• Essays
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  • Creative Continuum By Diane Daniel
    American Craft, April/May 2015
    • Creative Continuum
      By Diane Daniel
      American Craft, April/May 2015

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      The walls and shelves of Lissa Hunter’s airy studio in downtown Portland, Maine, bear a rich assortment of vessels and drawings, providing a 35-year timeline of her work, mostly in fiber.

      Coiled baskets sit atop counters and shelves, their surfaces covered in paper – in some cases drawn on – the tones earthy and deep. Others are coated in encaustic wax, drawn into with designs. One particularly striking piece rests atop a pedestal, its off-white exterior decorated with an illustration of a dried branch whose leaves extend up and onto a framed charcoal drawing on a gessoed wood panel placed above it, an evocative blending of forms.

      A nearby tabletop displays yet another body of work: rows of ceramic vessels, a medium the artist had next to no hands- on familiarity with until three years ago, when she followed the urge to break away from basketry.

      Hunter’s fiber sculptures have brought her awards and been purchased by collectors and museums, including the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gal- lery and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, but she’d found herself aching for a change.

      “A few years ago I was feeling as if I was repeating myself a lot with the basketry. I felt inauthentic,” says Hunter, who holds two fine arts degrees and was a tenured assistant profes- sor at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania until 1979, when she left to pursue art full-time.

      She can’t pinpoint why or how she chose ceramics.

      “You have something that works for you just below the level and you’re not sure what it even is,” she explains. “I probably saw some work that resonated and thought, ‘Oh, that’s what pottery could be.’ It also helped that there was a pottery studio four blocks away, it wasn’t expensive, and I liked the teacher.”

      In late 2011, Hunter started attending basic classes at Portland Pottery, learning how to build porcelain vessels both by coiling and slabs. Coiling felt familiar thanks to basketry, while the new medium enlivened the conversation between the material and her hands.

      About two years later, she committed herself to ceramics even more, investing in an electric kiln.

      “For two years, I thought, ‘This is just something I’m playing around with.’ I’m from Indiana – we don’t jump right into things,” she says with a laugh. “Even though it wasn’t hugely expensive, buying the kiln made it more real.”

      Surveying the clay vessels in her studio, their tones, shapes, and designs convey a continuation of her aesthetic and physicality as much as they do a switch in materials.

      “It’s really all about the process,” she says. “That’s the key. Materials are a partner in the process.” Some of the ceramic pieces are sculptural and stand alone, while others are com- bined in visual collections that hark back to her basketry tab- leaux. One grouping of small black-and-white vessels with drawings on the surface rep- resents Hunter’s first functional work – tumblers for juice, wine, or whatever.

      “People can use them! How exciting is that?” she says with a look of delight. “I’ve never had to think about size and sur- face in this way before.”

      For those, she employs sgraffito to achieve a graphic look, first brushing on a coat of black underglaze and then scratching away to reveal white lines and eventually form shapes, or wiping away to reveal the white porcelain underneath. Some of her pieces are covered with images of rocks, water, and plants. (She keeps boxes of objects, including dried leaves and branches, in her studio for inspiration.) Others show appeal- ing domestic scenes, including one ringed with clothes hanging on a line, complete with grass and dog.

      Craft Gallery in Rockland, Maine, has featured her new work in three shows, and the response has been enthusiastic. Still, Hunter does not consider herself a ceramic artist, nor has she closed the door on fiber.

      “I’d never say ‘I’m a potter.’ I say ‘I’m working with clay.’ I don’t know glazes, I don’t know a lot, and it’s not my community, though the community has been very generous of spirit. It some ways it’s more collaborative than basketmaking because of sharing kiln space, things like that.”

      Hunter plans to keep her ceramic forms simple and straightforward. “What I’m most interested in is ways of drawing on the surface. In that way, I can be in charge and it’s mine,” she says. “Of all the medi- ums, I feel like drawing is the most difficult thing to do. It’s just you and this thing you do.”

      Whatever form art takes, Hunter says, artists relaying what moves them is elemental, whether it is, in her case, assorted rocks and branches,a murder of crows, or laundry hanging on the line.

      “It’s an artist’s job – and it’s what’s thrilling as an artist – to look at the world, try to under- stand it, and try to manifest that understanding into something that someone can tune into – even if it’s something you drink your juice out of.”

      Craft Gallery in Rockland, Maine, will show new work by Lissa Hunter in July. Diane Daniel is a writer based in Florida and the Netherlands.

  • Lissa Hunter: Finding Her Truth by Stuart Kestenbaum
    Surface Design, Winter 2008
    • Lissa Hunter: Finding Her Truth
      Surface Design, Winter 2008
      by Stuart Kestenbaum

      Lissa Hunter is an explorer. In her art making she goes on journeys and enters into a world where not everything is clear. But for her, the exploration isn’t a linear journey—it’s circling back to what she has always known, only with each circle her art becomes richer and more mysterious. "Home, " T.S. Eliot writes in his poem East Coker, "is where we start from," and for Lissa Hunter her first home was the conservative, stable Midwest of the 1950s. She recollects that, growing up, art was something that she didn’t know about. At the same time, she remembers feeling that she would someday understand what it was and what it meant. The seeds of the way she would work and what she would become were already planted. Her mother, Ruth Purdy, sewed and reupholstered furniture and her father, "Cordy" Purdy, built furniture and repaired cars. He was also an avocational magician. And her paternal grandmother, Hardie Oglesby, always loved things that looked "dug up."

      Looking backward, it is always easier to see the patterns or paths that we have created in our own lives, and looking at Lissa Hunter’s work over time it is easy to see the traces of these most early influences: the repaired world, the elements that reveal a part of the story, and the love of materials.

      She was a literature major at Indiana University for two years before changing to painting in the Fine Arts Department. She then went on to graduate school in textiles there, receiving an MFA in textile design in 1971. After graduation, she headed to Pennsylvania where she taught at Mansfield University and continued weaving tapestries. Moving to Maine in 1979, she began to look for a "marketable art" to support herself as a studio artist. She started working with both baskets and paper, but separately. She felt constrained by the surfaces of the baskets, which were determined by the structures themselves, and realized that if she were to put paper on the basket form, she could change the surface. She began creating her signature pieces at that time—the coiled raffia basket with a paper skin—along with stitched collages.

