan exhibit is one example of how Troy University is fostering leaders and leading change in recycled products and the arts. Troy University also is a recognized leader in recycling and research at its fully integrated, multi-disciplinary Center for Materials and Manufacturing Sciences. The center’s main focus is studying polymers and polymer recycling in an effort to reduce waste caused by polymeric waste such as plastics and packaging.
Nolan was a visiting artist at Troy University in 2003. Before passing away in 2019, she developed a friendship with Dr. and Mrs. Jack Hawkins, Jr. At the time, she was looking for a place for her artwork to reside in hopes of it continuing to positively influence others with its environmental messages.
Nolan’s longtime friend Dr. James Vickery and Nolan’s sister, Sue Thompson, worked with Dr. and Mrs. Hawkins to donate Nolan’s artwork to Troy University. Before retiring in 2014, Dr. Vickery served 50 years in higher education, including his time as Professor of Speech Communications at TROY.
“It is my desire for students to have the opportunity to experience not only her idea of finding treasure amongst trash, but also experience Janet’s artwork,” said Janice Hawkins, First Lady, Troy University. “Troy University is so committed to leading change in environmental studies, it is fitting that we should have some of the artwork created by this wonderful artist. It is my pleasure to honor her request by sharing her message with our students.”
Nolan’s art can be seen in other places around the University as well. Her work, “High Tide,” is a choreography of flattened cans, riveted together to create a series of 8-foot-long linear strips. The modular ribbons reflect the movement of the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Alabama, Nolan’s home state. The work hangs from the ceiling in the entrance way of the Trojan Fitness and Wellness Center on the Troy Campus.
Nolan’s work, “Chorus,” greets visitors to the University IDEA Bank in downtown Troy, featuring a spiraling grove of neck ties. This installation began as a loving tribute to the memory of Nolan’s husband, John E. Daniel, using his extensive tie collection. These sculptures are constructed with unaltered neckties, shaped around aluminum wire armatures that highlight the endless variation of their patterned surfaces.
Her work “NYC + Montgomery Fountains in a Bottle” features fountain water from historic fountains in New York City and Montgomery in repurposed plastic bottle and is on display in Whitley Hall on the University’s Montgomery Campus.