Please pardon our dust. Our team is hard at work standardizing and improving our database content. If you need assistance, please contact us.
"I am dealing with elusive stuff! Mysterious stuff...energy. And I concentrate on getting it into my work."
-Jane S. Teller
Jane Simon Teller was a sculptor whose work in wood, iron, and Plexiglas evokes a mythic sense of "tender connections" between "powerful presences." Spiritual in its emphasis, her work strives to show how human action intersects with nature to create cosmic unity and to remind the observer of art's primitive function as a totem or religious object. Her work creates a vision of wholeness that goes beyond representation to express the essence, or life quality, of an object, meaning its "thingness." In her wooden sculptures, Teller used roughly textured wood and shaped it by hand, positioning various components with dowels or lag screws. These constructions self-consciously analyze the nature of the structures themselves. She further examines the surface features of a place or object and how they are related and balanced, often precariously in "the way one piece of wood touches another, making a tender connection."
By using recurring symbols, such as circles, arcs, cubes, and linking these forms as if they were a language, she believed the artist could "create a presence related to prehistoric monuments, ritual sites, or places for meditation," as in ancient monuments like Stonehenge or medieval cathedrals. Although serious in her philosophical intent, Teller initially approached her sculptures playfully and spontaneously. Then there were "a thousand adjustments...but each one calculated to trap the quality that will be the expression of the sculptor...to leave enough unsaid."
Apprenticed in her father's woodworking factory in upstate New York, Teller proceeded to study at Rochester Institute of Technology and Columbia University, absorbing ideas from Carl Jung, Sigmund Freud, and eastern philosophy. In New York City, she met photographer Aaron Siskind, her lifelong friend and mentor, in an art class sponsored by the Works Progress Administration. During the 1940s, Siskind introduced her to abstract expressionist artists who inspired her, including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, and Franz Kline. Around the same time, Teller became acquainted with Lloyd (Bill) Ney and other members of Bucks County's artistic community, when she exhibited her work in New Hope. She and her husband, Walter Teller, a writer who co-founded the New Hope Gazette, bought a large farm near Plumsteadville in 1938 and later moved their family to Lahaska and Princeton. A stroke in 1984 left her partially paralyzed, but she continued to work, primarily on drawings, until her death in 1990. Her husband published Art, Age, and the River, a collection of her memoirs and essays, following her death.
Jane Teller. James A. Michener Art Museum archives.
Education and Training
Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York, c. 1925
Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, 1929
Summer tour of England and Scotland, impressed by Stonehenge and Durham Cathedral, 1930
B.A., Barnard College, New York, New York, 1933
Traveled to Mexico to study Pre-Columbian and Contemporary Mexican Art, and Nova Scotia, 1937
M.A., Columbia University, New York, New York, 1933
Met mentor Aaron Siskind in New York; started work on Theatre Workshop (a quarterly for which she became managing editor)
Works Progress Administration art classes, New York, New York, 1935
Studied welding with sculptor Ibram Lassaw, New York, New York, 1951
Teachers and Influences
Teller met photographer Aaron Siskind, lifelong friend and mentor, during the 1930s in a Works Progress Administration art class in New York City. In the 1940s, he introduced her to abstract expressionist artists who inspired her, such as Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, and Jackson Pollock. She also loved Brancusi and Giacometti and the work of mystical artists, such as Bosch, Moreau, Redon, and Toby.
Connection to Bucks County
Jane Simon Teller moved to Bucks County in 1938, when she and her husband, Walter Teller, bought an eighty-five acre farm near Plumsteadville. Walter, a writer, published Area Code 215, a memoir of Bucks County, and cofounded a local newspaper, The New Hope Gazette. In 1954, the Tellers and their four sons moved to Lahaska. They relocated to Princeton in 1964.
Jane found the old houses and barns of Bucks County, "with their massive hand-hewn timbers" and decaying frameworks, "a Stonehenge of oak," and natural sources of inspiration for her sculpture. She reveled in living close to "an old-fashioned country sawmill," where she could obtain a variety of wood (including oak, hickory, maple, and walnut) directly from the sawyer. Local examples of her sculpture are visible at Doylestown's Temple Judea, Princeton's Unitarian Church and the Michener Art Museum. In 1942, Jane designed and built equipment for a co-op nursery school that she opened in Doylestown and modeled after New York's Bank Street School. During the 1960s, she taught sculpture in Princeton and collaborated with Margaret Naumberg in developing methods for art therapy.
Colleagues and Affiliations
Jane Teller met Lloyd (Bill) Ney and other New Hope artists in 1949 when she exhibited at a show at Callanan Gallery in New Hope. She was a good friend of actress Margaret Mullen Root and Ilse Getz, a collage and 3-D design artist. Tom George, a fellow Princeton artist, was Jane's friend during the last twenty years of her life.
Major Solo Exhibitions
Parma Gallery, New York, New York, 1957
Princeton Gallery of Fine Art, Princeton, New Jersey, 1974, 1976
New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, New Jersey, 1976
Queens College Gallery, New York, New York, 1981
George School Gallery, Newtown, Pennsylvania, 1983
Douglass Library, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1984
A Retrospective, Schick Gallery, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York, 1986
A Retrospective, Montclair Art Museum, Montclair, New Jersey, 1987
Major Group Exhibitions
Phillips' Mill Community Association, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1954, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1955, 1962, 1965
Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York, 1959
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, New York, 1962
New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, New Jersey, 1965, 1977
Philadelphia Art Alliance, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1966
American Embassy, Tokyo, Japan, 1975
Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1981
Noyes Museum, Oceanville, New Jersey, 1983
New Jersey Masters exhibit, 1991
Ciba-Geigy Collection, New York, New York
Dresden Museum, Dresden, Germany
Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania,
New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, New Jersey
Newark Museum, Newark, New Jersey
Olsen Found, Stamford, Connecticut
Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
Prudential Life Insurance Company, New Jersey
Rockefeller University, New York, New York
Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, New York
Menorah and Eternal Light, Temple Judea, Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 1968
Wood Sculpture, Unitarian Church, Princeton, New Jersey, 1977
Sculpture for New Jersey State Council on the Arts
Teaching and Professional Appointments
Managing Editor, Theater Workshop (a New York quarterly journal), 1935
Founder of a co-op nursery school/kindergarten in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, 1942
Instructor of sculpture, Princeton Adult School, 1964
Art Therapist, 1964-1972
Phillips' Mill Sculpture Prize, 1954
National Academy of Design, Kellner Prize, 1960
Purchase Awards, New Jersey State Museum, 1972
Purchase Prizes, New Jersey State Museum, 1979
Affiliations and Memberships
American Art Therapy Association, charter member
New Jersey State Museum, honorary member
New York Sculptors Guild, member
Phillips' Mill Community Association, member