By Lee Noles
MARVIN – The studio to an artist is like a cathedral to a priest: a home, a sanctuary, a place where reflection and inspiration can take many forms.
Large lofts, secluded basements and everyday garages are just some of the places proven as viable workspaces to invigorate the creative process.
A converted horse barn surrounded by nature is Verna Witt’s place of solitude, and it has allowed the Union County resident a place to get lost in her artwork that began at a top fashion school in New York and continues in showrooms around the Southeast.
“I zone out, relax and create,” Witt said of her studio. “It is such a Zen experience. I can’t even tell you how it inspires me to work.”
Witt’s induction into the art world started in childhood as she watched her mother do needlework in their Long Island home. It continued as a young adult with pottery classes, but was put on hold as marriage, family and work took precedent. All that changed, however, when Witt made the decision to enroll in the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology when she was 40 years old. She learned from master woodworker Toshio Odate and took classes from renowned sculptor and graphic artist Chaim Gross.
“What I learned from Odate is the Japanese aesthetic and every artist has to respect their tools. He was just a wonderful quiet, easygoing man,” Witt said. “From Chaim, I learned the basic figurative structure. I learned the fundamentals of how to sculpt the body out of clay.”
Witt graduated from the institute and moved to North Carolina in 1996. She worked for textile companies as a designer for several years. The textile industry changed and as more jobs were lost and factories closed, Witt decided to be a full-time artist by creating her pottery with a twist.
Instead of doing typical vases and earthenware that many potters in the area have gravitated towards, Witt focused on faux pottery. The discipline involves artists taking clay and designing it with a realistic appearance. Witt makes handbags and pocketbooks that at first glance is true to life right down to the straps and zippers.
“When I have people come to my booth, I have one customer say, ‘Oh handbags I don’t need another handbag,’” Witt said of the confusion between her artwork and the real thing. “The next person is excited it is a handbag until they realize it was clay. But the third one is intrigued, and we start talking.”
The process begins by Witt rolling out several mounds of clay before deciding what accessories her piece will have. She then puts the clay on a table and creates the shape she wants before letting the clay dry for a couple of days. The clay is then placed in an electric kiln for 13 to 14 hours at 2,000 degrees. Glazing follows with Witt using light tan, red clay, medium brown and chocolate brown colors to resemble the handbags she imitates.
“I like working with my hands and the feel of it.” Witt said. “It does what I want it to do without struggling. It’s a nice median to work with and if it doesn’t work out, you punch it down and start over again. You just recycle it without much investment.”
Witt has brought her experience as a textile designer to her pottery through a series she has called “All Dressed Up.” The vases resemble clothing that Witt created in a haute couture design by using colored clay.
She also has turned her focus to working on the Japanese style of pottery called Kohiki. The pottery started in the 14th century and involves cream-colored clay that is heightened through brushstrokes.
“I just do what the clay says to me,” Witt said. “It’s good to play in the dirt. It’s like being a kid again.”
Want to know more?
Visit www.marvingardensstudio.com to learn more about Witt’s pottery.