Artist’s Glass Sunflowers Raise Funds for Ukraine

St. Croix artist Jan Mitchell is wrapping up a project to support the Ukrainian people against an unprovoked siege by Russia to take over their country.

Jan Mitchell displays some of her original glass art in her store – Mitchell Larsen Studio – in downtown Christiansted. (Photo by Steffen Larsen)

Using the country’s national flower, the bright yellow sunflower, and her skills as a glassmaker, Mitchell has created a one-and-a-half-inch circular pin on a vibrant blue background for men and women to show their support for the embattled country.

“You come home after work and ask, ‘What can I do?'” she said she thought after the war began.

Several glass sunflower pins wait to be purchased to benefit Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion. (Source photo by Susan Ellis)

Mitchell is the only one who can make the pins and so far has made more than 900 pins. She made a batch of 80 sunflowers that are being taken to the Polish border by a Crucian to show that the people of the Virgin Islands are aware and care about the conflict. She said she can’t keep up with the demand and has decided she is making the last batch of 72.

“I love doing this, and I’m thrilled for all of the support from the community,” she said.

After 9/11, Mitchell made hundreds of red, white, and blue pins to support New York.

Every penny of the more than $5,100 collected so far from the sales will be sent to support the Ukrainians. She has researched several charities working in the country and hopes to find one that uses all of the funds it receives for the Ukrainian people.

Mary Hayden-Carr and Jan Mitchell show several sunflower plates and platters in the Mitchell Larsen Studio. (Source photo by Susan Ellis)

Sunflowers are a long-time, beloved aspect of Ukrainian culture. The flower was introduced to Ukraine in the mid-18th century by Spaniards. Now the flowers are abundant across the country — in villages, gardens, and fields. Sunflowers are woven into clothing and headdresses used for celebrations.

Over the centuries, Ukrainians have snacked on sunflower seeds and crushed them into oil. The oil became popular in Europe as an alternative to butter and lard and is now a key component of the economy. Ukraine and Russia contribute 70-80 percent of the global sunflower oil exports.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, sunflowers have a cultural significance for Ukrainians beyond the economic driver that they are. In 1986, the explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine released radioactive material into the environment, killing 31 people. After the disaster, scientists planted sunflowers to extract toxins from the soil and remove radioactive elements from soils and ponds. (After the 2011 Fukushima disaster, a similar planting of sunflowers took place in Japan.)

Again in 1996, sunflowers indicated the nation’s peaceful intentions. Ministers from the United States, Russia, and Ukraine commemorated Ukraine’s nuclear weapon disarmament by planting sunflowers at the Pervomaysk missile base. The Smithsonian quoted U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry as saying the shared goal was “ensuring that our children and our grandchildren will live in peace.”

Mitchell opened her studio in 1993 and has produced hundreds, maybe thousands of plates in all sizes and shapes. Several years ago, the name was changed to the Mitchell Larsen Studio. Husband/professional photographer Steffen Larsen displays his distinctive photos above rows and rows of glass plates and platters.

A dinner plate — one of the various sizes and sunflower designs at Mitchell Larsen Studio, created by Jan Mitchell. (Source photo by Susan Ellis)

Local charities, over the years, have commissioned her to design and make plates for trophies after golf tournaments, races, and other fundraisers.