From left: The piece on the left stands at 5'2", this ceramic garden totem was arranged with the intent of “combining colors that complement each other.” Orange hues were used as the common thread throughout. • This “pearl necklace” hangs from a mesquite tree in Janet Orr’s backyard.


The yard at Janet Orr’s Phoenix home sparkles in the mid-afternoon sun. 
Iridescent orbs, stacked so-many-high, spring from the ground alongside the muted colors of the natural desert vegetation. And tall mesquite trees are bejeweled with over-sized ceramic “pearls” draped about their coarse limbs. The artist, who creates these works of outdoor art says matter-of-factly, “I like to make things that are pretty and I like decoration.” 

The California-born Orr, a full-time Realtor, originally ventured into the labor-intensive world of ceramics due to her desire for pieces of yard art. In 2005, Orr learned that her beautifully landscaped property was selected to be on Phoenix Home & Garden’s Grand Tour of Gardens. “I needed a lot of art and I needed it fast. So I took a ceramics course at Shemer Center for the Arts,” she recalls. “In the class, they said, ‘OK, now we are going to make dishes and bowls,’ and I said, ‘No, I need to make balls ...’ and they let me.” The ceramic spheres Orr created would come to be stacked into colorful desert totems that the artist displays in her garden. 

Later that same year, she traveled to Europe and embarked on what 
amounted to a global ceramics tour. Another class in Tuscany; attending the International Competition of Ceramics in Faenza, Italy; viewing the larger-than-life “building jewelry” in Düsseldorf, Germany—all helped clarify Orr’s vision for her own ceramic works. A visit to Lotusland in California in 2006 further planted the seed for what is now one of the artist’s signature designs—ceramic “pearl jewelry.” 

“I loved the exotic plants and unexpected art in [Lotusland]. I especially loved the abalone shell pond with its enormous shells,” she recalls. “I began to wonder how big of a pearl a shell that size would produce. That’s what led me to start creating my stringed pearls. She explains that her artwork originally was constructed for her own enjoyment. But the exposure of her pieces in the garden tour brought an array of inquiries from interested buyers. And “it just grew from there,” she says. 

Today, Orr works in the studio she designed herself only a few steps away from her yard and its resident desert tortoises. Over time, her ceramic work has expanded and her technique become refined. Vintage glazes offer the “playful, beautiful and sexy” colors that Orr likes to incorporate. “Each piece is fired numerous times, with new glazes added each time,” she explains. “I find myself especially challenged when creating something specific, such as a certain color.” 

Overall, she finds that working with clay is both an “intense and rewarding experience.” As secretary of the Arizona Ceramics Association for roughly three years, Orr looks forward to seeing where this journey will take her. “I think I’ve been successful because I’ve had so little formal education,” she reflects. “I take on projects not knowing I can fail. I’m not afraid to try anything.