Ahwahnee resident Jannai Pero received her BA in art at Long Beach State in 1973. After graduating, she taught ceramics, drawing, and jewelry casting in North Lake Tahoe for the Tahoe City Recreation Department.
Pero has always loved art, and taught art in private Christian schools in Los Gatos and San Jose where her children were attending, as well as additional classes from preschool to adult.
Over the years, she has also taught music, physical education, and children’s choir in Christian and public schools. She wrote a grant to teach music in nine Bay Area public schools, and was hired by DeAnza College in the Bay Area to teach exercise and art to seniors in nine senior homes.
She always dreamed of going back to school for her Masters, but marriage and raising four children became a higher priority over the next 40 years.
But that Masters degree was still in the back of her mind. It was when Pero moved to Ahwahnee in June, 2001, that her neighbor, sculptor Norma Rogers (owner of Mountain Comforts), told Pero about the ‘60 Plus’ program at California State University, Fresno - a program which allows anyone 60 years-old or older to work towards a degree for the modest fee of $5 per semester. Rogers got her Masters in sculpture in her 70s, and is still actively sculpting and running her business today in her mid-80s.
“Norma became by mentor, giving advice, sharing sculptor tools and materials, and most of all encouraging me that I could do it,” Pero said.
It wasn’t till 2007 that Pero registered for a few sculpture classes at Fresno City College to see if she was still interested enough to pursue her Masters.
“I was hooked when I took my first class with Ahwahnee artist, Kris Kessey, who now teaches at Fresno State.” Pero said. “She was so inspiring.”
With her 60th birthday around the corner, and her youngest child, YHS graduate Mark Pero, heading off to college, she knew the time was right to start on her Masters.
Another four years passed before Pero registered for classes at CSUF through the “60 plus” program, diving head first into the art curriculum taking computer art, ceramics, foundry, and art history. After one year of commuting, she signed up for ‘independent study’ and started thinking of ways she could work from home on sculpture without requiring the use of kilns, foundry and other equipment at Fresno State.
Inspired by Mountain Area artists
The Mountain Area’s annual Sierra Art Trails event is where she first saw a large variety of art - the figurative sculptures of Norma Rogers and Jean Preston, metal sculpture by Chris Sorenson, paper mache figures by artist Phyllis McAdams, paper crete from Lorna Pollock, fabric art by neighbor Jacqueline Kurtt, and plexiglass creations by Toby Raetze.
“These wonderful artists have been a great inspiration to me, along with many area painters, especially window artist Charlene Rice and her ‘Worship Through Art’ creations, many of which are on my walls at home,” Pero explained.
Pero said it often felt like an uphill battle going back to school after more than 40 years - getting transcripts, applications, testing and commuting to Fresno - but her desire was strong enough to see it through.
As a health food teacher and chef, who loves to create in her kitchen, and also an avid lover of ‘repurposing’ (making use of everything), Pero started placing old copies of the Sierra Star in her blender and experimenting with all kinds of recipes for ‘paper clay’ and homemade ‘glues’ for paper mache.
Some sculptures and bases were formed from everyday trash, bottles, cans, plastic, styrofoam, metal scraps, rusty wire, and weathered wood, along with duct tape, glue, flour, water and paper to stick most everything together.
She found many online resources like ‘the Ultimate Paper Mache’ that had recipes for all kinds of homemade glues, and realized paper mache and paper clay were being used by professional artists at a whole new level since she was in grade school.
When her work ‘outgrew’ her kitchen, and her husband John realized she was serious about finishing her Masters, he had Madera Carports put up a 16 X 40 metal art studio next to the garage, with the finish work by friend and neighbor Glenn Harmelin. Now she could move her work from the house to the studio, allowing her to create larger pieces.
In her studio, she uses a drill with a paddle attachment to mix large quantities of homemade paper clay and paper crete in buckets.
While making her paper mache objects, she enjoyed rereading old issues of the Sierra Star, before dipping them in her homemade paste, and smoothing them on the chicken wire and cardboard armatures. Some of the newspapers were 15-years-old, saved since her family moved to the area.
“I felt I was adding history and the life of the community into the pieces as well,” Pero said.
Goal is to express spiritual journey
“It’s such a feeling of accomplishment to finish all the work for my Masters,” Pero said while working on a new piece in her studio. “My goal is to express my spiritual journey and faith in Jesus Christ through my art, and to give hope to others. That is the goal and passion that fueled my persistence.”
Pero said when she started, she really didn’t know what she was going to create, but knew she wanted to do something that would give glory to God.
Two of her most impressive pieces are more than seven feet tall, and took Pero more than seven months each, to create.
“Bearing Fruit” is a tree built with actual branches and wire, bound together with duct tape, and covered with paper mache. Pero said the piece illustrates two of her favorite Scriptures and the theme of her show. Psalm 1 says, “... as we delight in, and meditate on, God’s Word, we become like a tree which bears fruit.”
In its season, and we reap blessings. Those blessings are illustrated by the nine ‘fruits of the Spirit’ in Galatians 5:22,23: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.
“Grace” depicts a woman worshiping, grateful for her salvation. Her name is a reminder of Ephesians 2:8, the very reason Pero created her show: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.”
Pero quotes from Linda Newton in a recent Sierra Star article about the ‘Big Dreams’ Soroptimist Workshop for high school girls.
“Make a decision to pursue your goals and let your passion fuel your persistence, no matter what obstacles come your way,” Pero advised.