Survivor – July 06
By: Amy J. Born

Happy Little Accidents
According to Jayne Stanley, a series of happy little accidents led her to begin her career as a fiber artist. In college at Indiana University, she studied environmental science, telecommunications, and anthropology, then got a job designing and teaching an environmental science curriculum to troubled kids in California. One day, she met a woman who made beautiful pine needle baskets, and she was intrigued. Her grandmothers had been basket weavers, and she just knew that she could do it. (“It’s in the DNA,” she says.) She asked the woman to show her how, and after one brief lesson, Jayne discovered a new hobby and outlet for her creativity. She began weaving baskets with the long needles of California pine trees. The headmaster saw her work and offered her $300 for a basket.

“I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d make a living at this,” says Jayne. But, that first sale got her thinking. She soon discovered that there was a market for her talent. “No one does this work anymore. It’s too time consuming,” she explains. She made and sold baskets, but the process was time consuming for her as well and in order to be profitable, she had to price her work too high for most people.

Jayne had a gourd sitting on her desk that she’d picked up at a farmer’s market because she liked the shape. It triggered an idea. She wondered: if she cut the top off and drilled some holes, could she weave a decorative top, using the gourd to form the basket? She tried it. It worked. She made 12 gourds and took them to a
show. They sold in 45 minutes. Jayne called her new creation a Gourdsket® – part gourd, part coiled basket.

Jayne has worked as a fiber artist, designing, making and selling her Gourdsket® Vessels for 21 years, which allowed her to be a work-from-home mom. Her family was able to travel to art shows all over the country with her. Her daughters, now 19 and 10, created and sold their own artwork. She says she could live anywhere UPS could reach her, and she chose Evergreen. She and her husband built a beautiful mountain home with studio space downstairs.

At the Indian Market in Denver, she met Amado Peña, acclaimed Native American artist from Santa Fe, and his wife, J.B. They admired her work so much that they agreed to carry it in their galleries. Eventually, they began doing collaborative pieces. (Peña paints his signature designs directly on the gourds, creating distinctive and valuable works of art.) Jayne also became involved with their foundation, Art Has Heart, which aids the advancement of learning, through scholarships to low- and moderate-income students and grants to schools.

Jayne weaves many aspects of herself into her art. Certainly her talent and creativity, but also her love and deep respect for the natural world, and an appreciation of her diverse cultural heritage that links regions of North America, South America and the Mediterranean. She lived a life many people only dream of, one rooted in a passion that comes from her soul.

Then, in 2002, everything changed with an accident that was neither happy nor little. She and her younger daughter, Madison, were stopped at the traffic light at Lewis Ridge Road in Evergreen. They were several cars back and Jayne was leaning forward looking in the side view mirror to see if she could change lanes. A drunk driver, going at an estimated speed of 25-40 mph, plowed into the back of their car. There were no skid marks. The impact left Madison physically uninjured, but severely traumatized. Jayne, however, suffered an injury to her spine and neck that required a procedure called spinal fusion. The damaged disk is scraped out, a cadaver bone inserted, and two vertebrae are fused together and held in place with screws and a metal plate. She no longer has the rotation, mobility, or flexibility she once had. She is in pain every day. She says she’s learned to live with seeing which part screams the loudest.

The life she knew before is over. She is no longer able make a living as an artist in the same way, because the physical demands of creating and showing the work are too great. She also has had to give up many of the recreational activities she enjoys, including things she routinely did with her kids, like jump on the trampoline or go on rides at Elitch’s. “When you are a creative soul and a doctor looks you in the eye and says you can’t be an artist, it’s devastating,” Jayne says. On top of that, she divorced two years ago. Suddenly she was a single mom with no means of making a living. She would no longer be able to work from home.

Despite her college degrees, she didn’t feel confident enough to get a full-time job. She knew she would have to go back to school, but was unsure where she would find the resources and time. She landed a part-time job as marketing director for Preservahouse in Evergreen. “It was close to home and a good step toward returning to work,” she says.

Jayne was overwhelmed with pain, agony, misery, and insurance hassles. Her situation became so complicated and stressful that she had to hire an attorney to help her through it. “I knew I needed to find a new way to survive, to reinvent my entire existence,” she says. Years earlier she had done some voiceover work and had a secret passion for broadcasting. This seemed like the perfect time to pursue it. She knew she needed to go back to school to get up-to-date on new technology, but a traditional four-year degree program was impractical. Her attorney told her that, through her own insurance, she had access to money for vocational rehabilitation. “I was elated,” she says. “I was going to be able to afford my house and school, and care for my daughters.”

