Long before New Iberia’s art scene exploded, and the paintings and mixed-media work of visual artists were revealed, Lyndel Renoudet was creating pottery. In fact, her work has been contributing to the art community since 1984, and today she is one of only a few known ceramic potters left in the city.
She began not as an artist, but as a mother who always had an interest, as she puts it, “in the skill it took to produce pottery.” So after putting her third child through school, she set out to learn.
“My husband and I always went to arts and craft shows, and I was drawn to the pottery,” says the New Iberia native. “I loved to watch others sitting at the wheel, putting the clay in the middle, and working it until it formed something. I’ve always created with my hands – sewing, crocheting and making macramé – so this felt natural for me.”
Methods in Clay
For three years she learned pottery with the help of a friend – an art education major at the time – who taught Renoudet how to hand-build with clay before moving on to wheel-thrown pottery, which is more physically demanding. “I like hand building, but the wheel was a challenge,” she admits. “You have this lump of clay and you have to learn how to keep it in the middle of the wheel, otherwise you can’t make a round object. It’s also more physically exerting as your hands are massaging it, gliding from the base to rim, you’re pushing your body against it. You need upper body strength to throw the clay, and lots of patience,” she adds with a smile.
Dealing with her own back issues these days, Renoudet makes smaller objects on the wheel and the larger bowls (which she’s known for) by hand. “My customers like my hand-built items for their natural look. I use a slab roller to roll the clay flat, like a pizza, and then place it inside or outside of a bowl that is the size I want,” she explains.
Much of Renoudet’s work is modern in style and designed to be functional: dinnerware, serving ware, cups and vases. “I want them to handle it and use it, put it on their tables, and put a pretty salad in it,” she says.
Borrowing from nature for its textures and forms, Renoudet uses ferns, leaves with deep veins, and flowers to create patterns in the clay. For example, she’s deconstructed flowers like hibiscus and recreated them by transferring their petal imprints onto bowls. Her latest collection – which has turned out to be her most popular – includes serving pieces displaying the fan-shaped leaves of the ginkgo tree. Renoudet also uses items like antique wooden printing blocks for their intricate impressions, while on other pieces she paints landscapes and flowers.
A Potter’s Life
It is Renoudet’s studio, on the glass porch of her home, that seems to bring her the most enjoyment and inspiration, as it overlooks the landscape of her backyard. “I feel creative almost immediately when I walk in. I can let everything go and just concentrate on what I am planning on making that day. It’s quiet and peaceful; life is in another realm,” she shares.
With a small sitting area and her work neatly displayed on shelves, the artist waits until the morning light softens to sit at her pottery wheel for several hours, three to four days a week –her rock-n-roll music playing in the background. “I like fast music; it keeps me happy,” reveals the 81-year-old. She may like her music with an upbeat tempo, but what Renoudet likes most about pottery is, “that it’s not fast; you can achieve something slowly.”
Deeply entrenched in the art community, Renoudet is a member of the Lafayette Art Association, the Louisiana Crafts Guild, and is in long standing with The Art Group in New Iberia. Her work is on exhibit at Paul Schexnayder’s A&E Gallery in New Iberia and the Sans Souci Fine Crafts Gallery in Lafayette.
Until a few months ago, Renoudet was working on items for Christmas, including her angel wall hangings, cheese trays, and small dishes to hold trinkets or jewelry (which travel well for tourists). Then the summer heat caused her to take a break, with the scorching temperatures becoming the biggest challenge for her. “The heat in the kiln goes to 2,100 degrees. Add to that the temperature inside the shed where the kiln is kept, and it gets too hot to fire it up. I need a good week of cool temperatures, like the 50s, for the kiln to work for eight hours,” she says, almost pleadingly.
“If people knew what it takes to produce even a small piece of pottery, they’d be amazed,” says Renoudet, speaking of the several-step, multi-day process. But, she says, it’s all worth it when she opens the kiln to see the final products. “It feels like Christmas morning. You don’t know if the pieces made it or if the colors are true. When you see the results, it’s a great feeling – such an accomplishment.”