Former art teacher Jean Hawton got started designing clothes as a girl in 4-H, and still turns heads with her creations....
Art tells a story, and for Jean Hawton those stories are as unique as the pieces she creates.
Having grown up as a Clay County 4-H member in northern Minnesota, Hawton was very involved in the clothing project and was encouraged and influenced significantly by her mother.
Hawton recalls her clothing experiences and said she still has many of the outfits she created over the years hanging in her rural Redwood Falls home.
She saw success at the Club Congress and was a national winner. Her clothing experiences were such a positive part of her life, Hawton started her college education at the U of M planning to earn a degree in clothing and textiles.
Soon after she opted to change that pursuit and graduated with a degree in art education. Hawton became an art teacher and spent 29 years teaching her passion to students. Much of that career was spent in the Cedar Mountain School District where she encouraged her students to think outside of the box as they created their art work.
Hawton demonstrated that in her own life, as she has spent years creating out of the box pieces of art that turns heads, and she is being recognized statewide.
When she was a 4-H member and during her growing up years, Hawton learned what accessorized an outfit was often just as important, if not more, than the outfit itself.
She took that concept to the next level, as she began creating unique art pieces with those accessories she came to appreciate during the days when her mother en-couraged fashion in Hawton.
Hawton has al-ways enjoyed working with natural fibers, such as wool, linen and silk, and said she has no interest in working with cotton. She said she enjoys the fact that those natural fibers are so easy to manipulate be-cause of their flexibility. Hawton learned to tailor clothing and spent many years doing that kind of work, and in the rest of her spare time she began creating art pieces with those accessories, such as shoes and hats.
Her art pieces are not what one might expect from those kinds of accessories, as they are not just enhanced for their initial purpose. She sees something much different in them.
For the most part, she sees animals.
For example, one pair of shoes took on the look of a walrus, while other shoes became duck billed platypuses or frogs.
"Giving objects a new and bizarre meaning has been my fascination," Hawton said, adding that could mean taking the finger of a leather glove and making an eye socket or using a hat veil to create a spider web.
As an art teacher, Hawton encouraged her students to explore all art mediums, and while she appreciates them all she enjoys working with fiber the most.
"You can shrink it, dye it, twist it or unravel it," she said, and over the years she has done that and so much more with those fibers.
While Hawton has done her art mostly for the enjoyment of creating, she has also entered many of her pierces in different shows, including in the fine arts division at the Minnesota state fair. Her pieces are entered into Class 7 – textiles and fibers. Over the years she has seen success.
"I have been submitting pieces for years," said Haw-ton, adding there have been 13 different entries over those years.
Submitting a piece does not automatically mean they are going to be on display.
Pieces are submitted long before the fair begins, and judges look over the thousands of entries in the eight fine arts categories. The top pieces are selected for prizes, with first place winners receiving $500.
One year ago, Hawton had a piece entitled "She Was a Crab," which placed first, and over the years most of her pieces have been selected to be exhibited.
The one piece she said that was not selected was a suitcase she painted. She entered it in the painting category, but because it could not be hung on a wall it was not accepted.
That 2012 first-place piece took a hat design and transformed it into a sculpture Hawton said resembles a blue crab. Hawton said she does a lot of research on the animals she wants to create, but added she is not looking for a literal look.
"I don't want the animal to look exactly right," said Hawton.
After all, that is part of what being an artist is about – coming up with one's own interpretation of something.
Hawton submitted her 2013 piece, which was based on an anteater, and that piece was also selected for display. She took third place this year, and those who plan to visit the state fair in the next few days can see her piece in the fine arts building.
Hawton said she has a box full of things she uses in her art, including buttons and leather items that belonged to her mother, but sometimes her pieces need that special something, such as a stem from a squash or those plastic ends from a shoelace.
Hawton said she is already working on the piece she plans to submit for next year, adding it usually takes about a year to get the piece finished and ready to submit.
Having retired from her teaching role three years ago, Hawton said even though she is busy there has been more time to work on her pieces.
Hawton said she seems to have gravitated toward hats, and spends time at antique shops and other stores looking for that perfect hat – one with the kind of unique style that speaks to her.
"The hats I use are all vintage," Hawton said. "The hat has to be special. It has to draw me to it."
Hawton said she typically does not sell her art pieces, adding, however, if she comes across someone she knows would really appreciate her work she might consider it.
Yet, she added, parting with some of her pieces would be very difficult, because they are more than just art they are a part of her.