While many perennials and annuals thrive in clay soils, ceramic artist Kate Godfrey Robinson creates a different sort of “garden in clay” — colorful, exuberant displays of flowers, vines, acorns, twigs, insects and other flora and fauna in the forms of vessels, tiles, totems and free-form sculptures. On the surface, her Baroque pieces capture the beauty of the natural elements on which they’re modeled. But on a deeper level, the permanence of Robinson’s ceramic garden is a way of defying the inevitability of death and loss. The bloom is never off the rose.
“Flowers are a metaphor for life and death and they’re used during times of joy and sadness,” says Robinson.
Art was the subject in school Robinson loved most and a part of life that her family emphasized through collecting Chinese porcelain and taking regular trips to museums. Gardens, especially her grandmother’s magical garden in Wisconsin, were the places where she was most rapt. After experiencing the death of her mother and boyfriend (who was a master silversmith) within months of one another, Robinson, who has a BA in studio art from Tulane, found the transportive, consoling vocation that combined her passions for both: handwork with clay.
“I find that when I’m doing this, I’m elsewhere,” she says. “I work on the movement of the clay and see how far I can push it. My technique involves a lot of repetition.”
The vibrant blues and greens, warm, earthy oranges and other colors that are hallmarks of her work are the result of multiple influences — most notably trips to India and Morocco that Robinson took with her daughter and found life-changing.
“It was a barrage of color, tiles, pattern, design,” she says.
The courtyard garden that accompanies her compact midcentury modern house in Uptown has also served as muse. Boxwood, hibiscus, camellias, irises, geraniums, bougainvillea, sweet William, crepe myrtle and Savannah Holly are among the plantings. Lifeforms at the seashore — the imprint from a bird’s feet, seagrasses, oyster shells or a handful of seaweed — and architectural adornment are inspirational as well.
Robinson uses the word “excess” to describe the fully-rendered quality of her organic works, which include vases encrusted with hollowed pod-like shapes, trees that climb skyward, and vine-like sculptures that have a growing, spreading quality. Next up for the artist:
“I want to start working on a big scale,” says Robinson.