The garden of unearthly delights

Metro Spirit | July 5, 2007
Like naiads from a river, sculptor Ann Baker’s clay figures rise from aqueous origins and flow into the elongated curves that mark her womanly forms.

“The sculptures are about femininity, they’re about fertility in the garden and they fit into the garden,” she said, while she relaxed in a chair under a stand of trees in her expansive back yard. Pottery and sculptures ring the trees, squat under metal tables and peek out from among the herbs beside her small water garden.

“I’ve just been into kind of the feminine form and the feminine face and that’s just what comes naturally to me,” she says.

It’s fitting that she works with her hands in a medium born of the earth, as Baker’s love of nature is a vital source of her inner peace. It drew her to work as a whitewater kayak instructor. She spent years on the water, learning to read rivers’ flowing signals for what lies beneath their churning waters, and perhaps that played a part in learning to find the figures that huddle within an unformed mound of clay.

“Nature is what keeps me peaceful. I need it. I need to be outdoors,” she said. “I grew up in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, so it just seemed to come naturally to develop my sculptures in a way that they would be used outside,” she said.

Pastel on Central hosted an opening for Baker at their gallery on June 13. Co-owner Cheryl Grace said that the pieces magically lured people and sparked conversation. Reception has been warm.

“The long lean limbs have a real grace about them that you certainly see evidenced in Degas’ dancers,” Grace said. “They almost look like they could just come to life and waltz across the surface of the grass.”

Enthusiasts crowded around a fountain that stood three feet high, water trickling off gently sloping leaves. Access to the front door was cut off by admirers of a piece in Baker’s “Joy” series in which figures with outstretched arms turn their faces to the sky. An overhead spot reflected a halo around her head. “Unearthly” is how Grace described them.

“There’s that peaceful kind of magical quality about them,” she said.

The elongated limbs and deep curvature in Baker’s figures manage, despite their sometimes precariously arched necks and backs, to convey a sense of balance. While Baker may not experiment with glazes because of the chemistry involved, it is obvious she has a strong grasp of physics.

“I don’t follow a whole lot of ‘the rules’ with clay,” she said. “In doing that, it allows me to develop that fluidness and that sense of motion. The sense of motion is important to me.”

She loses a lot of pieces during drying and firing and has worked out rigging systems with PVC pipes and wire.

“I’ll come in a lot of times and an arm has dried itself off,” she said. “But that’s the price I pay for my style of work.”

Among her Garden Goddesses, angels, and other sculptures, the “Joy” series is Baker’s most popular.

“I think when they see those pieces it gives them a sense of openness, happiness, joy, but they’re not always big happy smiling pieces — usually the faces are very serene,” Baker said.

But even as Baker finds an enthusiastic reception to her work, she finds the need to experiment. She’s bringing more color to her art and working so that the color complements her forms rather than distracts from them.

“It’s the way I’m challenging myself as an artist. It’s kind of the phase that I’m in right now is developing that challenge — that, and increasing the size of my work. I’m starting to work really large,” she said.

To do so, she is renovating the workshop that squats at the edge of the nearly two acres she shares with her husband and four dogs on the far edge of Aiken near Montmorenci Vineyards. She’s been commissioned for a large-scale “Joy” series piece for a collector with a home in the mountains. The pieces for a five- or six-foot sculpture must be fired separately and assembled afterwards, but she is not sure how to do it yet.

“That’s going to be part of the creative, experimenting process,” she laughed. Visit
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