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East County Wednesday, Mar. 7, 2018 2 weeks ago

Art's on fire in Lakewood Ranch

Waterlefe resident's ceramics art on display during Spring Arts Show at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall.
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

It was a big moment for Sue Kerr, who after 18 years as a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines and many more handling her duties as a mother, was finally able to concentrate on her passion ... art.

Having settled into Waterlefe in 2007, Kerr went immediately to visit ArtCenter Manatee, where she would have access to a kiln and ceramic lessons. She was about to enter the ceramics world of Raku.

Even though she had art degrees from Salem State University in Massachusetts and the Art Center College of Design of Hollywood, Calif., she hadn't created any ceramic art since she left college. The working world just never gave her the time.

This alligator was made following Hurricane Irma and was meant to portray the hurricane, with houses being crushed in the alligator's mouth.

Now that had changed.

Kerr decided upon a house as one of her first projects and she was excited to see how it turned out. She took it out of the kiln, and then watched as all four walls of the house collapsed outward. Her project wasn't ready for a show. It was ready for the garbage can.

"Raku is unforgiving," she said, remembering back to that day. "The instructor said to me, 'You're not building it well enough.' I kept saying, 'Yes, I am.'

"But he was right."

It was early in the process, but Kerr learned an important lesson. 

"I never fall in love with them until I am done," she said. "There is a lot of breakage. Goodwill has been the recipient of a few pieces."

Fortunately, she had plenty of time to master her technique, and much of that time was used learning the materials.

Ten years later, her home is graced with several fascinating pieces, she is a regular participant in art shows and she has clients seek her out to commission her.

From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., March 10, Kerr will be one of 20 artists displaying their work at the Creative Arts Association of Lakewood Ranch's Spring Arts Show and Sale at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall. Ceraics, wood turning projects, watercolors and jewelry will be among the many forms of art on display.

Kerr's work all will be Raku. "I always say I only have enough time to get good at one thing," she said.

She did try quilting for a while, but said she enjoyed designing the quilts more than making them.

The process of ceramics is a bit more exciting to her.

"You use a small kiln, and bring it to 1,800 degrees," she said. "Then you open the kiln (after firing the clay) and take it out with tongs. You drop it into a garbage can filled with newspaper, which ignites because the clay is so hot. Then you smoke it 10 minutes."

Bunnies are a popular item as Easter approaches.

The heat does what she calls "crackles" the glaze that is painted on the project.

"It's always a surprise," she said. "Those crackly colors are what gets me."

While has more control of the process now with a decade of experience, she loves the uncertainty of what the heat will produce. She displays an alligator on a table in her home that she made following Hurricane Irma. The alligator was supposed to represent the hurricane, and in its mouth getting crushed were houses.

When she finished firing it, the alligator's eyes glowed as if it had come to life. Her friends thought it was spooky.

While the alligator remains at home, she has sold several hundred pieces over the last decade, even though the most expensive ones cost $400 or less.

"My goal is to cover my expenses," she said. "I am thrilled when I can sell them so I can make more."

A project usually takes her two to three days, and she produces about 60 projects a year. Many of her commissioned pieces involve pets, because as she says, "People love their dogs."

With Easter coming, she is working on many forms of bunnies, some which will be on display at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall.

Many of her pieces involve stacking, where she builds a sort of totem pole, often featuring a pet on one or more levels. Overall, she will bring about 25 pieces to the Lakewood Ranch show. If she needs more, she calls her husband, Don.

She calls Don her biggest fan and said since he still works, he travels three or four days a week, leaving her to her art.

"I would be there all day working," she said. "It seems like the day goes by in 15 minutes. It is an absolute joy."

It's an absolute joy that her houses don't fall apart anymore. And she's never had a bigger accident with a kiln.

"I've never blown anything up," she said.

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