Functional to Sculptural

Ann Gleason. Photo by Brent Fleury.

Ann Gleason. Photo by Brent Fleury.

“Back in the ’70s,” says Ann Gleason, “you had to be on a long waiting list to get into ceramics class—it was prime hippie era and everyone wanted to do it. There’s a good bunch of younger potters coming along, but it’s a lot less than the baby boom glut that I was the tail end of.”

Gleason, a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, is a potter and clay artist who’s been part of the art scene in Tryon for the last 25 years, and has shown her work in many galleries in NC, SC and Washington D.C. A Long Island native, she was an art major in college, got her BA and teaching certification in art education at the University in Potsdam, NY, then headed out west to Montana and Utah to grad school where she earned her MFA in Ceramics.

Although she’s a full time potter and artist, Gleason finds time to share her skills. Her ceramics courses are part of the visual arts program at Greenville Technical College in Greer, SC, and she leads workshops at Wofford College and other locations locally, like Tryon Arts and Crafts and Tryon Painters and Sculptors where she’ll be teaching a two-day hands-on workshop later this fall.

“When I first came here I was doing a lot of hand-building and one-of-a-kind pieces, but it really wasn’t the right time for that. My generation was just getting started, buying wedding gifts, setting up house—people were looking for functional, practical things. So I did that; it was something I could survive on,” she says.

“This area already had a deep tradition of the functional, and although I hadn’t thought of doing wheel throwing full time, it was a very good solid core, and I do enjoy it. But teaching part time now allows me to do less of the production bread-and butter-work, and lets me experiment and expand more.”

And since Gleason feels that buyers’ attitudes have changed and they are now more interested in one-of-a-kind sculptural pieces, she’s able to indulge her passion.

“There are different influences on my work, whether it’s functional or not. I’m a gardener—I have a huge vegetable and flower garden, and my work is based on nature, botanical and animal, and a lot of times those things are representative of human issues. Also the cultural aspects of this area influence what I do: the music, the story-telling, the Scots-Irish Celtic traditions weaving through it all—and the local characters—all that plays a part. I’m just influenced by my corner of the world. I stick to what’s relevant to me.”

The type of clay used, the type of kiln, the glaze, the firing technique, the temperature of the firings—all these variables will greatly affect the outcome of the finished piece, she explains. “There are so many options and so many directions you can go in, and each direction has an infinite bunch of possibilities, so to get to know your area really well, you almost have to put blinders on—otherwise you get scattered to the wind.”

Her sculptural pieces are often whimsical, depicting birds or chickens or rabbits caught mid-prance, as well as the occasional bear, pig or fish face suggesting a conversation is imminent. There’s also a magnificent Adam and Eve riding a moose, looking as if they’re setting off on a great adventure. Quadratic men contemplate pages of poetry or listen to a universal message delivered by a songbird.

But the foliated head of a woman reminiscent of the “green man” mythology suggesting rebirth and resurgence seems to encapsulate her approach to her work. This piece is regal; the Queen of the Oaks demands awe and respect. And it reminds us that our personal journey is part of the ongoing circle, reuniting and reconnecting us to the earth.

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