      She was still searching, though, for her own artistic voice. It took her a long time, she says, to realize that "the personal aspects of someone's voice is what art is," and in dealing with her father's illness and death in 1991, her work began to change and become more personal. She was making work for a show at the Gallery on the Green in Lexington, Massachusetts, and found herself making work that was more emotional and drew on her own history. She found her work becoming more mysterious, and the planning sketches that she was making were evolving into angelic vertical figures, protective capes, and other guardian forms. Her father's death and the resulting artwork were for her the strongest emotional experience that she had ever gone through. It brought together her art and her family and made her realize that others "could see their truth in your truth and that's (as an artist) what you have to give."

      The work that Lissa Hunter has made since that time reveals a distinctive voice, one that masterfully combines content and technique. While her work is informed by the traditions of basketry, she sees herself as a sculptor. In the mid-'90s, she stopped making stand-alone baskets and placed them in and on boxes. Her intent wasn't to have the boxes be pedestals, but to be integral parts of the pieces, to make a larger context for the work. She makes full-size foam core models of the boxes, which are then built in medium density fiberboard by Doug Meader, a friend and woodworker.

      Her work has become more complex and layered. While she works with formal elements of line, shape, and color, she is simultaneously working with ideas. It's clearly an integrated process and for her "the process is everything." A single idea may drive the development of a whole body of work. In the series that she created for dis/appear, (Nancy Margolis Gallery, New York in 2004), she knew that she wanted to deal with the idea of disappearance. The idea of things that disappear became her lens, her filter for looking at the world. Disappearance could range from the vanishing marks of the cave paintings at Lascaux, to the lost garden tool, to the horrendous loss of life at Hiroshima.

      Or, more recently, in Uncommon Things (Jane Sauer Gallery, Santa Fe, 2006) pieces evolved out of investigation of the power that objects have in our lives and culture combined with objects that "people hold dear." She wrote to friends to see what objects in their lives had that power and created work that responded to their stories. The objects—the hammer that was passed from father to son, the red shoes that were the only remnant of a two-year-old's adoption journey from Korea to the United States—speak of the power that the commonplace has in our lives.

      Lissa Hunter is digging deeply and creating work that resonates on many levels. This is reflected not only in the ideas, but in the way that she is working. She is building surfaces and erasing surfaces, using acrylic paint, colored pencils, and the steady and rhythmic coiling of basket forms. She is driven by the process, the making, the idea. She can’t stop working on a piece, she says, "until it’s singing."

      The layering that her work has achieved is not only the layering of technique, but the layering of ideas, and of loss and love and memory. After the line "Home is where one starts from" in East Coker, T.S. Eliot continues, "As we grow older/The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated/Of dead and living..." Lissa Hunter sees her job as an artist not just to make more objects, but to explore those things that connect us to one another and to a world that is at once familiar and mysterious.

      Stuart Kestenbaum is a poet and Director of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. His third book of poems, Prayers and Run-on Sentences, was published in 2007 by Deerbrook Editions.

  • The Fiber of Our Lives by Christine Temin
    New England Home Magazine, May/June 2007
    • The Fiber of Our Lives
      New England Home Magazine, May/June 2007
      by Christine Temin

      Saying that Lissa Hunter makes baskets is a bit like saying that Picasso doodled. She does. He did. But in both cases the work transcends those simple categories. Hunter's baskets are about life, loss, love and death. While she has made baskets that function in the sense that you could, say, put a bouquet of dried flowers in them, they’re not really meant for carrying anything other than the meanings of human existence.

      In Hunter's studio in an old brick building in Portland, Maine, drawers and shelves are filled with buttons, shells, stones, feathers and beads, all key ingredients in her early work. However, she says, "I rarely use them anymore. Something happened in the work, a shift."

      The "something" was the 1991 loss of her father, just as she was preparing for a show at the Gallery on the Green in Lexington, Massachusetts. Her baskets, always exquisite and meticulously constructed, "used to be more decorative," she explains. "They were well-made, but didn't have much to say beyond that."

      During her father's long illness, though, and after his death, they took on a new solemnity and simplicity. Since then, her coiled baskets have mostly been made of raffia or waxed linen thread, with less emphasis on the adornments of the past.

      She works with themes. Before the 1991 show, she says, "I was thinking about power. I asked people about their definition of power." The responses ranged from storms to sex. "A nine-year-old girl said being a princess would be power,” Hunter says. “Then when my father was so sick, I thought about powerlessness." One work from that era, Hostages, is a series of little raffia baskets in irregular cone shapes, each bound with spruce roots. They have an anthropomorphic feel, slumping toward each other. They resemble, albeit in miniature, Rodin's great Burghers of Calais, noble prisoners on their way to their death.

      Some of Hunter's work is two-dimensional collage. A Cold Wind Blows, made of paper, metal, paint, oil stick, thread and pencil, was given a second name, the Ascension, by her dealers. It looks like an abstracted gown with a billowing blue train, rising toward heaven. To Hunter, it might also represent the ascension of her father. While her work comes out of the events of her life, that life hasn't been one of the clichéd struggling artist. "I ought to have had a tortured childhood in extreme poverty", she says. "But I didn’t."

      In the opulently illustrated 2006 book Lissa Hunter: Histories Real and Imagined, author Abby Johnston calls Hunter's upbringing "white bread." Hunter, born in Indianapolis in 1945, agrees—literally. In her corner of the Midwest at the time, she says, "Having whole wheat bread would have been considered suspect." Her father was a salesman; her mother sewed and braided rugs. "She was always making things," Hunter recalls. "That's a huge part of who I am."

      Hunter earned both a BA and an MFA from Indiana University. Her field was weaving. It was only after surgery in 1975 left her too weak to use a loom that she made her first basket. Instantly captivated by basketry, she has by now devoted more than half her life to it.

      After leaving a teaching job at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania, she relocated in 1979 to Maine, where she found a supportive community of artists and a burgeoning art scene, thanks to a growing number of galleries, the Portland Museum of Art and the Maine College of Art.

      While she still leads workshops, since moving to Maine she's managed sometimes just barely, to earn a living through her art rather than through full-time teaching. She exhibits frequently, all around the country, and her works are in the permanent collections of institutions including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

      Hunter came of age as an artist just as contemporary basketry came of age as an art. She cites the 1986 book The Basketmaker's Art: Contemporary Baskets and Their Makers, edited by Rob Pulleyn, as an important validation of the field. The book focused on twenty-six artists, Hunter included.

      She talks abut an ongoing, lively debate in the basket world. "A lot of contemporary basket makers use odd materials," she says. "'Oh, wouldn't it be a kick to make a basket out of license plates!'" she says, giving an imaginary extreme example. Her attitude is the opposite. "I like materials that are anonymous," she says, "so I can impose meanings on them."

