Jelly Bean Angels Dance with the hummingbirds

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 2, 2010

Jelly Bean Angels dancing with hummingbirds.

Imagine the happy feelings such a sighting would conjure in the heart of man.

Of course, there are no real Jelly Bean Angels to dance with the hummingbirds. And, maybe, the reason is that, together, one might diminish the beauty and wonder of the other. So, Jelly Bean Angels must exist only in art and in the heart of man.

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Troy artist Duane Paxson is the creator of the Jelly Bean Angels with hearts as colorful as the crayons in a child’s “coloring box.”

Paxson is widely known and recognized for his multi-media, three-dimensional sculpture, which can be both abstract and impressionist. And, his Jelly Bean Angels didn’t always have colorful hearts. They began as three-dimensional winged, wood sculptures for the federal courthouse in Montgomery. The sculptures were abstract figure forms that were representative of the creation of Adam and Eve. Or perhaps, if one so desired, the figures could be embroiled in a cosmic battle of the universe or maybe representative of the division of dark and light or even the struggle between the angels and the devil.

Art is like that, Paxson said. “It means one thing to one person and something else to another so it is very personal.”

And, to the artist, the art can be an ever-changing work. Can be.

When Paxson was invited to be one of 41 Alabama artists in the “Celebrating Contemporary Art in Alabama: The Nature of Being Southern” art exhibition at the Johnson Center for the Arts in Troy in the fall of 2009, he chose to exhibit his winged figures but on a much larger scale than the ones at the federal courthouse.

And, what if he gave them hearts? Colorful hearts? Jelly Bean hearts?

With hearts as bright and colorful as jelly beans, the sculptures became playful, happy figures that danced their way across empty spaces causing the spaces to become “alive.”

“We were so delighted with Duane’s Jelly Bean Angels that we hung them across the top of two walls of the upper gallery,” said Richard Metzger, executive director of the Johnson Center for the Arts.

The Jelly Bean Angels added color to the gallery and created a sense of movement as they winged their way around the room.

“The Jelly Bean Angels are whimsical, colorful and fun,” Metzger said. “They are three dimensional and they play off each other. They were a wonderful addition to the Everything Southern exhibition. Everyone enjoyed them. And almost everybody who visited the exhibition commented on the Jelly Bean Angels. The children were especially fascinated by them. They were very popular.”

So popular, in fact, that Metzger asked Paxson to leave the Jelly Bean Angels as part of the Christmas Tree Extravaganza exhibit during the month of December.

“The colorful hearts were such a good fit with the colorful Christmas trees and the lights,” he said. “They were a nice addition to the Christmas trees.”

Paxson had planned to bring the angels back to earth after the Christmas season but Metzger has other plans.

“We want Duane to leave the Jelly Bean Angels on exhibit through April,” he said. “We want them on exhibit during Troy Fest because of the large number of people that will be here. The Jelly Bean Angels will be an attraction for all ages.”

But there’s more to the Jelly Bean Angels than visual pleasure and enjoyment. They are also story seeds.

“When you look at the angels, they inspire stories,” Paxson said. “At least, they did in me and I think young people can look at the Jelly Bean Angels and find their own stories in them.”

Paxson’s story of the Jelly Bean Angels is a fairy tale or fable. He wrote the story and it has been interestingly illustrated for both children and adults.

The story begins: Dancing with hummingbirds on streams of air as lightning strikes against the dark night sky. Down from the high clouds to the open fields and dense woods the Jelly Bean Angels come to earth to play with their friends, the lightning bugs. As they play, their hearts of rainbow colors appear like necklaces of pearls against the dense night sky.

From there, the book becomes more adult in nature as the angels’ hearts become shadowed by the things of the world.

The book moves from the childlike wonder of the world to the reality of life, which has to be accepted and dealt with in adulthood.

As the Jelly Bean Angels dance above the varied works of art at the Johnson Center for the Arts, they will amuse many, puzzle some and inspire others. However, there will be only a few who view the Jelly Bean Angels without a smile spreading across their faces and a little joy ringing in their hearts.

If everyone had the colorful, happy heart of a Jelly Bean Angel, it would be a wonderful world and the New Year would be a happy one for all, Metzger said.