Most of this post is excerpted from my interview with Laura Ashley at Ashley Studio Pottery in Tupelo in early March, 2015. At the studio, Laura and Michael Ashley design, create, and sell ceramic wares for the house and table. They also teach classes there.
Laura also is executive director of Gumtree Museum of Art. After having grown up in Tupelo, Laura earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in ceramics at the University of Mississippi in 2010. She talks about leaving Mississippi for graduate school:
Whenever I decided that I was going to be an artist, I sort of resigned myself to following the wind, I guess, or, following the jobs is more like it, because I knew that it was going to take leaving a place to learn from other people, especially the teachers that I wanted to learn from. They were not here.
I went to New York State College of Ceramics in Alfred University. It is a graduate program very, very specific to ceramics and also glass. [. . .] There’s a lot of material knowledge there that’s available to artists, which is really great. [. . .] It’s a very big program. There’s six faculty [members] as opposed to maybe two or three in the typical sort of art program. And so I got a huge range of opinions and thoughts from. . . and also technical knowledge from these sort of giants of the ceramic art world.
After graduate school, Laura spent a year at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia as Artist in Residence. Working in an urban experience taught her a lot and was enjoyable, but required working in a tight space with others and being as efficient as possible. “You know, again, there’s the whole issue of kiln firing and we were working in old city Philadelphia.”
She describes the transition in her work after graduate school from conceptual based tableware to focusing more on “functional, archetypal vessels that people can use in their homes and want to use”:
My work changed whenever I left graduate school to go to Philadelphia because all of a sudden, I wasn’t making work for the gallery per se anymore. [. . .] I wanted to sell to a specific person who would then take it and assimilate it into their domestic space. My pots at that time had a lot of ego attached to them: they had their own personalities, and it was almost as if they didn’t need you. You know, they had a very specific aesthetic. They were sort of a finished thought, and they didn’t need to travel to a domestic space to complete the concept. They were done. [. . .] I think I changed toward making more functional, traditional shapes and work when I went to Philadelphia and even more so when I came to Mississippi.
Being back in Tupelo, she says,
It’s really interesting, especially, you know, you leave maybe a place not knowing exactly who you are and what you’re going to become and then you come back and that’s completely changed and you have a path and sort of a purpose. I felt like it was time to come back. I think Mississippi is a really great place to be, especially to be an artist. I’m finding that I’m drawing a lot of inspiration just from being back home and feeding off that.