      Those meanings come from sources as diverse as the theories of Charles Darwin to Abbott and Costello movies.

      Her 2004 Evolution/Extinction is based on Darwin’s warning that as a species becomes rarer, it is in danger of disappearing altogether. Hunter expresses this idea through a horizontal parade of little baskets on a shelf-like pedestal. They start out small at the left, grow into robustness, then dwindle. Finally, at the right, the shelf is unoccupied. The message could hardly be expressed more effectively by a painter or sculptor.

      The Abbott and Costello piece, Bud, Lou and Monsieur Magritte, is based on a 1940s movie in which the two comedians were ghosts who could pass through walls. Hunter’s translation of the plot is an ordinary black chair sawed in two, each half placed against a wall, implying that its other half has passed through to the other side. Small round red baskets that look like apples, littered on and round the chair halves, are a nod to inexplicable floating objects of the surrealist René Magritte.

      Hunter doesn’t take herself too seriously. Some of her works include a few smooth gray-blue beach stones. "I collect them by the shore," she says airily, "wearing a white gown, at daybreak."

      Then, erupting with laughter she announces, "I buy them at a stone supplier who usually sells by the ton."

      Christine Temin is a freelance writer, formerly art critic for The Boston Globe.

  • Only Closer by John Edwards
    Erie Art Museum Catalogue, Erie PA, 2003
    • Histories Catalogue
      Erie Art Museum, Erie, Pennsylvania
      September 2003 to February, 2004

      Only Closer
      by John Edwards

      First she's a basket maker. First and foremost, and still. First she makes coiled baskets, precise, neat, colorful. Then she covers the exteriors, skins them in paper, paint and texture.

      And her point is that when you approach them, they are—what. Ceramic. You can't tell. Adorned with leather, leaves, and beads. But when you look inside, there are fiber coils. Discovery, magic. To perform this magic you have to pick them up, handle them. That's what the paper and paint were there to protect and to allow in the first place.

      Now the baskets are set in little niches, precisely their size, made for them. The niches are cut into slabs made for the wall. To be seen. Hands off, the discovery inside no longer possible, no longer permitted.

      So the secret of the baskets has been buried. Is this a cenotaph. Are these baskets votive offerings. Do they hold invisible remains. Are they empty?

      She turns them upside down and they become people sometimes, seeds usually, peas in a pod waiting their chance. That chance doesn't always come, and she replaces them with rocks at times. Take your pick. Life or death.

      Or perhaps history. The niches open up and grow, like seeds germinating, to become shelves on which histories unfold. Left to right, birth to death. Along the way, milestones of books, pencils, and yes, still baskets. If it wasn't about baskets first and last, she’d have abandoned them long ago.

      Calligraphy scrubbed on the slab faces suggests stories but doesn't actually tell them, because they are not words. It's a kind of automatic writing, the impulse—the desire—to write, to tell the story, but restrained or thwarted, the shell of the story remaining.

      Her work suggests a life that allows for orderly shelves, humor, craft, and wordplay. Yes, and orderly shelves.

      Some of her baskets have lids. Some lids are stones, sealed tight. What's a basket anyway. Is a basket about what's in it, or what might be. Or what once was. You pick: the Holder or the Held.

      ***

      The first piece I saw was "Fogbound," a small basket with a complex woven skin set in tiered fields of faint violet squares, and my immediate reaction was, "Michelangelo." I thought of his columns in the vestibule of the Laurentian Library, buried in the walls, a tension of compressed force much like his unfinished "Slaves," bodies trapped in stone struggling to break free. In Michelangelo's case that energy, forever entombed, was sexual. I considered the compressed energy in "Obsession," "Rare Earth," "Winter Sea." I looked at "Hymn," ("him"/"hymen"), its phallic power combining both male and female sexual energy within a Tantric urn. Hymn, him, hymen.

      Or maybe not. Perhaps the baskets have been set apart for special use. The niches, after all, have evolved to fit the baskets, not the other way around—regardless of what "Origin of Species" has to say. Or again, maybe not.

      What comes first, the basket or the niche. Do they shape each other. The niches evolve and grow as much as the baskets do. In "Tea," with its maps and its long look back, there’s no tea in those baskets. There never was. And what's more important anyway. The container or the contained. This seems to be the question. And her answer. She doesn't quite believe in the survival of the soul, that's what I think. Perhaps not even the soul itself.

      But she believes in carcass and carapace and shell. If there's anything else, you'll have to supply it. And if there isn't—if under the comfort of the domestic, there is darkness?

      Robert Frost would have understood her in a heartbeat.

      ***

      Earth-tone and chi-quivering sack, boxes, earth tomes and virgin vessel. Go ahead, look inside. The hat is empty. See, folks. Step right up. The magician's hat is empty. Her father was a magician. Presto change-o! A rabbit. Fortunate fecund magic. And just when you thought the hat was empty. Following in his footsteps, she shows you the abyss and at the last second: Abracadabra! Life! But not life. Something that waits for life. Some Ur-book, unreadable in principal and meant to stay that way. A cup for life full of whatever you put into it.

      Her baskets wait like little boats at dock. Safe and sound.

      Or maybe not. Maybe adrift, empty and rudderless, lost in an empty sea. And Poof! The rabbit's gone. The hat is empty again.

      Apparently you can read a book by its cover. Why do you buy a basket anyway. If a cardboard box would do the trick. Some Puritan strictness about the utility of beauty and the beauty of utility. We cold talk for a long time about primal and ancient and traditional and folk. We'd use words like Anasazi and Yoruba. We'd say reeds. We'd say birch bark. We'd say hemp. We'd say Pueblo and Shinto. You’d say Feng Shui and laugh as though you hadn’t meant if. I'd say Martha Stewart and laugh as though I had.

      We look at these stories and we say color-field and minimalist in order to avoid admitting we are squinting for the Grand Design. We say vignette and snapshot, feeling again that these stark, ectoplasmic fuse boxes are more about the maker than the made. The omniscient hunter says "I", and we become I, the disembodied eye, who has to work hard to figure out what the story is about.

      We say, "desert" or we say "hearth and frosted windows." And these archeological earth-tone-poems shape-shift with the words. And the story plays. This one is about—

      We who squint for meaning and purpose in return for the Ah Ha! moment, discover that Hunter has been there ahead of us. All she asks is that we slow down a minute and tell a story, or listen for the echo of one told.

      John Edwards if the director of the Erie Art Musuem, Erie, Pennsylvania.

