The creative spark fires up LI artisans

Gloria Kennedy, who became enamored of pottery on

Gloria Kennedy, who became enamored of pottery on a visit to Portugal 25 years ago, has a ceramics studio at her Brookhaven home. (July 6, 2012) (Credit: Randee Daddona)

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Some people are born artisans; at an early age, they're drawn to art forms that satisfy a passion to create objects of beauty by hand, using clay, wood, glass or other materials.

"The creative process serves as a release for the inner pressure of emotions that can't be expressed in words," says Richard Murdocco, director of Community Medicine, Department of Family Medicine at Stony Brook University.

Many have held regular day jobs, but for decades have spent spare time developing their art. Some arrive at that "Eureka" moment of finding their muse and perfecting their craft, and then embark either full- or part-time on a career as an artisan. Prompted by acclaim from their peers or an inner drive to create, they've moved from crafting at the kitchen table to basement workshops or home studios; invested in galleries, websites or online portfolios to show and sell their wares.

While a sale is an essential economic reality, it's only an incentive to keep working their craft -- the life force that threads together eye, hand, heart and imagination. Their most potent rewards are a sense of accomplishment, peace, self-reliance and satisfaction in creating.

It is a joy they say they find nowhere else.

"It's therapy," Murdocco says, "even better than prescription drugs."

Hundreds of artisans on Long Island have been faithful to their craft. Here are five of them.

 

Sally Shore, ribbon weaving

Inspiration can come from simple things.

For Sally Shore, it was the pretty ribbons her mother used to tie Shore's ponytail when she was a girl, and a book about Malaysian basket-weaving she came across in college.

From those two muses, Shore, 65, of Locust Valley, has created a lifelong career in a craft known as "mad weaving." Constantly experimenting, she works on a padded board with few tools beyond glass-head pins, scissors and nimble fingers, coaxing ribbons of different widths, colors and textures over and under each other to form a complex array of cubes and stars.

"It used to be that art critics didn't recognize ribbon weaving as an art form, and I was getting discouraged enough to think about trying something else," she says. "But I stuck with it because I enjoy it so much and eventually my work was accepted in galleries and competitions, and it started to sell." Her dedication has paid off; evening bags start at $90 and wall hangings go for as much as $6,000 (sallyshorefiberart.artspan.com).

The technique, formally known as triaxial weaving, is an ancient Asian basket-making method that can yield illusions reminiscent of works by the famous graphic artist M.C. Escher.

Shore teaches her craft at her Glen Cove studio and has written a self-published book, "A Ribbon Weaver's Handbook," which pays homage to an art form she says "satisfies my love of color and order. It's exhilarating."

Even if she had not been successful at it, "I would have kept up with the ribbon weaving," she says. "It's exciting. I can't stay away from it."

 

Beth Drucker, wearable art

A passion for fashion has always been Beth Drucker's driving force for creating.

"I've had to give up different phases of art but never fashion," says the 58-year-old Centerport designer.

At age 12, she earned $200 during summer vacation by exploring the art of decoupage, decorating and selling metal lunchbox-handbags that were the rage.

"In the early '80s, I worked as a fashion illustrator for Gucci, but when the company was gobbled up by another fashion house, I was devastated to find out that along with every fashion illustrator in the business, I was out of work because the new trends focused on photography, not illustration," Drucker recalls.

Her artwear denim jackets are one-of-a-kind creations, embellished with paint, nailheads, rhinestones and feathers. Each takes months to create and sells for about $2,800 (arielcreations.com).

A graduate of Parsons School of Design, Drucker teaches classes in design at Nassau Community College. Forays into her distinctive style of illustration, jewelry and even ceramics were all influenced by her love for fashion.

"Combined with my teaching and my website," Drucker says, "I feel very contented with my art these days."

 

Sandy Seff, stained glass

It was almost inevitable that Sandy Seff would become a stained-glass artist. As a little girl, she liked to learn about how things worked. But it was her fascination with colored glass -- "frozen fire" she calls it -- that guided her into a career as a stained-glass artist.