She found the Ohio Center for Broadcasting in Lakewood, which offers an accelerated nine-month program. She began classes in November. In addition to learning all aspects of broadcasting for both radio and television within the classroom, she has had two exciting internships. The first was at KBDI-Channel 12, a local PBS
station. While she worked there, she pitched the idea of a program about Amado Peña and his foundation. Her idea was accepted and, she says, turned into a full-blown PBS documentary. She has teamed with partner Brad Wicks to form an independent film company, Spirit Works Productions, to develop the film. They are currently securing funding and production will start within four months. Jayne is pleased to pay her respects to Peña in this way, and to support a worthy cause. “The documentary will continue to provide funds for these kids for years to come,” she says.

Jayne loved working in television because she could use many different aspects of her creative ability, but her real interest is radio. In radio, she explains, you have the added challenge of creating images with words. Following her stint at KBDI, she was fortunate enough to get an internship as a production assistant at KJCD 104.3 Smooth Jazz. She works with Billboard award-winning disc jockey Kenny Cortes three days a week. He’s teaching her a lot about radio and she hopes to get a job at the station when she graduates in August.

She wants people to learn one important thing from her story: Before you make the choice to drive after drinking, think about those you are jeopardizing. “It is difficult to give up everything I worked so hard to achieve,” she admits. Soon she will even have to give up her dream home in the mountains because it is too hard for her to maintain on her own. But when she looks at the big picture of her life these days she can say that things turned out okay. She’s gotten great support from her family, friends, and from a community of artists who support her through collaborative pieces, including Pena, Pablo Milan and Evergreen artist Doug Fountain. “I believe when you get on the right path, the universe gets behind you and pushes you,” she says. (Oddly, she notes that at the same time she’s transitioned from artist to broadcaster, the trees in California that provided her with pine needles have been succumbing to beetle kill.)

Jayne continues to make Gourdsket® Vessels on a limited basis. She no longer does shows unless she has help. This year she will only be at the Big Chili Cookoff in Evergreen, in September, to show support for the firefighters for all they do. She does take individual orders and can be reached at 303-404-0930.

By: Anne Hopper Vickstrom

Jayne Stanley – Artist/Collision
On a beautiful November day in 2002, while stopped at the light on Highway 74 at Lewis Ridge Road, artist Jayne Stanley turned to her six-year-old daughter in the backseat and handed her a piece of fruit.
Simultaneously, after finishing yet another drink, he had decided to climb behind the wheel of his car and was hauling toward her. The combination of actions ended horrifically. The drunk driver slammed into the back of her vehicle displacing Stanley, her child, her automobile and in the end, her carefully constructed life.

Four years later she faces with determination a new life that has been forced upon her due to the injuries sustained in the crime. Crime, not accident, “because he was drunk,” she explains.

Before that fateful day Jayne Stanley’s life was very different than it is today.

She has been described as the “top pine needle artist in the country.” Respected as the innovative creator of gourd/basket art, the technique of weaving pine needle baskets to the top of cut gourds, Stanley has been featured in a number of national art magazines and books, recognized nationally and internationally and has been award winning talent for over 500 events. She holds the trademark and copyright ownership of her company Gourdsket® Vessel Company, Inc. She managed 15 employees over twenty years and created innovative marketing materials. Stanley is also a published writer and producer, and has worked as on-camera and voice talent for educational radio and television broadcasts.

That’s not all, despite the challenges of being a single parent, Stanley earned enough funds through her art as well as real estate investing to purchase thirteen acres of pristine land and act as contractor on her log home. “I was living where I wanted to be and I was doing what I loved to do.”

She balanced her busy life of artists, businesswoman, teacher, and guest speaker with the responsibilities of running a household and the joys of parenting. “I loved volunteering at the school, and being an active part of my daughters’ lives. We would ski, hike, jump on the trampoline, go to amusement parks together; I was the fun mom,” she said with a bittersweet smile.

Last season, after four long years, her doctor allowed her to ski. “I love to ski. I used to go up to the most challenging runs with my oldest daughter and we’d go for it. When I went out this year, I was so scared. I have to be so cautious, but I just went to see if I could feel freedom again. I have to be really careful because my spine has been compromised.”

Her injuries from the collision became obvious when her oldest daughter walked into the room. Stanley balled her fists and stiffened her arms then placed them on either side of her. With these make-shift crutches, she raised herself enough to rotate her entire body, in order to turn and speak to her daughter. Even the simple act of turning her head to greet her daughter had been snatched from her by another’s decision to drink and drive.