  • Unspoken Stories by Dennis Jarrett
    Munson Gallery Catalogue, Santa Fe NM, 2000
    • Lissa Hunter Stories Catalogue
      Munson Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico
      May 2000

      Unspoken Stories
      by Dennis Jarrett

      The first story I read by Lissa Hunter was called Stone Stack, a freestanding gray square with a stark, Euclidian niche in the middle filled with gray river rocks. Like a poem in the Japanese tradition of makuzuke ("connecting with the previous verse") it announces Hunter's intentions and its membership in a community of like-minded pieces. The others don’t progress from it—each work predicts the others—but each is a unique variation on her theme. Hunter's explanation of Stone Stack is almost as basic as its subject. She writes that her childhood home was filled with incongruous objects, and that as a youngster she realized "they all had histories." Nothing on earth has as much history as the most ordinary rock, and Hunter's fascination with stones is perhaps as strong as her fascination with stories. "I think rocks are beautiful," she told me, "I like to hold them. Stones are the most primal material on earth."

      Primal is at the top of the list when I imagine a short glossary of Hunter's Stories. Many of the other words in the glossary, as you'll see, would be scribbled in the kind of runic handwriting that requires a special monk to interpret, and he is nowhere to be found. Primal’s cousin, Primitive, doesn't appear on the list because the sophistication of Hunter's vision rules it out, or at least keeps it in the background.

      What Hunter does in Stories is to create a protective setting for her primal, or primary subject, usually a basket. Basketry is the foundation of her art, but at this point in her development the baskets both reflect and transcend their ancient heritage. These are the great-grandchildren of the woven boxes that once carried apples, ears of corn or seed. What embodies and displays them is not simply a platform. It's an environment, and rather than yielding to the main subject, it contributes to it. Again, a Japanese term comes to mind: a tokonoma is an alcove "in which may be placed such objects as a calligraphy scroll, a stone, or a flower arrangement." I asked her about the impulse to sequester baskets inside these little caves.

      "Most of my baskets, over a period of ten or twelve years, were much larger and stood on their own," she replied, "I wanted to find a way of incorporating them into a visual context. I didn't want pedestals, I wanted a place for them to be which would expand on the meaning of the piece. Since I also wanted text, I needed a flat surface. It was like a spiritual engineering problem."

      You're quite likely to notice this visual context before you pay attention to the item it presents. And context is the perfect word, because often Hunter surrounds her baskets and her pots with words. As she says, she wanted text. You encounter Hunter’s words like a young child or a foreign scholar because you're unable to read them. Yet you can almost break the code. Hunter’s text is like the English of the future: it’s recognizable, it's divided into words, it even has the character of a particular handwriter. It reminded me at first of looking at my own notes, scribbled in haste. I can see that I wrote them, but I don't know for sure what they say. Like molecules, like the Rosetta stone, like good art, these words require scrutiny. So does the volume which contains them.

      Take a look at Rare Earth, for example. It's a 30-inch square with a protective slot which holds (tightly) a woven wire basket, an ovoid. Like her other baskets, it's made from the technique of coiling. Here, Hunter has used a coated wire ("hook-up wire" from Radio Shack), not a traditional material. It's covered with wax linen thread. "Rare Earth", she explained, "is made like the others. I cover all my baskets with paper, gluing it on, and then I paint it with a light wash of water-based pigment. This makes the paper look like a skin—it tightens onto its base. On top of that I stitch a net onto the surface of the basket."

      You want to know what's inside. (These pieces are a museum guard's nightmare. Alone with it one day, I took it out and looked. Inside was a piece of a paper with a number on it. I replaced the basket and examined its surroundings.) There is a spread of indecipherable writing. You can see the shapes of words, even notice a certain cursive style—perhaps Hunter's own, or that of a wizard. After a few minutes, you’re apt to decide you've come upon an impenetrable encryption.

      But maybe not. If I lived with this piece, I'd spend a lot of time puzzling it out. Or I'd turn to an apparently easier chunk of discourse such as the text written on A Fool’s Tools. On its front are six lines of script, enticingly black and well-defined. You stare at them. They're even more frustrating (read: interesting) than the vocabulary of Rare Earth because Hunter's private language looks maddeningly familiar. You create, or recreate, known words in the text, like thee and gain, some and arm. If you look away and try to find them again, they're gone, reabsorbed into their own tied tongue. On a ledge above the text are four striped containers, each filled with the pencils of an architectural alchemist, their stubby, blunt writing points sticking out. But of course they don't work, they don't write a single word for an ordinary person like me. I tried. Like certain functions on a computer, these pencils are "unavailable." Unless you know the secret.

      If Hunter's sculptures arrive at the eye like mail from the only native speaker of their language, why does she call them stories?

      "One of the things I like about this collection of pieces," she told me, "is that other people see stories in them. They're a juxtaposition of objects and a faux text, and so people come up with stories. I'm not trying to tell anybody anything, but I like the fact that people read them. I have no story in mind, but I write in response to what the piece is. I used to represent crows and I'd think what would crows write like? I realized the script can have its own voice."

      In other words, Hunter's work provides the occasion for stories, the impetus to imagine or invent them. Faux or not, her different dialects almost beg for translation and in the process you find yourself looking for the words, the baskets, the rocks, the entire work, to mean something—to signify as well as be. It's conceptual art at its best—not the illustration of an idea you can parse, but the suggestion that certain kinds of meaning are beyond words.

      Unspoken Farewell contains a small basket that looks like a wasp's nest because Hunter has crocheted knobby beads onto the wax-linen surface. It's capped with the river rock God seems to have made precisely for this basket. Naturally, it's covered with words. The script—I'm tempted to say the vocabulary—of this piece is so tiny and cribbed that it seems to have been generated not just by a different scribe, but by a different grammar than you see on the other pieces. It's unspoken and then some.

      Reunion, the largest piece in the collection, is a sort of tribal display of baskets, all different sizes and as laden with family resemblances as an Icelandic picnic. At the base, each basket is coiled raffia palm fiber wrapped around cord. The top of the basket is a stiff paper surface which Hunter insists is "just art supply store stuff" but which in her hands, takes on the appearance of something other-worldly. When I told her that, she said, "Good. I like to transform things. I imagined it as family reunion. You see these tattered snapshots of old people and kids who look vaguely the same, the overweight patriarch and matriarch usually in the middle. Think of, you know, Uncle Bud who lost his arm in the war. So this is like an album of photos."

