Lora Rust, a native Atlantan, grew up in a Buckhead home filled with beautiful original pottery. But is was not just for show. “We had many special pieces that we used every day, for the sheer enjoyment of touching them instead of just looking at them.” That enjoyment never faded, and it is the heart of her ceramics.
She creates distinctive functional works — bowls, vases, mugs and tumblers — with lush, fluid surfaces that “beg to be touched,” she said.
Rust is one of more than 230 artists showcasing their work in the prestigious American Craft Show in 2019, scheduled for March 15-17 at Cobb Galleria Centre. It is celebrating its 30th consecutive year in Atlanta. One of the largest juried fine craft shows in the Southeast, it features top contemporary craft artists nationwide in handmade ceramics, fine jewelry, textiles, wood work, apparel, home décor and furniture.
Felting artist Debra Kidd is also among the 32 artists from Georgia this year. It is her fourth appearance in the annual craft show in Atlanta.
Her Brookhaven studio is stacked with bins of yarns and fabrics in many colors from suppliers around the globe, rolls of bubble wrap and a stash of shortened swimming pool noodles. The space is dominated by two long tables – the stage where she creates her signature scarves and other wearable art.
Kidd said she is pleased to return to the American Craft Show. “It has such high-quality artists and I like the energy of the people who come. They are so interested in the crafts and are art-savvy.”
An ‘aha moment’ in pottery
Rust first put her hand to a pottery wheel in high school, when she opted for pottery for her required art course. The experience with the wheel stayed with her.
After graduating from Tulane University, she took a job with a fast-growing young company and ultimately became the head of human resources. Some years later, married and with two then-teenage girls with busy school and gymnastic schedules, she left the corporate world to be a full-time mom.
With more time for herself, she took the opportunity to tap into her creative side and enrolled in a pottery course at Callanwolde Fine Arts Center. She found her passion in ceramics. Rust studied for four years under Glenn Dair, former director, now retired, of Callanwolde’s acclaimed pottery department, who shares her studio space. She entered a two-year internship in pottery at the arts center where she developed her signature style.
She had an “aha” moment that led to that style. While using the end of a ruler to make a design in a mug, the tool slipped and bunched up the clay. It was a fortuitous mistake. It gave the design texture and depth, she said. When she starts creating the design by pushing the surface of the clay on the form, she calls it “loralizing.”
Her pieces have an Art Nouveau design. “I was drawn to that type of design before I knew it had a name,” she said. “I love its fluidity.” She is also influenced by designs and patterns found in Gothic architecture, from her days as a choirgirl, staring at the architecture in cathedrals, notably the Cathedral of St. Philip in Buckhead, she recalled. She is inspired, too, by the fall and drape of textiles and fashion design. They provide movement to the texture on the clay form.
Rust has created her own tools that each make a special design element in the clay and she has borrowed shapes for tools like a bear’s leg puzzle piece and an oar for a pirate ship puzzle, among others. She recently developed a basic set of tools that went on the market in February this year.
Using fine white porcelain clay, Rust throws her pieces on the wheel in her studio in the Zonolite complex in Atlanta. Once they are set to what is called “leather hard,” she begins pushing the design into the clay. When she has pieces ready, she packs them up for a trip to her soda kiln in Blue Ridge, Ga., where she and her husband have a second home.
Science and chemistry meld with artistry to create certain glazes and colors on all the pieces. It’s a complex process that requires careful placement in the kiln; the use of just the right amount of glazing chemicals – her favorite is copper; the proper spraying in the kiln with a mixture of water, baking soda and soda ash; proper venting and, of course, temperature. The sodium vapors glaze the exterior of each piece.
She is always experimenting and recently began looking beyond her functional vessels to create decorative wall pieces. “I want to keep on going,” Rust said, “and be a very old lady potter.”
She has been teaching at Callanwolde for 10 years and holds workshops nationwide. This is her fifth year in the American Craft Show in Atlanta. “I love being a local artist and connecting directly with customers. The Atlanta show is a big draw,” she said, “and it is an opportunity to meet other artists as well as to connect with potential art centers, galleries and workshops.”
The freedom of felting
For many of us, the word felting may suggest a wool fabric in jackets and hats, and Kidd has created those, but her scarves featured at the American Craft Show are light in weight, airy, colorful and rich in texture.
Kidd is an architect with a boutique firm in the Old Fourth Ward. She works every day with glass, steel and concrete and exact measurements. “The softness and freedom of felting is a totally different experience and a kind of escape,” she said.
She discovered felting by way of a gift of a felted scarf from her sister and, she said, “I became obse
ssed with how to do it.” When the last recession hit the architectural community hard, Kidd was temporarily laid off. The silver lining was that she had time to pursue her obsession. Through experimentation, she taught herself the art of felting. She continues to experiment to discover new effects. The obsession is alive and well, and she has gone on to teach workshops in felting and win awards as a fiber artist.
Felting is an ancient process that has been used around the world for millennia. There is dry and wet felting. Kidd does both, but wet felting is her specialty. She lays out carded or combed and hand-dyed wool fibers — choosing among alpaca, merino, cashmere, angora, mohair, yak and more — on top of a length of fine natural fabric like silk or chiffon. Bubble wrap protects her work tables in this wet art form.
With a practiced eye for color and design and an intimate knowledge of fibers, she is in her element. For design, she adds other fibers, like silk, ribbons or mixed fibers of various thicknesses. She then sprays the piece with warm soapy water that shrinks the fibers. A 10-foot length of silk can shrink to 6 feet long.
“Wool is the glue that holds it all together. It is a living fiber that entangles and migrates through the layers,” she says. “Agitation — rolling the assembled piece with a plastic-covered noodle — and compression cause the fibers to hook together and make a single piece of fabric.”
It’s a long process that can involve hours to lay out and hours of rolling. “Good for the arm muscles,” she said with a laugh.