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A musician and mosaic artist, among other talents, Jen Haddon looks for opportunities to reinforce personal connections in her art. (Photo by Elizabeth Reinhart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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In the book Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, when the Alice would sit upon her grandfather’s knee, she would listen to his advice on how to find joy in life. There were three things little Alice should do: travel to faraway places, live near the sea, and “do something to make the world more beautiful,” writes Cooney.
With Miss Rumphius a favorite book from her daughter’s childhood, East Haven resident Jennifer Haddon has intuitively followed that third teaching.
An artist, musician, and gardener, her talents are as varied as the mosaics that she creates by hand.
She says of her intricate patterns, “I start, and I can’t stop. I find a line and I see where the line is going to go. It evolves.”
One of her most magnificent pieces includes a four-foot diameter tabletop that consists of hundreds of minuscule bits of china that once belonged to prior generations of her family.
She points to different parts of the assortment, saying, “my mother’s dishes, [her husband] Jim’s grandmother’s dishes.”
“When something would break, we saved it,” she says.
Jen’s ability to find a second use for fragments of colored clay, shiny stones, and other small items is not just put to use on tabletops. She has added artistic beauty to furniture such as cupboards and game tables and stringed instruments such as cellos and violins.
She also creates mosaics with small chunks of colored pottery, rings, and other tokens for “remembrance balls” or “wedding balls” made of cement “that [people] can put in their garden,” says Jen.
A mosaic artist for the past nine years, Jen took a class on mosaics with Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven and “started doing instruments because I am musical,” explains Jen.
Her natural aptitude in music as a young child was recognized by her mentor, Sister Albertine.
Albertine was the music teacher at St. Vincent De Paul School in East Haven. She taught a group of five students, all of whom became musicians later in life.
“She supported us,” says Jen. “She was always there for all us, as our mentor.”
Having the support of her fellow musicians at school in addition to the guidance of Sister Albertine, Jen’s raw abilities in singing, piano, and the organ soon blossomed.
She pursued higher education, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Albertus Magnus College in New Haven and a bachelor of social work degree from Southern Connecticut State University.
She never formally practiced social work. Instead, she chose to turn her passion for music into a career and has held positions in music departments for various Catholic churches.
“Church was always my thing,” says Jen.
A music teacher for 11 years, Jen taught many students who lived in the inner-city of New Haven. She was rewarded by watching her students’ musical abilities progress.
Today, as music director for St. Ann Church in Bridgeport, she leads a 20-member adult choir and children’s choir and sings for weddings and funerals, among her other duties.
“I get to know people on the happiest day of their life or their saddest,” says Jen. “It’s an amazing gift to do that.”
She is happiest when she engages with “people when their emotions are open and touch their hearts with music,” she says.
Jen’s husband, Jim, provides Jen with encouragement and support in all of her endeavors. They recently worked as a team to help a neighbor restore a deteriorating shed.
“He helps me with everything,” says Jen.
Their partnership has enabled each of their individual successes.
“He would be the person to prep the table [for her mosaics] while I would hold the ladder for him [as he worked on the shed],” she explains.
They recently worked on installing a garden in their backyard with friends from the Morris Cove Garden Club.
She is now the president of this organization and has been a member for 35 years. She also serves on the board of the Federated Garden Clubs of Connecticut, Inc., as book chair.
The camaraderie of her fellow gardeners is what Jen enjoys most about these groups.
When they were situating the soil for her personal garden, “my feet were in the dirt and I fell back, we were all laughing,” says Jen.
Jim’s contribution was creating a theater on the side of the garage, which enabled Jen and her friends to sit in the garden and watch the movie Babette’s Feast once it was completed.
The garden contains a number of “interesting perennials, holly, winterberry, Asian lilies, butterfly weed, foxglove and lupines,” says Jen.
Lupines hold a special significance for Jen.
“I used to read [Miss Rumphius] to my daughter,” sas Jen.
In the book, “…the old lady lay sick in her bed and she doesn’t realize that the other side of the hill is full of lupines,” says Jen.
The plantings of lupines in the book, was the third teaching of Alice’s grandfather, to beautify the world and “the most difficult thing of all!” writes Cooney.
For Jen, her innate talents and abilities make it look easy.
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