      But of course a great transformation has taken place. The relatives at their luncheon on the grass have been turned into baskets. Often during our conversations, Hunter spoke of her interest in transforming things. "Part of this interest," she said, "is, Can I do it? I want to make it mine. I like taking an anonymous, plain piece of paper and enhancing it, rumpling it, putting spackle all over it. By doing that I make it my own. I think it's my job to take anonymous things and make them my own."

      Whatever you experience when you look at this adventurous work, whatever you bring to it, you're reading the stories of Lissa Hunter.

      Dennis Jarrett is a freelance writer in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

  • Reviews
    • None
  • Lissa Hunter at CRAFT Gallery by Britta Konau
    Same Voice/Different Song
    CRAFT Gallery, Rockland ME
    The Free Press, September 25, 2013
    • Same Voice/Different Song
      September 6 to October 12, 2013

      Review: The Free Press, October, 2013
      Lissa Hunter at CRAFT Gallery
      by Britta Konau

      Among young artists it is now relatively common to forego specific tags like "painter" or "sculptor," as they tend to engage in what medium and technique best serves their purpose; and contemporary artists in general are increasingly comfortable crossing over the traditional line into craft and combining approaches from both paths of training. That this also works in the opposite direction, from craft to so-called fine art, and not just for the physically young, is wonderfully illuminated by a showing of Lissa Hunter’s recent work at Rockland's CRAFT Gallery.

      With degrees in painting and textiles, Hunter (b. 1945) started out as a weaver, then turned toward basketry, but has essentially always been a mixed-media artist. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Master Craft Artist Award from the Maine Crafts Association in 2009, and her work has been reviewed in many national craft magazines and featured in several survey publications. A number of important museums collect her work, among them the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Museum of Arts and Design.

      Throughout her career, Hunter has stretched her expressive scope and proven sensitive to her materials' properties. Compositionally, most of her pieces combine a supporting or framing structure with one or more three-dimensional objects. The latter evoke relics from an ancient time that appreciated nature as its spiritual source of comfort and power. Quiet and contemplative, Hunter’s pieces are the result of much soul-searching, research, planning, and time-consuming execution.

      It is truly inspiring to see how the creative impulse knows no material boundaries in Hunter's case. Her CRAFT Gallery show includes a broad scope of media—works on paper and wood, as well as clay and porcelain forms—held together by a predominance of drawing, which Hunter only relatively recently discovered as a central form of expression. There is only one piece, "Autumn Sea," that in its tight design harks back to older work and remains outside the conversation the other pieces seem to engage in as motifs, themes and ideas bounce around between pieces of the same or different medium, recurring and changing in the process.

      Four large charcoal drawings on gessoed paper depict flowers, plants, and fern fronds in strongly silhouetted contrast. Attached to each are squares of gessoed wood in black, deep frames that feature continuations of the motifs in charcoal as well, but varnished to a gloss as if painted. Although the drawings’ scale remains the same, the raised images feel as if zoomed into focus. They also force the viewer to look at each work straight on to take in the entire image.

      A similar concept governs four pieces combining shelves of smooth stones, vessels and bottles with figurative stoppers, all made of clay, with related two-dimensional images. Overall palettes range from warm ochre and earth tones to cool whites and greys, suggesting associations with land and air. The still-life objects bear marks and residues of lines and vague inscriptions, evocative of an ancient origin. In addition, their edges are darkened as if by age and use, or as if drawn with volumetric shading. The charcoal images on the panels above each arrangement repeat the motif of the stoppers or suggest a new theme. Thus in "Come Winter" the leaves blown sideways atop the clay bottle twirl through a nondescript sky on the panel. In “Coming Home” a bird apparently is about to land on the vessels beneath. These seasonal narratives of nature pay close attention to the movement of air in a medium of the earth.

      Porcelain is the medium for a collection of small, vertical vessels listed as tumblers. Built from slabs into imperfect shapes, they ask to be held, crossing over into the functional. Scraped and incised, embossed and painted, their varied surfaces feature abstract patterns or stylized birds and other natural elements. I felt myself drawn to these pieces because of the freedom and playfulness of their forms and designs.

      The tumblers relate to "Forest for Trees," a larger assemblage of columnar vessels decorated with abstracted trees and perched atop a shelf decorated with indecipherable writing. Like one continuous exploration, similar surface and design treatments adorn two tall, undulating vases as well, while a single charcoal drawing expands on the image of a flock of birds. Hunter is clearly fascinated by making, getting to know new materials, and learning new techniques. In the process, she transforms all material she touches into her own formal and representational vocabulary, which is inspired by her observation of nature, noting seasonal changes like a diarist. It is utterly exciting to feel the sense of experimentation and discovery in this collection of her work—being young and adventuresome is clearly not a question of age at all.

      Britta Konau writes a biweekly column, art current, for The Free Press

  • In the Arts: Masters of darkness deliver shades of brilliance,
    Old Friends/New Work, June Fitzpatrick Gallery, Portland ME
    by Phillip Isaacson,
    The Portland Press Herald, September 19, 2010
    • Old Friends/New Work: Tom Hall and Lissa Hunter
      June Fitzpatrick Gallery, Portland, Maine
      September 9 to 25, 2010

      Review: The Portland Press Herald, September 19, 2010 In the Arts: Masters of darkness deliver shades of brilliance by Phillip Isaacson

      The title to the show notwithstanding -- "Old Friends/New Work" -- Tom Hall and Lissa Hunter struck me as an odd combination. Hall is a master of darkness. You grapple for light when you digest one of his paintings. That search gives them their urgency.

      Hunter, by long occupation, is a basket maker who has gently tapped the sublime. I have seen examples of her work that were so demure and fragile that they touched my heart. Hall's paintings and Hunter's baskets -- fat bravura strokes versus the delicate intensity of a Swiss watchmaker -- would not relax in company with each other, friendship or not.

      These were my thoughts when I first heard of the show at the June Fitzpatrick Gallery in Portland. My perceptions turned out to be wrong, largely because Hunter appeared as a draftsman-painter and not as an artisan. To jump from a craft in which she had achieved high recognition into the dangerous waters of drawing and painting was cause for speculation.

      In any event, the jump was a secure one; Hunter, I have learned, trained as a painter before she began making baskets. Her compositions in this show, although independently achieved, have an attitude that is coincidental to that of Hall's. I think of Hall as elegiac. He reflects on the Shakers, on the old hills along the Saco River, on woodlands that have been clear-cut, on cornfields that have been harvested.

      He maintains enough edge to prevent the images from sliding into melancholy; otherwise stated, he uses darkness to displace wistfulness. It is not a matter of balancing between light and darkness; his paintings are not nocturnes. Rather, through the agency of darkness, he comments on the elapse of events with considerable passion. His paintings can be quite remarkable.

