Arts November 23, 2020

Turning Back Time

Glenn Janss shares her life stories and the compelling history behind the Sun Valley Museum of Art

Glenn Janss is a tireless listener. Even when the interview is supposed to be about her own rich life story from some of her 88 years, she turned it around to learn something new. When she listens to someone, her mind latches onto even the most seemingly one-off detail, spinning it into an idea for posterity.

Hearing about an end-of-school year project led by a social studies teacher- to create a virtual museum showcasing your COVID-19 experience-she urged the teller to contact the Community Library and the Sun Valley Museum of Art to collaborate on preserving these artifacts.

The latter entity, founded 50 years ago as the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, is a frequent partner in the local schools in Blaine County, bringing thought-provoking ideas coupled with hands-on art techniques to create installations.

“At the basis of my work throughout my life is the belief that an art education is of essential importance to the betterment of humanity. This sounds like a grandiose predication. But it is simple in its rationale. An art education results in a creativeness that evolves into a more self actualizing and more fully human person.”

Getting to know Janss should have been more difficult in this pandemic condition where most contact is virtual. But her charisma and the reach of her passionate fingerprints were felt over the phone.

The former Sun Valley resident shared her thoughts on life and destiny, but more importantly, the crucial presence of art in a healthy community, especially one gasping for air and inspiration as vital programming and events have been cancelled while the COVID-19 summer of scourge ravaged on.

Now, more than ever, Janss believes that children and adults need to combine art interpretation and expression with the facts of life.

“Art education should not be thought of as a frill for society-as it currently is-but as a necessity.”

She has been knitting these ideas together with the help of local writer Tony Tekaroniake Evans for, “Memory and Destiny, The Life of Glenn Janss”.

Janss knows from experience it is better to be the willow than the oak. Had she not, the seeds of so many lasting legacies and relationships could never have been sown. She outlived two husbands and a best friend, raised five children-including an Olympic level skier Christin Cooper, created world-class art legacies in L.A., Boise, and Ketchum, and still shoulders on as the mother of viable connection.

The book offers a glimpse of the tenacious and tender power broker.

Janss came from a family who left an indelible mark wherever they landed. They built empires in retail, and relationships with like titans in real estate development.

Her father, Walter W. Candy, Jr. ran the Busy Bee Candy Company in St. Louis before marrying Kate, the daughter of Percy Glenn Winnett.

Grandpa Winnett and John Bullock partnered with Los Angeles architects John and Donald Parkinson to create an iconic, 230,000 square foot swanky department store on Wilshire Boulevard in 1929.

The Bullocks Wilshire retail store carried must-have items from full length mink coats to coconut cream pie. Fancy party frocks for Hollywood Golden Age stars like Greta Garbo and smart tuxedos for Alfred Hitchcock were custom made. The original store, which grew into more, remained in business for 60 years before being preserved by the Southwestern Law School.

“It really set the bar for retail at that time,” said co-writer Evans, in an interview from his Hailey home. “Everyone clamored for the top notch service and high quality styles.”

Janss was the belle of the store, where she often accompanied her father to work.

An appreciation for the baubles, the beaches of Malibu, and how to bring people together successfully were in her DNA.

She graduated from Boston’s Wellesley College with it’s highest academic award, that of Durant Scholar, before marrying boat racer William Cooper.

By 1968, Mrs. Cooper was named “Woman of the Year,” by the L.A. Times for establishing a museum docent council, which supported the famed LACMA.

“It was a bunch of well educated and connected society women she talked into using their degrees to build something lasting,” Evans said.

“It was the first organization of volunteer guides in the U.S. in 1965. Its existence brought children from all over the county for their first experience in the arts,” she said. Today, docents guide 25,000 students a year through the vast art collection.

Her marriage didn’t last more than 10 adventurous years, but her reputation and graduate studies in art history propelled her forward.

Longtime family friends Bill and Anne Janss, new owners of the Sun Valley Resort,  convinced her to provide a similar opportunity for the children of the Wood River Valley, so she packed up Christin, Cameron, Brant, Kelley and Candy.

“My agreement to do so rested on the fact that they believed as I did, that this opportunity was essential to the development of the total human being. It was on this basis that Bill Janss committed funds. We believed that these art opportunities would yield an expansion of spirit that would influence humans to walk a path for others by giving of themselves to the promise of a more humane world.”

William Cooper died from cancer not long after the divorce.

Janss meanwhile was raising active children while growing the arts scene. She drew artists and performers who filled the resort with activity and creativity. The Institute for the American West she founded with the Sun Valley Center drew historians, authors, film makers, scholars and cultural icons to Sun Valley in the 1970s,

She also spent a lot of time with her friend, Anne, skating at the Sun Valley Ice Rink and skiing. This would lead to a devastating blow. Anne was killed in an avalanche while skiing ahead of her pal. The story is the opening of the book.

United in their grief, and always like-minded about the arts, Bill and Glenn comforted each other and ultimately married in 1973.

Earl Holding bought the resort shortly thereafter, and the focus shifted. But the new Janss’ union was undaunted. And ultimately, the demand for arts as well as recreation was met.

Janss, who loved both, also served on the state and global boards of the Nature Conservancy for 20 years, helping bring Silver Creek under preserve status. She also served Andrus’ Centennial Commission and established the Idaho Heritage Trust. Her philosophical interests led to her service on the board of the Institute for Noetic Sciences, established by astronaut Edgar Mitchell to explore the boundary between spirituality and science. She donated a major portion of her own collection to the Boise Art Museum, enabling it’s certification in the 1980s.

She moved to Tetonia, Idaho, a decade after Bill died.

“I was pretty tired of the cocktail party set so I moved here 13 years ago. It’s a place rooted in the land and moral and family ethics that I value.”

The winters are long, so the writing team began her autobiography. Just like any brush with the rich and famous, luxury and possibility, the book will cover all the intrigue, beauty and mystery of life, as well as Janss the spiritual searcher, in her own words, Evans said. It features interviews with many old friends, including Cecil Andrus, Mariel Hemingway, Julie Wrigley, Kelly Curtis, Harry Rinker, Lynn Twist and others.

“I have always been an academic.  I have to have something challenging my mind,” she said. “This is not an easy project. Like honing your personal philosophy when you are learning it all, it starts out a mess but in time you become more expressive and more exact.

“Happiness is a result of what we do for others. We should be reflecting on what we can do to bring the world back into focus. This is a challenging world, but we don’t want to live in fear. It is important to rise up and be happy. I think I have things to say that will make a better life for others.”

This article appears in the Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.