Sometimes with intent, sometimes not, artists become known for a certain style, a certain subject, even a certain color. Artist Janis Sanders has been part of Maine Art Hill for many years, and as those years pass he has become recognized for his skies, most especially his big, blue skies.
Yes, the skies represent the clear, clean, open air of New England, but for Sanders, they mean even more.
“We all are children of nature and nurture, I’m no exception. My background is Latvian. My parents emigrated to the United States through Ellis Island after WWII from a Displaced Person Camp in Germany, under the Displaced Persons Act of 1948,” shares Sanders.
After a week-long ride on an American freighter across a stormy Atlantic in November, Sanders’s parents each arrived with two suitcases, one hand each hand, and a couple of dollars. All offered by the US government. A sponsor awaited in New York City, guaranteeing a job and housing for the family.
“My father took a job working construction. He traveled by train and worked fifteen hour days. After six months it was enough. He and my mother found a new sponsor in Syracuse, NY, and Dad landed a job in a steel mill,” explains Sanders. “Dad was always driven to get ahead and improve his circumstances, however, and with post-war construction booming everywhere he saw an opportunity. Chapman Lumber was building houses by the dozen, and my father took a job as a house painter.”
Sanders’s father excelled in the quality of his work and work ethic, and it wasn’t long before word got out.
“At first he started with side jobs, mostly nights. He went on the have his own very successful high-end home painting business,” says Sanders with pride. “Mom also worked full time most of those years.”
The Latvian community was tight-knit and remains so to this day. Even newly-formed bonds were tight, the community stuck together.
“Saturdays for the kids were devoted to Latvian School at the church, full-fledged with homework and everything,” Sanders says with a smile. “Loyalty to each other and the Latvian culture were paramount as people assimilated and settled in.”
Everyone’s English was poor at the start. Sanders’s grandmother never learned, mainly due to the fact that she stayed home and took care of the family. Sanders himself had no English at all when he entered school. Yet with time and persistence, many in his community not only learned to speak the language but proudly earned their American citizenship.
So where do the big blue skies come in?
“One dominant theme growing up was a tremendous, mainly unspoken, sense of bonding and loyalty,” says Sanders. “My blue skies are not just a pretty thing, but for me, come from the need for a place to escape and also soar. I take pleasure in common, small, everyday things: what I paint, what I say, what I think, what I feel, who I am.”
“I am thankful each day for even the smallest of things. Especially the big blue sky,” says Sanders. “I am so lucky to engage in this incredible endeavor.”
To see more of Sanders’s work visit Maine Art Hill in Kennebunk. Open every day at 10 am. Call 207-967-0049 or www.maine-art.com