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SUNNY | Some Clay, a Fire, and an Island: Interview with Ceramicist Lora Lomuscio

SUNNY | Some Clay, a Fire, and an Island: Interview with Ceramicist Lora Lomuscio

Photography courtesy of Lora Lomuscio

Lora Lomuscio’s artistic journey is all about “how art intersects with daily life.” Working from her tiny studio on the East End of Long Island, this ceramicist  experiments with a variety of clay bodies. With a background in art history, the Vassar and Pratt educated artist, first worked in New York City as an architectural lighting designer, but longed for something different. She’d been exposed to ceramics at her all-girls boarding school in Troy, NY and rediscovered the art form after taking a few classes in 2012 when she returned with her husband and two children to live full-time on Shelter Island, her hometown. 

Portrait by Leonardo

“It’s life affirming for me to get outside all year round and notice the quiet changes of the seasons,” she told New York Makers. “The running waves, the flowing air, the quiet earth. These are my anchors.”

Using a variety of glazes and raku firing -- a traditional Japanese method of staining and firing pottery -- she creates carved stoneware bowls and platters with brushed turquoise and cream-colored finishes as well as hanging clay masks and talismans that resemble ancient Peruvian and Amazonian artifacts.

In addition to her own studio work, Lomuscio also collaborates with local schools, camps, and cultural centers to offer workshops. Visits to her studio can be arranged by appointment, she said. 

Lomuscio recently spoke to New York Makers about her inspirations and techniques.

NEW YORK MAKERS: Can you tell us about how your education informed your decision to do ceramics full time. How does that fuel your aesthetic? 

LORA LOMUSCIO: The human desire for self expression is something that I have felt keenly throughout my life, and as I studied art history I was drawn to looking at how people throughout time have not only created “masterpieces” of art but have also added pattern and design to utilitarian objects, architecture, and living spaces, sometimes for beauty, sometimes for visual interest, or sometimes for other motives completely. This got me excited and gave me a lens through which to study and appreciate history and culture. Instinctively, I knew that noticing these details gave me joy and that must have at least been part of the motivation for others as well. That’s what brought me to design.

I didn’t come back around to ceramics until I had moved out to Shelter Island. At that time my husband and I had two children and had left the city to return to my roots on Shelter Island to raise the kids. I wanted the kids to have a life connected to this place. I wanted the smell of the salt air and the feel of warm sand and soft breezes through meadow grass to be ingrained in their earliest memories. I ended up taking ceramic classes to feed my need for a creative outlet as I had left my design career in the city. It turned out to be the right time for clay and I to meet again and everything clicked!

NYM: What inspires you?

LL: I find endless inspiration in bits of sea glass and driftwood, the barnacle encrusted rocks on the shore, shell spirals, the fractal patterns of seaweeds, dark purple iron-rich sand banks, dancing winds in the meadow grasses, tiny wildflowers in the spring, and the rough mysterious textures of trees. I absorb these influences and they find their way into my work. They express themselves in a texture, a pattern, a glaze combination, or in the smooth curve of a form. Part of my daily routine is walking my dog with my husband Bran. There are a number of beautiful trails here on the island. If I have more time I head to Mashomack Preserve, part of the Nature Conservancy. This preserve, with gorgeous trails, comprises a third of the island. Having this resource as open space is so valuable to our community here on the island and the larger east end. I have seen early ceramic cooking pots created by the Manhanset people at the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center in nearby Southampton. These pots, formed by hand, patterns carved with scallop shells and smoothed with beach pebbles provide inspiration for my work. They are an example of adding ornament and beauty to the functional everyday item.

Most recently, I’ve been cooking a lot -- I think many of us have due to stay-at-home orders and the world-wide pandemic -- and I have created a clay pot cooker. This was something I had always thought about -- the need was there, and I had the time. This slow making, slow cooking, just generally slowing down, seems right, right now. This has been really rewarding and I have had quite a positive response from my Instagram audience to the clay pots. I actually have a number of requests for these.

NYM: What is raku firing? The way you describe it makes it sound like an annual ritual.  

LL: Raku is a method of firing based on Japanese tradition. You take a piece out of a hot kiln and place it in combustible material -- like sawdust, wood shavings, or newspaper. It dramatically lights on fire, and then you cover it with a metal container and the smoke and carbon are absorbed into the raw clay. The glazed areas are starved of oxygen, creating a variety of colors. It’s an exciting technique, as there’s always the anticipation of how each piece may turn out with so many different variables. There’s always a chance for disaster or cracking, but also the opportunity for unexpected beauty. It is usually a group activity because it involves a fair amount of energy to set up outdoor kilns. Raku differs from regular firing because it happens quickly, while normally you may wait days for an entire kiln load to cool down slowly. It’s fun to work as a group and share the joys of happy glaze accidents and the sorrows of unexpected cracks together.

NYM: Were you brought up in a creative household?

LL: When I was a small child I don’t know if we were encouraged to, but we were definitely allowed to draw all over the walls. So my creativity was not stifled. It was a home full of creative reuse: sewing, home cooking, and tinkering. My mom was an actress and director involved in community theatre, and my dad was a teacher and a writer. I was lucky to be surrounded by a loving family that supported and inspired me.