Even as a young mother of four, Seff found time to take courses and seminars on working with the medium. Soon her Bayport home was aglow with brilliantly colored window panels, lamp shades and vases.

"After a while, I was giving everyone stained-glass gifts, but I was also getting orders for custom items of stained glass. I began to see a market for the thing I loved to do, and 21 years ago I set up a formal studio and showroom in Bayport [colorful visions.com]," Seff, 65, explains.

"I've never thought of closing the shop. It's been pretty stable all along," she says. "We've had our ups and downs and tried different things, like giving lessons.

"The business end of the business was pretty overwhelming at first . . . but we learned how to manage. . . . Some of our simple items can sell for as little as $6, with custom orders and sculptures in the hundreds."

The most rewarding part, she says, is that she works with daughter Kathy Seff, 37, producing a wide variety of crafts, from kaleidoscopes to personalized window inserts.

 

Gloria Kennedy, ceramics

Her career as a computer analyst and programmer pays the bills, but Gloria Kennedy says she was always striving to satisfy a yen for a more fulfilling, creative experience by trying her hand at art forms like custom sewing, painting and photography.

Her "Eureka moment" came 25 years ago on a trip to Portugal, where, she says, "it was the pottery. I was fascinated by the colors, the patterns, the whole process of working with soft, raw, colorless clay and knowing you could turn it into hard, shiny things with as many shapes, patterns and colors as your imagination could come up with."

When she returned to her Brookhaven summer home, she converted a backyard shed into a studio and invested in kilns and tools. Guided by ceramic workshops and by a growing library of technical information, she learned to work the clay, fire the kilns and mix her own glazes of chemicals and ground glass.

Her goal to showcase her ceramic pieces and the works of other artists became a reality in 2005, when she opened a gallery in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn (dumb onyc.com). For five years, the Gloria Kennedy Gallery was a major outlet for artists.

"It was a rewarding experiment, but I felt the need to move on, to concentrate on my own work," says Kennedy, who prefers not to reveal her age. "I've gone from hobbyist to professional and back to hobbyist because I love my craft. But the gallery began to make no financial sense, despite frequent sales; rents were going up, although Dumbo didn't attract the audience I'd expected," she explains. "And the recession didn't help. The gallery took up a lot of my creative time with little reward other than the excitement of running it. My sculptures sold for at least $1,000 and a ceramic teapot once sold for $800, but it wasn't enough to satisfy my habit of eating three meals a day!"

Now, she feeds her creative appetite and displays her pieces on her website (gloriakennedy.com).

"There's something about the process of getting your hands dirty," she says, "digging them into wet clay and getting it to behave, that's wonderfully satisfying."

 

Eleni Prieston, jewelry

All of Eleni Prieston's "day jobs" have had some connection with the act of creating, whether she was catering, painting or designing and making clothes.

"I have to create, it's what I am. I can't help it," she says.

Prieston's early exposure to jewelry making, when she was an art scholarship student at Southampton College, pinpointed the medium that shaped her career. Along the way, she says, "I found inspiration with master goldsmith Luna Felix [lunafelix.com] . . . I was riveted by her work and apprenticed with her for two years, learning the granulation technique I have been working in for the past 20 years. This technique . . . allows for the 'mark of the hand' so that finished pieces never look cold and machined." Inspiration also comes from spending time in Greece, where she escapes East End winters while enjoying family ties.

Her current venture is with a store in her hometown of Sag Harbor that she calls "m a d e" (made-on-earth.co). It features original work of studio artisans like Prieston. Her 22-karat gold jewelry sells for $100 to $15,000, she says.

"I plan to keep the store open at least until Christmas and then take three months off," says Prieston, 56. She'll reopen in the spring. "In the winter, I'll pursue other sources of income, like selling real estate. In the Hamptons, many seasonal businesses like mine do the same."

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