March 23, 2014
Debra Nickelson Smith

I have always been fascinated with the shapes, forms, and naturally occurring contours of rocks. These are often crafted by wind, water, thermal expansion and contraction, chemical erosion, and time. In fact,I think that these forms represent some of the most compelling sculptures on the planet. In addition, I have always been intrigued with the rock cairns that hikers stack along trails, marking turns and summit lines. Although I have been exhibiting for fourteen years, it has only been in the last three years that I have been creating ceramic sculpture of what I call “stacked forms.”

In my stacked forms, I usually work with three or four different clays, which makes it easier to create the effect of making a cairn from random rocks. In addition to working with the kind of rock forms found along trails, I also include a variety of corals and ocean forms, as companions in the stack. Sometimes I will add a small form from wildlife, mostly birds, but occasionally fish, or small forest creatures. For surface decoration, I use primarily underglazes and matte finish glazes, as my goal is to make these forms appear to be the inadvertent sculpture of the natural world.

As for the configuration in the stack, I never place two pieces that look similar together. Most appealing to the eye are the combinations with visual diversity. The points of contact between pieces in the vertical narrative is also essential. The individual elements should make contact as minimally as possible. In other words, it is more dynamic to create a stack of rock forms that looks as if it might tumble at any moment. In addition, each stacked form should be an interesting composition when viewed from any angle.

I work primarily from my home studio, but also offer workshops for schools and other learning environments in our community. I have artwork in local galleries, and also in juried shows both in Illinois and the Midwest region. Ceramic sculpture has been a wonderful way for me to maintain balance, as well as grounding, in an ever changing world. As an artist I do challenge myself to evolve and grow, expanding my body of work as I continue to explore its many forms.