THE ACCIDENTAL ARTIST
By Michelle Hopkins
Her canvas is mud. Her inspiration a barren desert. Nature’s raw power is her muse.
For Lummi Island artist Lynn Dee, the Anza Borrego Desert State Park in Southern California is her artistic playground. Whether it’s catching sight of a peculiar cactus or stunning rock formations created by centuries of wind erosion, the ceramic artist finds plenty of inspiration in Borrego.
As a young woman, Dee did not aspire to become an artist. Breaking her ankle while skiing in 1967 disrupted her second year of nursing school at San Jose State University and her ensuing career. She missed a semester and reapplied too late for the following year. Bored, she turned to pottery classes.
The thrill of taking dark, earthly mass and turning it into something beautiful energized her. “There were only two pottery wheels in the classroom, but I took to throwing in a big way,” said Dee. “I couldn’t get enough of it. I dreamed about it.”
In her first pottery class, her ceramics instructor introduced raku firing. Upon returning to the university, she enrolled in special studies in glazing with professor Dr. Herbert Sanders. “I fell in love with Japanese art and its aesthetics,” said Dee, who went on to earn a bachelor’s in art.
In 1974, after attending a workshop with Paul Soldner, the “father of American raku,” Dee’s pursuit of raku began. The ancient art form originated in Japan in the sixteenth century. Its wares were used in the Japanese tea ceremony, most often in the form of tea bowls. Raku refers to the type of low-firing process.
The difference in Western- style raku is the post-firing reduction. “The firing is the heart and soul of the raku technique,” said Dee. “No one can predict exactly what the results will look like when finished.”
In American raku, clay is placed into containers with combustible materials, giving the ceramic its crackle pattern. Dee uses large galvanized steel garbage cans that she lines with hay and ferns from her yard.
It took years before Dee was in a position to pursue her art full time— she taught ceramic classes, ran a weaving store and managed a pottery boutique. Not until 1995, twenty-seven years after taking her first pottery class, could she realize her dream. She and her husband bought five acres on Lummi Island, Washington and converted a large barn into her studio.
Today, her work can be found in a number of art galleries, including Sisters Gift and Art Gallery on Lummi Island, Washington, Good Earth Pottery in Bellingham, Washington and the Borrego Art Institute Gallery in Borrego Springs, California.