      Returning to Hunter, here she appears as a commentator on nature -- on stones, leaves, pods, birds and so on. The subjects invite a cordial embrace, but like Hall, she keeps her distance. Birds roosting as day ends merge into coagulated dark masses. Dark flowers have darker leaves in a mottled space. Leaves, stones and pods are offered in articulated muscular form. It is all consequential and, at least in suggestion, dark. The decorative opportunities provided by the subject matter are declined.

      To sum things up, here are two intense artists with very little in common other than their individual intensities and inclinations toward darkness. Those ingredients are somehow sufficient. This is an extremely good show.

      Phillip Isaacson, Senior Art Critic, Portland Press Herald

  • Telluride Gallery opening Hunter’s ‘Life Stories’
    by Susan Viebrock, Telluride Daily Planet, December 14, 2007
    • Life Stories
      Telluride Gallery of Fine Art, Telluride, Colorado
      December 14, 2007

      Review: Telluride Daily Planet, December 14, 2007
      Telluride Gallery Opening Hunter’s "Life Stories"
      By Susan Viebrock

      Lissa Hunter's art will never go out of fashion, because life never goes out of fashion and she makes art about life – hers and ours.

      Hunter is not a Pop artist, but like the great Pop artists – Warhol's soup cans or Claes Oldenburg's lipstick come to mind – she transforms time-worn clichés into imagery so visually compelling it halts you.

      In Hunter's idiosyncratic world, tightly coiled vessels wrapped in paper like skin become metaphors for people. We are what we covet.

      In Hunter's capable hands – and, at Indiana University, she was schooled as a consummate craftsperson/fiber artist as well as a fine artist – a simple and commonly used phrase such as "Empty Nester" is transformed into visual poetry.

      "Empty Nester" is the title of one of Hunter’s mixed media works, now on display at the Telluride Gallery of Fine Art. The show opens today, Friday, December 14, with an artist’s reception, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. The artist is in town and scheduled to speak at 6:30 p.m.

      “I find the phrase 'Empty Nester' quite poignant. "Life changes for better or for worse when children leave home."

      The blue/gray palette of the painted surface suggests the autumn or winter of our lives. Orange tones suggest hope.

      The dynamic tension within the work is heightened by the delicacy and formal economy of the image of two birds leaving a forlorn tree and the nest itself, which is primitive and rough.

      Art critic Harold Rosenberg coined the phrase "the tradition of the new." His theory was that fresh vitality comes from fresh insight, inevitably the contribution of an artist who sees the same set of variables everyone else sees everyday, but from a radically different angle.

      Enter Hunter, who spins Rosenberg's insights slightly differently in Abby Johnston's handsome book about her life and work:

      "The main ability that defines an artist seems to me to be visual acuity," she explains. 'Every sighted person can be educated to use his or her sense of vision more perceptively, but some are born with what may be an overdeveloped capacity for assimilating visual cues. Their responses to the world are based primarily on visual information and take visual forms."

      The pure and simple eye appeal of Hunter's work is what grabs us first. We are seduced up front and the hold is so tight, we are in danger of falling in love and maybe missing the point.

      The fun really begins when you scratch the surface.

      And while we are on the subject, Hunter does just that all the time. Like the artist Cy Twombly, an influence, Hunter often covers her painted surfaces with marks that resemble children’s doodles or graffiti. In any case, these scribbles are indecipherable: "I think introducing actual words into a work of art is a cop out: they are often used when the image isn't enough to convey the artist’s intention. My marks are simply my way of putting a human voice into my work."

      Not only the marks, but the architecture of Hunter's pieces is important in understanding what the lady is up to.

      In Hunter's work, 3D objects rest in special niches or on shelves.

      The objects, mostly her signature coiled baskets made of raffia or waxed linen thread, but also now – and newly - snakes and fish, are the actors. Niches with and without doors and shelves are stages on which Hunter's unique brand of theatre is played out.

      Hunter directs the show. We, her audience, complete the creative process.

      Hunter's "productions" always have a leitmotif: she works thematically using a core concept that tends to reveal as much about the artist as her subject.

      "My work is autobiographical, painfully so. If I could do it otherwise, I would, but I can't."

      In this show, the unifying idea is the expressions we use to describe other people.

      "I started out with 60 or 70 phrases. Some I found very interesting, but were hard to make visual. Lots came from literature, others from pop culture."

      In "Late Bloomer," the bowls, cups, pitchers, vases arrayed on the top shelf know what they are. "The piece that takes center stage, the one in the middle, had to grow and grow until it finally – and literally – flowered," explained Hunter.

      The platform for "Late Bloomer" and other works began with a maquette made of foam core, a board that can easily be cut with a knife.

      "I make the shape first so I can see the proportions, then send it along to my friend Doug, who used medium density fiberboard to make the support for the baskets. Once the form is back in my hands, I apply a coat of gesso, which then gets plastered with a dry wall compound to make a small surface on which to paint. Once the painting is complete – and painting the part of the process that gives me a stomach ache, because it is hard to know when to stop – the surface is glazed and drawn on," explained the artist.

      "But She Is Beautiful On the Inside" is one of the most personal statements in the show.

      "Growing up, I experienced lots of good things, but I was never a beauty. The use of this phrase is designed to make a person feel better about themselves, but it often has the opposite effect."

      When the doors surrounding the central object, a beautiful vase enshrined in a golden altar, are shut, all the viewer sees is a brown, spattered rectangle.

      "Snake in the Grass" marks a big departure for Hunter.

      'Fish Out of Water' is a variation on the theme of this breakthrough. "In both cases I had to tell myself 'coiling' does not have to mean 'vessel.'

      The painted surface of "Snake" is a visual joke: the "grass" itself is comprised of wreathing snakes.

      Hunter made her first basket in 1975. Until then, she had defined herself more as a teacher than an artist.

      In 1979, she moved to South Berwick, Maine, where the community of artists embraced her. In 1980, Hunter had her first one-woman show.

      The Telluride Gallery of Fine is located at 130 East Colorado. For further information, go to www.telluridegallery.com or call 970-728-3707.

  • Lissa Hunter
    Erie Art Museum by Richard Schindler
    American Craft, April/May 2004
    • Histories
      Erie Art Museum, Erie, Pennsylvania
      September 12, 2003 to February 1, 2004

      Review: American Craft, April/May 2004
      Lissa Hunter
      by Richard Schindler

      "Histories", the title of the Maine artist Lissa Hunter's exhibition, could as easily be "Appearances Can Be Deceiving." Her mixed-media pieces are deceptively simple and certainly disarming in their apparent emotional transparency. However, her art confidently traverses a wide terrain, from world politics and commerce through geological time and natural history to familial autobiography. Each work combines painstaking technique with a wealth of detail that, for the most part, feels intimate and profound.

