Informed Wildness: Jenny Lou Sherburne's Art of Living and Making

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"I REALLY DID FALL IN LOVE WITH CLAY," SAYS CERAMIC ARTIST Jenny Lou Sherburne of her first apprenticeship nearly 30 years ago. "Something takes over and you feel like you've found the answers to all of life's questions in craft. I knew I wanted to make each piece expressive and I had to figure out what I wanted to express. What I discovered was humor, joy and growth. It all boils down to pots." (1) Working from her studio high in the Appalachian Mountains of the Southeastern US, Sherburne's enthusiasm this many years later has hardly waned.

The artist makes goblets, pitchers, mugs, stacked vases, teapots, window box sets and larger vessels that are ornate almost to the point of absurdity. Many of her forms seem to teeter and tempt gravity by way of long balanced gestures and reaching lines. As a whole, her body of work suggests a sort of informed wildness, a life lived with flare but never at the cost of life itself, or a planet abundant with growth yet always with an awareness of the balance necessary for survival. Sherburne's telltale forms indicate the artist's infatuation with the human experience. We are at once pushing and striving, leaning and reaching into the world and what it has to offer. At the same time, we fear falling over, a loss of control, clash and confusion or over-stimulation.

Sherburne's work risks all of this in the best possible way--even as she points out that "the clay always reminds me that reality is malleable and in that sense, it forces me to question my assumptions". (2) In the end, it is the functionality of each piece that tempers her design. A piece can only be stacked so high, reach so far or withstand so many layers. A handle can only wind and curl to a point, after which it will no longer function as a handle. "The control in my work is paramount but it's disguised. There is a lot to consider--balance, dryness, plasticity ... It also has something to do with time. In our culture, time is valuable and I think that might be picked up on in my work, even subconsciously. My work takes more time than the average production potter's because it does more than just function and you can tell that by looking at it." (3)

Initially, Sherburne was "most cataclysmically attracted to prehistoric Minoan wares from Crete, with their swelling bellies, small feet, beautifully curvaceous patterning and brushstrokes, the elegance of Song Dynasty pots, the colors and patterns of Persian pots, and the beautiful painting of Italian majolica". (4) As she expanded her studies, lived in different places, and started a family, her influences honed to a biographical aesthetic that seems to provoke the viewer with its boldness, simultaneously feeding the artist with its honesty.

Sherburne completed her graduate studies in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, an environment rich in culture, color, celebration and exotic wildlife. "Baton Rouge was almost claustrophobic in its floral excess. I've definitely incorporated that excess into my work," says Sherburne. …