The Tools That Take You Higher

Michael Sherrill reveals how not to shrink from success

Living the malleable life: Michael Sherrill. Portrait by Clark Hodgin.

If your father races motorcycles, he can’t tell you not to be an artist. Michael Sherrill says his dad was “enough of a rebel that it gave me permission to not fit into certain middle-class constraints. He encouraged me to not give up on my dream of doing what I’m passionate about.”

That passion covers a lot of road, which Sherrill clinches by calling himself a “materials-based” artist. His mediums are primarily clay, metal, and glass, and his complex studio is set up to facilitate pottery and ceramics, glassblowing, and blacksmithing. Those all have a common thread that appeals to Sherrill’s vision. “What they share,” he says, “is malleability. You see that thing in your head and wonder if you can move it around in space. Yes, you can, at a certain point.”

My favorite piece is the one I’m working on now, or thinking about doing next. The one that stretches me beyond my expectations.

Clay was his first love, which led to his side business, MUDTOOLS, which offers a variety of custom clay-working implements he designed. “Even as a kid I worked with all kinds of different materials,” Sherrill recalls. “But when I got to clay the landscape was way too broad, and I had an epiphany. I thought, ‘I’ll never live long enough to exhaust this.’ There was so much more out there to be discovered in clay.”

Reconciliation Between the Light and the Dark by Michael Sherrill

As he explored the seemingly limitless potential of that medium, collectors began to discover Sherrill. Today his art can be found in prestigious public collections including the Smithsonian’s Renwick Museum of American Craft, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Mint Museum in Charlotte, the Museum of Art and Design in Manhattan, and the Corning Museum of Glass in New York State. In 1993, his work was selected for the White House collection, which traveled throughout the United States. His piece titled “Incandescent Bottles” is displayed inside the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. 

Sherrill’s vessels have gone into some of the world’s most prestigious collections.

Sherrill, who has lived in WNC since 1974, paid his dues early on as a struggling potter and single parent trying to keep food on the table. But he was always drawn to experimentation, and his functional pottery began to evolve into the realm of sculpture. “I starting making a shift in that direction that led to playing inside an idea of how to make each piece one of a kind. That adventure of working on the edge kept taking me from one place to the next, on a journey to stretch myself a little further. To me that’s what art and creativity is about. Working at it not as a job, but as a practice, and seeing what comes out of it. 

“My favorite piece is the one I’m working on now, or thinking about doing next. The one that stretches me beyond my expectations.”

Sherrill says it’s never too late to learn and grow. “My father had a friend who balanced tires and did front-end work on cars his whole life. Then, in his 70s, he started sculpting. Within five years he had placed pieces in every museum in North Carolina. Everything in the oak is in the acorn. It can spend a lifetime unfolding into something surprising and bigger than expected.”

Michael Sherrill, Bat Cave. Sherrill is a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild (southernhighlandguild.org). For more information, see michaelsherrill.com.

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