by Jo Barnes | photos by Kathryn Alvarez Photography –
Waves. The gentle surge of the surf against the shore. Putting a sea shell to your ear, you can hear the sound of the ocean.
One local sculptor, who once made the islands of Hawaii her home, creates pieces which, like that seashell, are powerfully evocative of the sea.
“I lived on Oahu for 50 years,” shares Gail Hazlehurst. “My art is inspired by a lifetime of beautiful ocean images.”
Gail was born in San Francisco and moved to the Hawaiian Islands when she was a teenager. She attended the University of Hawaii where she completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with an emphasis on pottery, an activity for which she immediately developed an affinity.
“In drawing classes, I learned about perspective. But drawing is only two dimensional,” she says. “I discovered I really enjoyed working with clay. It’s three dimensional. It’s more tangible and has more mass and space. I really liked that!”
While in Hawaii, Gail began to create art that reflected the tropical sea and shore around her, a theme she still enthusiastically pursues today. She exhibited and sold her art and served as Gallery Director at the gallery for Hawaii Pacific University. As well, Gail began to share her skills and knowledge with others, both adult and children. She taught at the
Contemporary Museum in Honolulu, at private and public schools in Oahu, as well as with home schoolers.
“Through clay hand building, children experience the joy of relaxation and learn problem solving from creative thinking,” remarks Gail.
Gail’s creations are diverse, including sculptures designed to hang on walls, shaped coral head formations, and tall cylindrical pieces. She uses the slab, pinch and coil methods of clay hand building to create clay sculptures which showcase the colours, tones and textures of the tropical ocean and seashore.
“I love coral formations,” enthuses Gail. “Each sculpture is based on an image that is not scientifically exact. It’s an abstraction of the image in my mind, reminiscent of the coral reef.”
Her sculptures are all incredibly intricate and this requires detailed planning in each piece’s creation. First, she rolls the clay out and cuts shapes from it. Gail then textures these shapes using stamps. Everything is hand assembled and always with a specific plan in mind. “I usually form the base and the sides, then cut out abstract forms and attach them to the rim,” says Gail. “I have a basic architectural formula that is strong enough to hold the top portion.”
The length of time to complete each piece can greatly vary.
“It’s the drying time that is long. It’s important to take time so as not to crack or warp the clay,” adds Gail. “It can take two weeks for some, and up to one month for a large piece.”
Sculpting clay is an art form that not only takes patience and skill, but also requires strength.
“I roll out large slabs of clay. It is a weighty material. It takes upper body strength,” shares Gail. “You must keep it moist or it cracks or crumbles. I have a water bottle and continually spray the material, then cover it in plastic.”
Since moving to Sidney in 2015, Gail has been involved with the Saanich Peninsula Arts Council, ArtSea, and South Vancouver Island Potters Guild. She has also taught parent-child and children’s clay hand building classes at Greenglade Communty Centre. After over 30 years of teaching the craft, however, Gail is now spending some solo time creating in the studio.
“Now I am retired, and I focus on the joy of sculpting,” she says. “I spend two afternoons a week at Greenglade pottery studio. I do an art exhibit once a year at the ArtSea Gallery; it is a year’s work that I show and sell.”
Whether it has been teaching others or working on her own, Gail recognizes that art provides challenge and reward.
“Creative expression is very joyful and has given me life balance; creative thinking in art is very important and very rewarding.”
For those of you who would like to try your hand at clay sculpting, Gail has some useful advice.
“Find a pottery studio and take a beginner’s class!” she says, warmly adding: “Don’t be too hard on yourself; enjoy the joy of the process and where it leads you!”
For Gail, while the end result is rewarding, it’s the process of getting there that provides the greatest satisfaction.
“I love touching the clay. The feel of clay is cool to the touch,” Gail says. “Working with clay is a meditative flow. It is joyful.”
Reflecting the beauty of the ocean has been the artistic current surging through this artist’s life. Even now, as she continues to mould the clay in her hands, the creative horizon, like an ocean, is limitless.