The Artist's Corner Profile: Jennifer Lupton

 11/03/2017 - 16:55
Local ceramics artist Jennifer Lupton
Local ceramics artist Jennifer Lupton

When Jennifer Lupton went to pick up her daughter from a ceramics class seven years ago, she had no idea that she was about to embark on a new journey.  Lupton had been a nurse for over twenty years, first as a surgical nurse, and after her children were born, working in outpatient surgery so she could have more of a set schedule.  When she and her family moved to Saline from Dearborn 11 years ago, Lupton quit nursing, and spent several years homeschooling her daughters.

Their homeschooling work included taking a ceramics class at Two Twelve Arts Center in Saline.  When Jennifer picked her daughter up one day, she sat down next to her and helped her work on her self-portrait sculpture.  As Lupton helped her daughter make spirals in clay for her sculpture’s curly hair, someone mentioned to her that Two Twelve also offered adult ceramics classes, a hint that was not forgotten. Once her daughters went back to public school full-time, Lupton signed up for a hand-building class with Sharon Graf-Horning, the ceramics studio manager.

That was seven years ago, and the once a week class sent Lupton’s life in a very different direction.  She had been creative before, painting large pictures on her daughter's walls, but had never tried anything 3D before taking ceramics classes.  When the first class was over, Lupton begged to be able to come back and learn more, so Sharon offered her the chance to do an independent study.  Lupton and fellow student Cathy Harmon took the independent study together, both bringing their own strengths to the experience. While Lupton had taken the hand-building class first, Harmon’s first class had taught her how to throw on a wheel, something Lupton had no experience with.  “The first time I sat down next to her at a wheel, I splattered Cathy with clay,” Lupton said.  “Cathy leaned over and basically taught me how to throw.”  

The two of them had a lot of fun learning the ins and outs of ceramics, having fun while also learning from their mistakes.  “Making mistakes is the best,” according to Lupton. “Or just saying ‘screw it, I’m just going to play’.”  She felt she learned the most from experimenting and playing with the clay, which included trying different techniques with the glazing process.

“Sharon was a traditional glazer,” said Lupton.  This meant using mostly earth tones, nothing too bright or chemically made. Jennifer, on the other hand, wanted to do something bright and yellow when she was working on making a sculpture of a sun. So Sharon did some research, and they purchased some bright yellow glaze for Lupton to try.  Lupton continued to experiment with different kinds of glazes, allowing them to mix together on a piece, or painting them on as she’d once painted her daughter’s wall.  The results are beautiful, bright pieces, each one a uniquely crafted work of art.

Lupton also loves patterns and textures in her ceramics.  She does research online, and shops with a totally different frame of mind than she did before she started working with clay.  Now she is always trying to find things you can press in clay, things with unique patterns or a texture that would make a piece stand out.  

At Two Twelve, Sharon Graf-Horning was set to retire, and Cathy Harmon took over managing the ceramics studio.  Lupton, whose skill was also becoming increasingly evident, was brought on as the ceramics studio assistant, working with Harmon until the Center’s close in 2016.  

After only two years of working in ceramics, Lupton was asked to sell her work at Saline’s Oktoberfest.  She was pleased and surprised by the positive response she got and sales she made.  “People bought my stuff. Can  you believe it?”   While she enjoys doing sales, Lupton feels that she’s less creative when she’s focusing on what will sell than she is when she’s just playing and can do whatever  she wants. “It’s like writers block,” trying to figure out what the public will want.

The “writers block” passes, though, and Lupton’s pieces pull people into her booth with their whimsical designs and beautiful patterns and glazes.  According to Lupton, “I like to add whimsy to a traditional shape or piece, and it’s usually nature.”  She puts unrealistic twists on natural things, and takes traditional forms and makes them unusual, like a honey pot she was commissioned to make - after doing some research, Lupton bucked the traditional rounded honey pot, and made hers square, adding her patterns and bright glazes to make it a truly unique piece.

Lupton has put her ceramics skills to use in the Saline community, as well, such as when she was invited to design the large piece at the top of the wind chime outside of the east entrance to the Saline District Library.  Lupton was able to design the piece as she wanted it, and she liked the idea of having a picture on the plate rather than just having it glazed in one color.  She was also asked this year to create a unique ceramic tile for the Saline Celtic Festival, in the style of collectible Pewabic tiles.  Her tiles turned out beautifully, and are now in the hands of Saline dignitaries, including Mayor Brian Marl, and were (/will be) sold at the Festival as well.  

Lupton’s favorite piece she’s ever created is a piece titled “Mother Earth”.  She was inspired by a picture she saw in a book, and was just going to paint her on a tile, but wasn’t happy with that.  Instead she started to add and subtract the clay, ending up with a beautiful piece that was in the Potters Guild show at Two Twelve.   Lupton felt so blessed to have been able to work at Two Twelve.  If she was working in the studio and got stuck on a piece, she was able to go up and talk to the people who worked there and get advice.  The creative environment helped her own creativity flow.

Now, Lupton continues to work in her own studio in her basement, and is taking a class to brush up on wheel throwing at the Ann Arbor Arts Center with her former classmate, Cathy Harmon.  She likes being in an environment where other people are learning together, and feels it helps inspire creativity.  Lupton’s own studio equipment was built up piece by piece, starting with a wheel and small slab roller obtained through a friend, and a kiln purchased from Two Twelve Arts Center’s closing auction.  She teaches classes out of her studio, and currently has several students who help inspire her in her own work and process.  “Having students makes me revisit some older things,” she says, causing her to pull old pieces off the shelf and think about how the creative process works.  It also makes her think on her feet - “They’re all so different and want to do different things,” so she has to change how to address the same problem three different ways, reminding her that, “there’s more than one way to do this.”

If you’re interested in taking classes from Lupton or purchasing her work, you can send her an email (Jenn2@brassregisters.com) for more info.  She offers a variety of classes, including how to make an ornament, mother/daughter classes, or you can gather 4 or 5 friends and she’ll build a class around you!

Katherine H. Downie
Katherine Downie is a local artist and art educator. She serves on the executive committee of the Saline Celtic Festival, on the board of the Saline Area Players, and on the Saline Library Art Exhibit Committee.

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