Isolation has given this ceramic artist time to think
For ceramic sculptor Marlene Bradford, the nation’s isolation order during the time of Covid-19 has been a time of introspection about her art. “It’s been great having the time,” she said. “I enjoy working by myself. Although I also enjoy having company.”
This enforced time-out came just as Marlene started to pull back from perpetual activity. For the last seven years, she’s been a popular teacher of clay sculpture at Quyle Kilns, where she has instructed many in the skill of how to roll, knead, bend and convince clay to take animal and human form. But recently she gave up teaching regular classes, preferring to teach small groups or individuals on request. “I’ll be 87 in June,” she said. “I don’t have the energy I had before, or the patience.”
When you take a class from Marlene, you tap into a life dedicated to art. She has always been an artist, and she returned to college in her 40s to complete a major in art. Clay is her first love. “I like the way it feels. I like being able to move it around and change it back and forth and create my ideas using the clay.”
Her ideas, brought to life in clay, bring smiles to viewers. She still has a big presence at Quyle Kilns, where ceramic faces and animals peer from the walls, smile mysteriously, and catch your gaze and make you smile. Making the viewer happy is what Marlene intends.
She doesn’t strive for strict accuracy in her animal sculptures. Instead, she tries to express her feelings about them. “I really want to bring joy through it, and have people enjoy looking at my pieces.”
“The reason I say that is because there are many pieces of art that are not about joy. They are expressions of sadness and illness. That isn’t what I want to think about and express. I enjoy trying to reproduce the shape and idea of different animals. And again, I want them to look peaceful. With them I want to express some kind of good thoughts.”
Her portraits of people reflect not just a physical likeness but also the emotional personality of the subject. She honed her accuracy with acts of generosity. “I started having people I know pose for me so I could practice. I said if you like it I’ll give it to you. That’s how I got my technique worked out.” Her commissioned portraits of two doctors—Dr. Milton Ben Smith and Dr. Dante Albasio—greet people at Mark Twain Medical Center.
Now sheltering at home, she spends time in her studio in Murphys working on a series of pieces intended for totems, large pieces of art that comprise animals, figures, and objects.
Isolation has given her a chance to delve more deeply into her work. “It’s a chance to concentrate on your own ideas and think about what you’re doing. Often we want to discuss things with other artists or teachers. This is a good time to really look inside of ourselves and try things and see if they’re going to work. And figure out how to do something, or what we want to do. What you want people to think about it.”
Keep working during this time. “If you start something, it will be on your mind. You’ll be thinking about it and then you’ll want to get back to it.”
She welcomes the chance to pull out her own ideas and not be influenced by another person. Isolation has made her more thoughtful, sometimes changing her creative plans overnight as she’s slept on an idea. Isolation has made her work more deeply personal.
And so the work goes on, although she admits that she hasn’t been working everyday. “There are other things to think about. The garden. Friends to talk to.” But she encourages others to work creatively during this time. “If you start something, it will be on your mind. You’ll be thinking about it and then you’ll want to get back to it.”
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