Evolution: The Surface, Forms and Imagination of Jamie Lea Wade

by Robin Gary

Playful and imaginative in life and work, Jamie Lea Wade (Vesselsforthesoul.com) is the Texas Clay Arts Association Featured Artist for July and August.  Jamie is an accomplished clay artist working out of Canopy Studios in Austin and Eye of the Dog Art Center in San Marcos, Texas. Her figural works are receiving national attention through Lark Crafts publications. Her work and processes continue to be highlighted statewide and locally through studio tours, events, shows and festivals like the Texas Clay Festival in Gruene and the Texas Folklife Festival in San Antonio.  

We spent several engaging hours in her Canopy studio in East Austin a few weeks back talking about her sculptures, techniques, the local art and clay community and her passion to put all of these together as she creates her work and spreads her artistic way of life with those around her.


Your father painted houses and your mother maintained tropical plants and trees. On a daily basis, color, process, technique, and unique shapes surrounded you. Tell us about your beginnings as a young artist and your journey to The School, Art Institute of Chicago for a semester or two and ultimately to the Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI) working on your undergraduate degree.

As a youngster, it was a given that I could be easily occupied if I had any paper and some mark making device. I didn't talk much. I'd rather observe and communicate through pictures.  Every now and again someone would sit and show me what they liked to draw. I find that most folks have a doodle that they regularly do. My mom drew plants.  My older sister drew bunnies, puppies, and lightning bolts. 

I love to learn, so the guys usually let me hang out while they were building and fixing things. I learn best by seeing and doing, and I still enjoy watching people work.  Sometimes, if I really believed I could do it, they would let me hammer a nail, paint on a wall, or turn a wrench a couple times.  

I think that kind of empowerment gave me the audacity to apply for some of the opportunities that I have.  I had to have a complete portfolio, audition, and interview to go to the magnet high school that I did for art. I did all that again my junior year of high school, when I wanted to learn about figure sculpture and oil painting. I applied to the School, the Art institute of Chicago and received some summer scholarships. (This was my first opportunity to touch workable clay.)    

I later chose the Kansas City Art Institute for my undergrad education, because I wanted to sculpt the figure. I had heard good things about them and they offered the best scholarship package.  

Coming from your painting background, you mentioned that at KCAI, once you started in ceramics, it was a tough road of learning because the processes were foreign to you. Perseverance and the ability to work past criticism show in your development of unique processes, forms and surfaces. Your work is currently featured in several books: 500 Tiles (Lark Crafts, 2008), 500 Figures in Clay, Vol 2 (Lark Ceramics, 2014) and Making Faces (Lark Ceramics, 2014).  What were the experiences that mattered most from your undergraduate years?

First off, I remember my community, and the people who supported me and believed in me. I had a couple of real friends and good teachers at school and at the Kansas City Clay Guild. The program was intense for sure, but I am also very fortunate to have had such an in-depth program be the base of my ceramics education. We also had a lot of amazing visiting artists to our department, and if your teacher arranged it, you might get personal critiques. We also went to great museums, and visited some big-time artists' studios, like Ken Ferguson, Erma Starr, and Jun Kaneko for demos and lectures, and kiln bricks. 


Shape and surface textures in your functional and sculptural work provide a sense of relationship. Sometimes it is size that defines the relationship such as nesting bowls and cups with the same color, glaze and altered surface. Sometimes the relationship shows in the imagined stage of maturity of sculptures; a relationship of mother and daughter where the developmental difference is portrayed in subtle color and ornamentation variations, such as "Mother Coral" and "One of the Daughters."  Series of pieces, then, are not defined by being identical but by showing the similarities and the beauty of the differences, ultimately creating families and communities. These kinds of series are important in your work. How do you approach the creation of these series: drawings, visual references, earlier works, etc.? Describe the evolution of your coil and surface techniques of your sculptures. The lively New Momma, serene Liona and quirky Tommy Chromide exemplify the surface detail in your work. How do people respond to your work? (I know that I had to touch the sculptures!)