      Boxlike forms, constructed from paper- and plaster-covered fiberboard, function as frame, niche, shelf and ledge. Hunter’s use of trompe l’oeil transforms the surfaces of each work. Acrylic paint, pencil and occasional stitching mimic the effects of writing, veined natural textures and decorative wood surfaces. Hand-drawn images, illustrations, maps and transference prints are embedded within some of these surfaces. Many of the boxes enfold or support fragile vessels of coiled waxed linen or raffia made to look like miniature baskets, hand-thrown vases, carved wooden bottles or glazed ceramics.

      The serial works offer a trenchant narrative on natural history. The seven-part Morse Mountain Suite, 2003, seems to be a relatively conventional homage to a nature preserve, celebrating such features as fog, woods, grasses, rocks and sun. Each piece, however, depicts the personal experience of a complex landscape, with the distinctive materiality of the named element in the foreground and a conceptual reference added as well. Night Sky, for example, delineates a painted image of a gradually darkening atmosphere across the planar surface of the main body of the work. A manifestation of the constellations merges above the box on a semicircular panel, resembling the zodiacal index of an illuminated manuscript. A dipper, literally a humorous aside, hangs from a peg inserted into the side of the painted container.

      On the Origin of the Species, 2001, presents a transition in eight stages, from white egg-shaped vessel to a dark loam-colored square. The transformation is less cinematic (a series of static frames) than accretive (a gradual sift of viewpoint over time). A different sense of the passage of time informs Hymn, in which a russet-colored surface is partially worn to reveal serried rows of irregular triangles (reminiscent of the neumes of early musical notation). At the center, within a niche, stands a capped vessel of dark golden hue, suggesting the autumnal timbre of an ancient song of praise.

      Treaty, 1999, the largest work in the exhibition, sets a tone of solemnity that slowly dissolves the closer one approaches. Penciled scrawls across the surface echo cursive script on yellowed parchment. The effect is one of quickly scanned text, the shape of words and flow of sentences suggested, yet never fully realized by the viewer. The bifurcated woven vessel enshrined within the upper register of the piece is loosely bound by a scrap of cloth, suggesting the fragile nature of a truce.

      Not all the works are equally successful. Biography, 1999, a long shelf covered with similarly colored objects ostensibly representing the life of the artist's mother, resembles a photographic setup for the advance publicity of a Ken Burns-style documentary. More poignantly, Tribute (Mother), 1998, evokes a piercing sense of loss and faded memory through its smudged white surface, as if a text had been imperfectly erased. A small beaded bowl sits quietly within its shallow niche. In a row above it hang a key, several folded decorative notepapers and a slender brush. They suggest secrets yet to be unlocked or hoped-for messages unrevealed. Several rounded stones lie on top of the work, as they do in the work Old Soul, 1999, in reference to the Judaic tradition of placing stones on a grave. Hunter excels at these muted testaments to time and memory, conveying an elegiac mood resonant with unspoken meanings.

      Richard A. Schindler is an associate professor of art history at Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania

  • Lissa Hunter: Stories by Kathleen McCloud
    Fiberarts, March/April 2001
    • Lissa Hunter: Stories
      Munson Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico

      Review: Fiberarts, March/April 2001
      by Kathleen McCloud

      Lissa Hunter's baskets, whether framed in a wood box or delicately perched on a shelf, are a paradox of simplicity and complexity. On the one hand, they are solitary vessels, placed in hollows within the frame. On the other hand, the baskets and frames are so embellished with twining, wrapping, coiling, fastening, and marking that they take on a dramatic presence, silent and yet laden with ritual activiity.

      Hunter's show, titled "Stories," at the Munson Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in July 2000, was grounded in her history as an accomplished and painstaking basketmaker. The bold, singular wall pieces, like succinct monologues, are especially strong. In Obsession, a basket is tightly enveloped within its wood frame, which is covered with horizontal rows of graphite marks—indecipherable but closely resembling script.

      For a moment, the viewer steps close to see what is being revealed. Rather than suggest meaning by forming words, the O’s drawn on the wood draw the eye to the loops of the netted basket surface and, from there, to the roundness of the basket. Hunter's mindful use of repeating forms leads the viewer into the matrix of the basket itself.

      The tableaux pieces arranged on shelves allude more to the utility of baskets. In Small Gifts, Hunter gives a nostalgic glance at what is cherished. The sealed letters, tied stones, and baskets used for storing pencils speak to a relationship between things. A few words written on paper and sealed become a letter, and a rock wrapped in raffia becomes a talisman.

      In Reunion, the metaphor of vessel as body is taken to the top. An array of baskets in a variety of sizes, each topped with thin strips of translucent rawhide “buttoned up” like starched white shirts, reads like a 20-year school reunion where tall, short, fat, and thin all converge—size being the distinguishing feature in this reunion.

      Hunter's background as a basketmaker is evident in her willingness to conceal all signs of her expertise in weaving the core structure. Working with strands of coated wire, she coils the basket and then wrapes it with waxed linen thread. She then wraps it in a skin of paper. As when drapery covers an oiled body, what is concealed compels us to look closely. On some of the baskets, the subtle protrusions of the underlying structure emerge. In others, the final addition of net stitched to the paper-covered basket leads the eye into the repetition of the pattern.

      Gourds, small shells, and beads are also incorporated into some of Hunter's baskets. These embellishments evoke fragility, but the knots, ties, and coils she uses to attach them to the basket imbue a structural integrity that overrides delicacy. If a basket were to fall from its environs, it is as if it would be protected by the rhythm and repetition of technique that went into the making.

      Kathleen McCloud is a visual artist and arts writer living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

  • Lissa Hunter at Nancy Margolis
    by Janet Koplos, Art In America, July 1996
    • Lissa Hunter: Objects & Other Stories
      Nancy Margolis Gallery, New York, New York
      December 1 to 30, 1995

      Review: Art In America, July 1996
      Lissa Hunter at Nancy Margolis
      by Janet Koplos

      All the works Lissa Hunter showed at Margolis were geometric containers: boxes on the pedestals and box frames on the walls. These orderly structures are usually inset with less-regular objects—water-worn stones, small closed baskets covered with a smoothing layer of paper, twigs—while the surfaces are busy with ink marks that look like cursive text or with stitched raffia lines that may evoke numerical tallies.

