Writer Joseph J. Airdo // Photography Courtesy of Jane Word

About 25 years ago, while artist Jane Word was casually walking through Canadian luxury department store Holt Renfrew, a woman stopped her to ask where she has gotten the gorgeous handbag she was holding.

When Word replied that she had made it herself, the woman introduced herself as the head buyer for Holt Renfrew and asked if she would be interested in making purses to accompany the store’s designer lines.

Word had never considered going public with her art but accepted the serendipitous opportunity and ended up having the time of her life.

“Each season, I would look at the upcoming designs and swatches then design and make handbags to go with Stella McCartney and other designers’ lines of clothing,” Word says.

Around the same time, Word was invited to participate in the Toronto Symphony home tour, which led her to an opportunity to work with Helen Barber — the grande dame of interior design in Toronto.

“I absolutely loved working with her,” says Word says. “She owned Barber Lyons Interior Design and her clientele list included Hollywood types and others of taste and means. She was in her mid-70s and was battling colon cancer, but was always a force with which to be reckoned. I absolutely loved the woman.”

After 13 years in Toronto — and a brief segment in an HGTV show during which the reserved artist discovered that she was prone to stage fright — Word moved to Chicago, where serendipity struck her for a second time as a chance encounter at 900 Michigan Avenue led her to an opportunity to make handbags for a high-end boutique.

Later moving to Folly Beach, South Carolina, Word found herself challenged to fit in among a world of seersucker suits, bowties and embroidered corduroy with little palm trees.

However, unwilling to wait for serendipity to strike for a third time, she made her own luck, approaching the owners of a new gallery in nearby Bluffton on the day after its grand opening and convincing them to carry her oyster dinnerware sets, jewelry and purses with fish, octopuses and other sea creatures on them.

“In May 2019, my husband and I came to Arizona to visit friends in Paradise Valley,” Word says. “I fell in love with the weather, the vast variety of flowers, the mountains and the cactuses. I have a degree in zoology and was also fascinated by all of the critters here — the javelinas, the tarantulas, the quail with their quirky feathers, the roadrunners and the lizards.”

Immediately inspired, Word convinced her husband to move to Arizona and she began creating art that reflected the remarkable beauty of the desert and everything that inhabits it. Her creations — which include eye-catching pillows adorned with hand-sculpted local flora and fauna — are now exhibited and sold locally at Sue Bickerdyke Interiors Home Furnishings and Art Gallery in Carefree.

“I have no formal training in art,” Word admits. “I sculpt based on my anatomy and physiology classes from college and my love of animals. I sculpt each animal out of leather or fur; using only old, repurposed coats. Their eyes are hand-painted glass, which helps to give them their personality.”

Word’s latest offerings include pillows created from warm brown leather, to which the artist adds layers of dye and paints to achieve the appearance of aged copper patina, complementary to Trevor Swanson’s collection of oil-on-metal paintings that are also exhibited and sold at the professional interior design studio and home furnishing boutique. Owner Sue Bickerdyke says that she is exceptionally pleased to carry Words work.

“Her leather sculpted pillows are over-the-top fabulous,” Bickerdyke adds. “Each one is as unique and creative as the next. But her roadrunner riding a javelina is a whimsical surprise!”