When I first came to clay, I nearly insisted that coils were not for me. Never say never. Now I find the coil to be my best friend. I think it's survived all these generations because of its near infinite uses. I also used to be dependent on references. Now I rarely use them. I like to think that I am creating a new vocabulary. 

Sometimes I make sketches of ideas, but the pieces usually turn into their own thing. I appreciate that. I start with a scale in mind, as I usually build from the bottom up.  From there I work intuitively.  Like any good relationship, you and the clay learn to communicate. You tell it what you want, and it tells you what it's capable of.  It's a dance.  I think that's one of the fun parts. 

Just as we are all unique and therefore important in our own way, I intentionally work to make each piece its own individual. We all have similarities and differences, even across species and genus. I want each piece to have its own personality. I have a great respect for living things, and I love it when pieces feel alive. 

A lot of people say the work feels cinematic, or they tell me where these pieces live or come from. I like that people see the other, and at the same time they see themselves. 

Currently you are working out of
Eye of the Dog Art Center in San Marcos where you fire your work in a gas kiln to Cone 8 in a neutral atmosphere that provides 'consistency and a little magic!' How did you eventually come to work with Billy Ray and Beverly Mangham? You also share a studio with your husband, Jess Wade, at Canopy
in East Austin. Do you find that your and Jess's techniques rub off on each other? Your styles are delightfully very different.

Eric Jackson, of Texas Medicine Pottery, had arranged for us to fire a soda kiln together out at the Dog.  (I think it was in '06 or '07, back when they were the Sleeping Dog Studios.)  When Jess and I first met Billy Ray and Beverly, there was an instant kinship, and we've been family ever since. As the Art Center grew, we were very fortunate to be one of the first studio tenants. 

Jess and I had both been looking for studios for a long while, and in the same week we both struck gold. He finally found a place to paint at Big Medium, just when I got the spot at Eye of the Dog. We both share both spaces, as the work requires.  Five years later, we have grown into larger private spaces, both at the Dog, and with Big Medium now at the Canopy. 

Even though our approaches to working are completely different, we tend to love the same things about art. We usually appreciate the same essential elements, and even though our vocabularies are very different, we have very similar end goals. 

If presented with the same task, we almost always approach it differently. 

You and Jess curated the 2013 NCECA show 'The Right Atmosphere: Clay in Central Texas'. What sparked the desire to put the show together? What were some of the highlights of curating the show?  

There are so many wonderfully talented clay artists here in Texas. We thought they should be recognized as much as anyone else. The rough part was narrowing it down to what's happening in just our little pocket of the larger community.  Our goal was to show a well-rounded breadth.  We included sculpture and pottery from the big guys, the fresh grads, and many points in between. 

The highlight was seeing everyone come together to make it happen.  We only had to build one pedestal of the 43. Folks helped paint, load up, load in, set up, move stuff, pack up, unpack. It was awesome. A good team means a lot, and everyone rocked it!  This makes me want to thank them all over again. (0:

Community is a big part of your work as an artist. You provide learning opportunities for all ages around Texas including the Texas Clay Festival and the Texas Folklife Festival. Tell us about these workshops and about Generous Art where you sell some of your work.

As a life-long volunteer, and a clay artist, it just makes sense to pay it forward in these ways.  We want to share the love that we have for this medium with others, just as others have shared their love of art/craft with us. We have been so blessed to have the experiences and the community that we do. So we do a lot of demonstrations, consult, and do some art judging/critiques with and for different groups: The Texas Clay Festival, Dirt Dauber, T.S.O.S., V.A.S.E., Imagine Art, Art City Austin, Austin Museum Day, and more. We also support 'Generous Art' a venue where all sorts of art is sold, and 40% goes to the charity of the purchaser’s choice. 

Jamie's Work | Jamie's Profile Page

Texas Clay Arts Association 2014

Images in header (from left): Annie Foster, Karmien Bowman, Mimi Bardagjy

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