Etched in Stone


StagedCeramicist Lynnette Hesser shares her work.

by Phillip Ratliff

 

The first thousand or so words I exchanged with Wellington, Alabama-based ceramicist Lynnette Hesser were not about art but a sport I associate with northeastern prep schools, the Iroquois people, and my 9-year-old daughter. “Don’t you think it’s unfair the way lacrosse rules throttle girls?” I asked Hesser. I consider it a grave injustice that girls don’t get to enjoy the same rough level of play that boys do.

Hesser dispelled my rising indignation with a wonderful story from her past. As a high school student in New Jersey, Hesser was embroiled in an intense lacrosse match, running toward the goal with the ball in her stick pocket when an opponent clocked her (“Hopefully accidentally,” she says).

“Because of the forward momentum, I somehow did a full forward flip landing on my feet and kept running toward the goal,” Hesser says. Bursitis ended high school lacrosse for Hesser, but at Denison University in Ohio, she would find a new passion, beginning with another memorable flip, of sorts. “During my first year at Denison, I majored in music with the intention of singing light opera professionally. Because a cute guy invited me to see the pieces he was making in his ceramics class in the art building, I switched to a fine arts major and the rest is ceramic history. He became ancient history very soon after that, too,” she says

Hesser earned her bachelor of arts from Denison before earning her bachelor of fine art and master of fine art from the University of Florida. From there, she has carved out a career in ceramics spanning 37 years. Her work, a palimpsest of ceramic petals and leaves shaped into plates, vases, and bowls, I believe reflects both her maturity and the youthful playfulness ever present in her conversations.

Hesser’s gardening habit provides a rich source of inspiration, she says. She sketches from springtime flower catalogs and her own gardens and then resketches the patterns or designs onto the surface of the clay using an X-ACTO blade. Literal likenesses are not her goal. “I capture the essence of flowers rather than recreating them and relate the position and the type of flowers or patterns to the shape of each piece. I seek to involve the viewer in the wonder, intricacy, and subtle simplicity of the delicate qualities of nature and pattern,” she explains.

The pieces can become flowers, leaves, fungi, mushroom clusters, or imaginary plants, she says, and work as functional serving pieces or as pure sculpture. “An added benefit [is that] as opposed to my garden, they never require weeding,” she says.

Hesser has taught at Jacksonville State and Gadsden State universities. In 2011, she was awarded a coveted Alabama State Council on the Arts Fellowship. These days, she devotes time to studio work, exhibitions, and selling her work in craft shows nationwide.

Hesser shares a studio with her husband, sculptor Steve Loucks, with whom she often collaborates on pieces. On November 8 and 9, Hesser and Loucks will display their work at the 42nd annual Alabama Designer Craftsman show and sale held at Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Alabama Designer Craftsman will feature jewelry, kitchenware, and decorative pieces by several other Alabama artists and artisans, as well.

Hesser is proud of the quality of the work being produced in Alabama, she says. It is here, in her team player attitude, I see another parallel with her days as a high school athlete. “Concerning that flip, did you score the goal?” I asked. Her post-flip memory is fuzzy (I imagine her head might have been spinning), but she offers a plausible account of what the moment must have looked like. “Lacrosse is about team play, so I probably assisted with our goal by passing the ball onto another of our players. Back then, [female] lacrosse players wore short kilts with polo shirts and blue or gold bows to decorate our pony tails and express school spirit,” Hesser says. “Only the goalies wore mouth guards.”

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