“Fortunately,” she smiled, “I had my daughter properly strapped in her car seat in the back seat. So, when he hit us, she came forward and hit the back of the passenger seat. She was definitely traumatized, and was sore for several days, but she survived the accident. The other fortunate thing was that the light turned green just a split second before he hit us, so the cars in front of us had begun to move away from the impact. My car was shoved forward. If the others were still stopped, even more people could have been injured.”

Sadly, it was Jayne’s misfortune that just seconds before impact she glanced over her left shoulder to check if it was safe to move to the left lane. “Because I was in a twisted position, my entire spine and neck took the full impact of the crash.” She explained that a State Patrolman demonstrated to her what happens in a crash like hers, with impact of his car moving as fast as an estimated 45 mph. “He told me that you actually are thrown back, forward and back again; all the time I was still in this twisted position, just getting my body thrown around.” Jayne’s neck and back were injured.

The crash “caused a disc to dislodge and deteriorate. I ended up having to have a spinal fusion. Basically,” she explained, “I had two vertebrae resting directly on each other. They had to scrape out the damaged disc and insert a cadaver bone and then fuse the vertebrae together. I have a metal plate and four screws in my neck now.” After nearly three year after the surgery she still experiences pain.

She spent a year going through “chiropractic, acupuncture, physical therapy everything…” in hopes of regaining her ability to function normally. “I continued to lose feeling in my arms, legs and hands.” Such an injury would be devastating to anyone, but in Jayne’s case, it meant the end of the life she had created for herself and her daughters, a life that was dependent on her physical ability to create her art.

She has been creating woven pine needle baskets since 1985. At first I gave the baskets to friends and family as gifts. Then one day I was offered $300 for a basket. I realized then that I really had something.”

It was a visit to a Farmers’ Market seven years later that Stanley picked up a gourd and her inspiration was born. “I bought the gourd because I was attracted to it. I started doodling on the gourd, just drawing different designs,” she recalled. “Then I began to wonder if I cut off the top, could I attach a pine needle basket to it.”

Her injuries prevent her from producing her former rate of up to 120 Gourdsket® pieces per month. “I just can’t do the work anymore; it takes me so much longer to complete a basket, and the pain in my body can be overwhelming. My doctor said to limit my art to one to two hours per day. I’ll do a little work, and then have to put it down for a while. Now, all I can manage is trying to keep a few galleries supplied.”

Stanley lost other aspects of her company as well. Website orders that increased each year have had to be halted. All of the employees had to be let go. She can no longer teach classes that were in demand across the country, and the only festival she still plans to attend is the Big Chili Cook-Off. “I do that one only because I want to support the local fire fighters. Plus,” she added with a smile, “they help me set-up and pack up at the end of the day. I’m not supposed to pick up more than ten pounds anymore; without their help I wouldn’t be able to be there either.”

A hard decision was made with the advice of her lawyer; Stanley decided to settle out of court. The settlement won’t completely cover her lost wages and medical expenses, not to mention the pain and suffering she endures, or her inability to create art, attack the slopes, jump on the trampoline and just be ‘the fun mom,’ as she loves. Due to the loss of income she also is facing the need to sell her dream house, the house she built herself. And yet, Jayne is not a bitter woman; quite the opposite.

“I realize how lucky I am. When I think about it, I’m alive, my daughter is alive and neither of us is paralyzed.” She understands what drunk driving can do. “I lost an 18 year-old cousin to a drunk driver.”

She is a woman that looks ahead with optimism and grace. With vocational rehabilitation funds from insurance, she returned to school, where she earned an undergraduate minor in telecommunications and enrolled in the Ohio Center for Broadcasting that offers a ten-month intensive study in radio and television broadcast. “It’s been great, but hell.”

She is the first from the program to secure an internship at Denver Jazz radio station KJCD where “I’m working hard at learning everything about voice talent in the radio business. This job allows me to be creative while not using my body. Now my voice will be my business.”

Stanley demonstrates her strength through the entire ordeal. “I wish it had never happened, but it has catapulted me into re-inventing myself. I’ve discovered that I am surrounded by great family and friends. The ones that really know me identified themselves clearly. My parents and my daughters have each been fantastic, and artist friends have shown they are true friends.”

Through it all, Stanley lives as the banner that hangs above her desk reads: “Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much.”

Despite the challenges she continues to create her art in precious limited numbers. She welcomes those interested in her work to visit her studio by appointment.