Drawing inspiration from the landscapes around her Texas Hill country home, Debra Steidel creates vessels that look as though they’ve been unearthed from a grotto far underground.
These beautiful works seem to offer insights into lost civilisations with a deep love and respect for the natural world. Alternatively they could have form through the movements of nature – tide or quake or even eruption. Their appearance is enticingly elemental, yet these are contemporary sculptures made with skill and a lifetime’s worth of experimenting with clays and glazes.
Debra never had any intention of being anything other than an artist. “I sketched as a young child, dug clay from a creek behind the house where I grew up in Alexandria, Virginia. I even drew architectural drawings of houses at the age of 10. My mother bought me my first set of oil paints at 11 years old.”
Debra’s desire to throw on the potter’s wheel arose during her senior year in high school. “We had very little equipment or funding in the two classroom art department. There was a treadle wheel in one of the rooms and a trash barrel full of lumpy clay. My teacher didn’t really know how to throw so I tried to figure it out myself!”
Debra took a six-week beginner’s class in throwing, then bought herself a professional potters’ wheel. This was in 1974 – she was 18 years old. “I got books from the library to learn how to glaze, fire a kiln and just threw pots every day. It was a passion.”
Debra had discovered the medium she loved. She began to produce exquisite vessels, eventually coming up with the unique artworks I saw at the Affordable Art Fair in Bristol. With these works, the lids – handcrafted from clay then cast in bronze or in frosted glass resembling sea glass – are as much a part of the designs as the pots themselves.
“Oddly enough, my current body of work of crystalline glazed vessels with lids resulted from an injury to my hand,” she says wryly. “At that time my work was thrown and then manipulated – it was very sculptural. With this injury I couldn’t throw pots or sculpt for several months. I took this recovery time to experiment with glazes and that is how I discovered the current glazes I use. When I finally could throw again, it was small vessels. I wanted to make them special and so the lid was born.”
The lids take the form of birds, leaves or other shapes spied in nature, a driving force for Debra throughout her career.
“A body of work I created in the 90s was totally inspired by sea life,” she recalls. “During the last few years, each visit to a museum has given me another jump start. Lately the work of René Lalique, an amazing artist and glass designer born in France in the 1800s, has given me so much inspiration. The ideas I have for my work extend way beyond the years I will have to make them! What a fortunate position to be in.”
Debra relishing the expressiveness of creating at every opportunity. “I work pretty much every day, either making my work or at an art fair exhibiting and selling my pieces. That may not sound like freedom, but if it is what you want to be doing with your life, it truly is freedom!”
You can see more of Debra’s work at www.steidelfineartporcelain.com, which features a fantastic video of Debra making Shadow Dancers – one of her lidded vessels. She takes her work to 26 art fairs a year in the United States as well as exhibiting in US galleries. In the UK Debra is represented by Maxwell Chapman at Opper & Webb Fine Art Dealers.
Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.