      Letter from the Farm is one of seven wall-hung frame pieces each just under a foot square and an inch and a half deep. The frame elements are about 3 inches wide, painted to resemble wood grain and punctured with rows of stiff green or yellow threads half an inch long. This stubble sweeps in one direction or anothe like short hair on a head or (given the titular clue) like growing crops. A rough-edged, apparently wooden, block covered with scribbled lines fills the frame; a smaller square is painted on this block and at the center of that is a dark-brown swatch of a thick substance (paper or fabric) pocked with indentations that make it resemble a miniature quilt or a dark cracker. The reiteration of a static form like a square could be utterly boring, but here the gentle and varied repetition seems warm and comfortable.

      In others of the “Letter” series and also in larger works such as In the Beginning, a 40-by-12-inch wall piece, Hunter represents written language with paragraph-like clumps of short lines of scribbles and slashes. In this largish work (the biggest wall piece is 79 inches tall) a central dark channel holds a stack of hand-size, paper-covered closed baskets. One thinks of eggs in a trough or seeds in a furrow or, more speculatively, of the female genital cleft. Eggs and seeds are beginnings, and baskets can also symbolize beginning: they were probably the first man-made containers. Scattered across the frame in this piece are patches of interlaced raffia, which may represent another origin: the simplest textile construction.

      If All Else Fails, another wall piece, is a working sketch. Inset at its center are nine little coiled baskets, base out. But these seem less significant than the drawings on the 4-inch-wide frame, which depict similar baskets—stacked like a spine, paired lip to lip, diagrammed, annotated. Here, too, Hunter offers the appearance of language in mysterious marks that provoke thoughts of whispered codes and secret knowledge. Yet the function of language must be important to her as well, for she supplied a gallery information sheet of stories that inspired her works. These anecdotes—the memory of a childhood friend’s kindness, her discovery that Ghanaian fishermen use the same net-mending techniques as those used in Maine, where she lives, irreligious ruminations—are funny, informative or emotionally revealing, and they give depth to the work. For her, the boxes may “hold” such histories. But the nonspecific allusiveness of forms and surfaces that deal with ordering, communication and generativity is quite sufficient in itself.

      Janet Koplos, Senior Editor, Art In America

Creative Continuum
By Diane Daniel
American Craft, April/May 2015

Download PDF

The walls and shelves of Lissa Hunter’s airy studio in downtown Portland, Maine, bear a rich assortment of vessels and drawings, providing a 35-year timeline of her work, mostly in fiber.

Coiled baskets sit atop counters and shelves, their surfaces covered in paper – in some cases drawn on – the tones earthy and deep. Others are coated in encaustic wax, drawn into with designs. One particularly striking piece rests atop a pedestal, its off-white exterior decorated with an illustration of a dried branch whose leaves extend up and onto a framed charcoal drawing on a gessoed wood panel placed above it, an evocative blending of forms.

A nearby tabletop displays yet another body of work: rows of ceramic vessels, a medium the artist had next to no hands- on familiarity with until three years ago, when she followed the urge to break away from basketry.

Hunter’s fiber sculptures have brought her awards and been purchased by collectors and museums, including the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gal- lery and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, but she’d found herself aching for a change.

“A few years ago I was feeling as if I was repeating myself a lot with the basketry. I felt inauthentic,” says Hunter, who holds two fine arts degrees and was a tenured assistant profes- sor at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania until 1979, when she left to pursue art full-time.

She can’t pinpoint why or how she chose ceramics.

“You have something that works for you just below the level and you’re not sure what it even is,” she explains. “I probably saw some work that resonated and thought, ‘Oh, that’s what pottery could be.’ It also helped that there was a pottery studio four blocks away, it wasn’t expensive, and I liked the teacher.”

In late 2011, Hunter started attending basic classes at Portland Pottery, learning how to build porcelain vessels both by coiling and slabs. Coiling felt familiar thanks to basketry, while the new medium enlivened the conversation between the material and her hands.

About two years later, she committed herself to ceramics even more, investing in an electric kiln.

“For two years, I thought, ‘This is just something I’m playing around with.’ I’m from Indiana – we don’t jump right into things,” she says with a laugh. “Even though it wasn’t hugely expensive, buying the kiln made it more real.”

Surveying the clay vessels in her studio, their tones, shapes, and designs convey a continuation of her aesthetic and physicality as much as they do a switch in materials.

“It’s really all about the process,” she says. “That’s the key. Materials are a partner in the process.” Some of the ceramic pieces are sculptural and stand alone, while others are com- bined in visual collections that hark back to her basketry tab- leaux. One grouping of small black-and-white vessels with drawings on the surface rep- resents Hunter’s first functional work – tumblers for juice, wine, or whatever.

“People can use them! How exciting is that?” she says with a look of delight. “I’ve never had to think about size and sur- face in this way before.”

For those, she employs sgraffito to achieve a graphic look, first brushing on a coat of black underglaze and then scratching away to reveal white lines and eventually form shapes, or wiping away to reveal the white porcelain underneath. Some of her pieces are covered with images of rocks, water, and plants. (She keeps boxes of objects, including dried leaves and branches, in her studio for inspiration.) Others show appeal- ing domestic scenes, including one ringed with clothes hanging on a line, complete with grass and dog.

Craft Gallery in Rockland, Maine, has featured her new work in three shows, and the response has been enthusiastic. Still, Hunter does not consider herself a ceramic artist, nor has she closed the door on fiber.

“I’d never say ‘I’m a potter.’ I say ‘I’m working with clay.’ I don’t know glazes, I don’t know a lot, and it’s not my community, though the community has been very generous of spirit. It some ways it’s more collaborative than basketmaking because of sharing kiln space, things like that.”

Hunter plans to keep her ceramic forms simple and straightforward. “What I’m most interested in is ways of drawing on the surface. In that way, I can be in charge and it’s mine,” she says. “Of all the medi- ums, I feel like drawing is the most difficult thing to do. It’s just you and this thing you do.”

Whatever form art takes, Hunter says, artists relaying what moves them is elemental, whether it is, in her case, assorted rocks and branches,a murder of crows, or laundry hanging on the line.

“It’s an artist’s job – and it’s what’s thrilling as an artist – to look at the world, try to under- stand it, and try to manifest that understanding into something that someone can tune into – even if it’s something you drink your juice out of.”

Craft Gallery in Rockland, Maine, will show new work by Lissa Hunter in July. Diane Daniel is a writer based in Florida and the Netherlands.