Jane Ellen Glasser’s Faces in the Ficus
Jane Ellen Glasser recently moved to Lighthouse Point and is in love with our city. She is a poet and artist who grew up in Greenwich Village, N.Y., studied at the Art Students League of New York, Sweet Briar College, and Oscar Kokoschka’s School of Vision in Salzburg, Austria.
Glasser’s poetry books include, “Naming the Darkness,”
“Light Persists” (winner of the Tampa Review Prize for
Poetry), “On the Corner of Yesterday,” and her prizewinning
chapbook, “The Long Life,” which is due to be
released by Poetica Publishing Company in the winter
Fairly recently, Glasser has moved into a new art form,
finding fascinating faces and figures in the beautifully
tangled roots of the ficus tree. She refers to creatures that
she finds lying within the tightly woven limbs and roots as
As a member of the Fort Lauderdale Writers’ Group for
two years, her poetry readings have left most listeners
completely awestruck. Not only is Glasser’s poetry in a
class by itself, but when she reads her works, each spoken
passage can be easily compared to the feeling one gets
when listening to the magic of a Chopin waltz.
On this new journey with color pencils, Glasser takes
us visually to places never before seen, just has she’s done
with her pen, and with a special voice that weaves her
words into unforgettable tapestries.
As a new resident of Lighthouse Point, we thought it
appropriate to introduce Jane Ellen Glasser to you in this
way. We are proud to have her as a member of our
Q: How did you first become fascinated with the ficus tree?
Glasser: My love affair with banyans, a fig tree of the
genus Ficus, started last March on a visit to Pinecrest
Gardens, “the crown jewel of the village’s park system.”
Boca Raton’s Town Hall parking lot features magnificent
specimens where, in the ’30s and ’40s, folks gathered to
discuss news and avoid the heat. On my daily walks, I
soon realized that fig trees, partcularly strangler figs, are
ubiquitous in south Florida. A beauty that I have often
photographed graces a home on Lighthouse Point Drive
and 42nd Street, two blocks from my residence.
Q: What inspired you to create the Root People drawings?
Glasser: When I moved to Florida two years ago, one
of my early purchases was the field guide “The Trees of
Florida.” I had left maples, dogwoods, magnolias and
sycamores behind and became fascinated with the rich
variety of palms, and fig trees, especially the strangler fig
and banyan with their aerial roots and long beards. Since childhood, I have delighted in discovering images in the commonplace, creatures in cloud shapes, demons in the shadows on night’s walls, faces in the whorls of my home’s redwood ceilings. So it was no surprise when an entire colony of people showed up in the roots of ficus trees. Q: How do you go about the creative process when using color pencils? Glasser: Discovery has always been central to the creative process for me. Whether I’m working in art or poetry, I never start with a fixed notion of how the finished product will look. As Robert Frost wisely admonishes, if you know where you are going to end up, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” With The Root People drawings, I began by letting my eyes explore an enlarged photograph I had taken of part of a tree. Using charcoal and Prismacolor colored pencils, I’d fill in what my imagination would find implicit in the tangle of roots. Image by image, torsos, arms, legs, hearts, animals appeared. Sometimes my hand reached for bright colors—violet blue, Spanish orange, mulberry, crimson red, blazing yellow. Two of the works wanted little more than charcoal and white. I tried to remain open, letting the unconscious have a say in what the eye would see. Q: A snake, fish, giraffe, cat, and other more fabulous creatures may appear in your drawings. What do they represent? Glasser: Ficus trees traditionally were like outdoor town halls, nature’s gathering places, so I was not surprised to discover animals living inside the roots. Besides, dangling roots readily suggest snakes and what better place for a bird to nest? I did wonder, nonetheless, how a giraffe from an African wooded savannah made its way to Florida. Q: Why do nude figures appear so prominently in your drawings? Glasser:Would you really expect people to be wearing dresses and suits in the Garden, man’s original state? It seemed to me they’d be as naked as rabbits, birds, snakes, and the rest of nature. I have always been drawn to the human figure. One summer years ago, in a castle on top of a small mountain in the heart of old Salzburg, Austria, every 15 minutes a nude model would shift position for me and the other art students attending Oskar Kokoschka’s “School of Vision” to capture her anew. With ficus trees, aerial roots that later become tree limbs actually resemble human limbs, torsos with long legs reaching to take hold of earth. Q: Several of the drawings seem to evoke holocaustimages. Was this a conscious decision? Glasser: No, but viewers have had that association, particularly with the two black, gray and white drawings that depict lines of seated or standing nude figures, their faces grimacing or downcast. As a Jew, however, holocaust imagery is imprinted on my heart and my brain, frequently popping up, unannounced. Q: How did you arrange your last exhibit at the Goddess Store & Studio in Hollywood? Glasser: Anastasia Clark, Broward County Poet-in-Residence since 2009, was instrumental. An award-winning poet, she is a cultural treasure, promoting poetry readings and workshops in South Florida. Supportive of both my poetry and art, this past fall she suggested I show The Root People at The Goddess Store & Studio. Carmen Garson, owner, hosts a Poetry and Open Word Circle and promotes the work of a different artist each month during Hollywood Art Walk. I am indebted to her for the opportunity to share my work. Q: Does the cultural climate in South Florida meet with your satisfaction? Glasser: The best thing to happen to me since I moved to Florida was finding a community of writers in the Fort Lauderdale Writers’ Group. Jon Frangipane and Wendell Abern head the eclectic gathering at our bi-monthly workshops. Having a supportive audience to critique new work is more than a gift, it’s a necessity. Q: Why have you selected Lighthouse Point as your permanent home? Glasser: Unlike the stereotypical Jew who, after retirement, falls south to Florida to play golf and soak in the sun, I was lured here by grandchildren. When my daughter Hara gave birth to a third, I started packing up. The moment she and my son-in-law Steve found their dream home on Lighthouse Point Drive, I began looking at real estate, nearby. I moved here in May and couldn’t be more pleased. My needs typically are met within walking distance of my condo—grocery store, an excellent library, yoga classes. The residents take pride in maintaining their properties; it is a safe and scenic place to explore on foot. Q: Is there another new exciting project in the near future? Glasser: Creative people are at the mercy of the muse. I never know what image, dredged from experience, memory or dreams, will ignite a poem or inspire a drawing. Recently, I woke at 4:00 am when lines about my deceased younger daughter began typing themselves in my brain. I raced to the computer. I have enough new work to begin shaping a manuscript for another substantial poetry collection. My prize-winning chapbook, “The Long Life,” is due out from Poetica Publishing Company in a few weeks. I’m hoping to find a national and local audience for these poems.