West Nile Virus, discarded doll heads, fern fronds. Where others might see gloom-and-doom, giveaways and the makings of a compost heap, Lisa Hueil Conner sees inspiration.
“I know it’s odd, but when all the reports on West Nile and birds came out, I saw crows,” says the 56-year-old artist, teacher and 1977 Edgecliff grad. Shortly after, under her deft fingers, the black birds began to emerge from the vases she’d thrown in the studio of her century-old home.
The same goes for the 3- to 6-year-olds at Dater Montessori, a public school in Cincinnati where Conner is an art instructional assistant.
No doubt it would be easier preparing for the five to seven art shows a year featuring her work if she shut herself in her workshop away from classroom chaos and the sticky-finger crowd. “But I can’t give up the kids,” she says. “They fuel my creativity. I might take one of my pieces in and talk about what inspired me. Then we say, ‘Let’s try this and see what happens.’ I’m inspired by the children’s blur of reality and imagination.”
Her web site, www.lhcpottery.com, is a testament to the surprising inspirations of the everyday—the crow vases, a tiny wood nymph emerging from a pod of spring leaves, a fantail koi perched above a slab of rock, a mermaid uncoiling her tail. Her work has earned recognition, commissions and, in 2007, one of four Aid to Individual Artist grants from Summerfair, the huge art fair in Cincinnati each year. She used the $3,000 award to travel to Arizona’s Ceramics Research Center at Arizona State University and the Heard Museum in Phoenix where she was freshly inspired by the desert textures and plant adaptations to the dry climate.
As her three children have grown, so has her work—from functional pieces to those with more of a sculptural, interpretive feel, embellished with the impressions of plants, toys, fish scales—whatever nature provides. It’s also helped grow her belief in Henry Moore’s philosophy that the “secret to life is having a task … you cannot possibly do.”
“The process of figuring something out—the impossible—is the joy of my artwork,” she says, “and that’s the part of the quote that touches me.”