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Jane Rhett, the ‘Bag Hag’ maker

Article by Marcia Darnell

Local Artists – May 2008 – Colorado Central Magazine

AT 61, Jane Rhett is on the sunny side of life. She and her husband, Jim, are retired, her children are grown, and she has a comfortable home in Monte Vista, equipped with two dogs. But instead of kicking back, she has chosen to focus her energies and talent on not only creating art, but on promoting art for her community.

Rhett grew into her art career gradually, during a peripatetic life. She says she wasn’t a born natural.

“My sister’s the artist,” she says. “It comes very easily to her.”

Their father was a career military man.

One of Jane Rhett's 'Bag Hags' -- beaded dolls that serve as necklaces and storage. The head tilts back to open the bag.
One of Jane Rhett's 'Bag Hags' -- beaded dolls that serve as necklaces and storage. The head tilts back to open the bag.

“I’m an Army brat,” she says. Her family lived all over the U.S., including the East coast, the West coast, or, as she puts it, “the four corners of the country.”

Her family drove from the Atlantic to the Pacific to put her father on board a ship for Korea during that war. Fortunately, he sailed the day the armistice was signed and the family met him later in Japan, where they spent a year.

“It was the best assignment we ever had,” she says. “We had a house on the ocean, living with the Japanese.”

She also lived in Germany for three years. “That was an interesting time, with the Wall going up and nightly alerts,” she remembers.

She went to high school for one year in Germany, two years in Coronado, Calif., and graduated in Connecticut. Rhett attended the University of South Carolina, graduating with a B.A. in anthropology. While in school, she worked at a state archaeological institute, doing lab work and research.

After graduation she married and had two daughters. While doing the Mommy thing, she took classes in drawing, painting, and weaving.

“I really liked drawing,” she says. She also had a loom and spinning wheel.

She and her family then moved to Utah, where she focused on raising her children. When the Rhetts moved to Craig, she had more time for painting and joined an art group. Then they moved to Louisville, outside Boulder.

“The girls were in school and I didn’t have anything else to do,” she jokes.

Rhett volunteered at her daughters’ school and eventually was hired as a teacher’s aide doing art projects in the classroom.

'Over the Rainbow,' one of the bag hags Jane Rhett kept.
'Over the Rainbow,' one of the bag hags Jane Rhett kept.

“The teachers there made school fun,” she remembers. “This was before the big focus on testing.”

On her own time, she started knitting beaded bags. When she and her husband moved to Monte Vista in 2002, she created the “bag hags” and hooked up with other artists in the San Luis Valley. She quickly learned that there were many, many creative people in the Valley.

“Boy, was I surprised,” she says. “I thought the Valley was just potato farmers!”

She met a few other artists while selling her bag hags at a Christmas festival, and those contacts led to the creation of The Art Thing (featured in Colorado Central, December 2007).

“The Art Thing has influenced everything,” she says, “my art, personal friendships, and the way I look at the Valley.”

Before, Rhett had only shown her work at a couple of small art shows or to some individuals.

“The Art Thing is all about shows,” she says. “The critiques are a big help, too.” The group has helped her branch out into writing for art niche magazines.

“I don’t think this would have been possible if I hadn’t come here,” she says. “It wouldn’t have progressed past the bags.”

Those bags are a combination of art and practicality. Each “hag” is a beaded bag with storage space. Worn around the neck or carried like a purse, a user can tilt the “hag’s” head back to reveal the catch for the bag. It’s wearable art, or a fashion accessory that can be displayed on a shelf. She also gives them names. “Irma,” “Luz” and “Over the Rainbow” each have a permanent place in her home.

Rhett also creates flat pieces, more traditional art that can be hung on a wall or in a window to catch the sun’s rays. These specialty pieces usually represent animals like fish, birds, or butterflies.

She combined artwork with a personal research project and created a beaded genealogy chart. It resembles a colorful mandala, and sometimes Rhett seats one of the hags in the center to create a three-dimensional work of art.

Besides art work and running a home, Rhett serves on the board of directors of the Monte Vista Chamber of Commerce, catalogues artifacts for the museum at Homelake, and is constructing a comprehensive list of the artists in the San Luis Valley.

She’s also working with a new group, the Monte Arts Council (MAC), organizing fundraisers and trying to get a 501(c)3 designation.

“With that, MAC will be able to get grants and raise tax-deductible monies,” she says.

MAC will sponsor artists, and bring artists to the Valley for instruction and retreats. The group is planning a membership drive, a juried art show, and a street fair this June. It’s also planning a multicultural event, the Spanish Trail Music Festival.

Jane Rhett with one of her beadwork pieces, 'My kind of fish.'
Jane Rhett with one of her beadwork pieces, 'My kind of fish.'

A fundraiser in February was deemed a success. “It was very good,” Rhett says. “We had an art show and some very, very nice pieces. We got a few more members for MAC. The live music was good, and the food was good. It lasted until past the gallery’s closing time.”

Designed to raise awareness of MAC’s existence, the event garnered three new memberships on the spot, and several people took applications home.

It looks as if Rhett will have even more to manage in the future of her very active, creative retirement. She’s happy about it.

“This is a very nurturing place,” Rhett says. “I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

For more information on MAC, check out For info on The Art Thing and on Rhett’s work, contact or call Rhett at 719-852-5210.

Marcia Darnell lives, writes, and enjoys the company of artists in the San Luis Valley.