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Artist Gale Ray trades her paintbrush for hand-molding organic clay vessels and oyster replicas, inspired by the Lowcountry

Artist Gale Ray trades her paintbrush for hand-molding organic clay vessels and oyster replicas, inspired by the Lowcountry
July 2022

Learn how she perfected her freehand technique and why it brings her joy

Gale Ray with three of her coil construction vessels at Lowcountry Artists Gallery.

Gale Ray’s extensive oeuvre includes textiles, faux effects and decorative finishes, oil painting, and pottery—so far. Ray is insatiably curious; any detail that catches her eye, whether the shape of a flower or the texture of an oyster shell, is likely to lead her in a new direction and to new mediums.

One of the first art forms that sparked her interest was weaving, which she learned while studying in Mexico in the ’60s. Years later, the Mississippi native went on to pursue a master of fine arts from Savannah College of Art & Design. Ray, who moved to Charleston in the late ’90s, spent 34 years as a large-format textile artist, then 15 years painting faux effects and decorative finishes.

Gale Ray has moved from creating shell paintings to organic pottery.

More recently, she has been focusing on richly textured, hand-built pottery vessels in organic shapes and colors, clay replicas of oyster shells and shark teeth, and oil paintings featuring vivid coastal landscapes near her home studio. No matter her canvas, Ray considers herself an artist with a painter’s eye who uses her skill through different mediums.

Her work has been shown at juried art and craft shows across the country, including the Smithsonian and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Locally, her art is exhibited at Lowcountry Artists Gallery, the Keepsakes museum shop at Brookgreen Gardens, and South Carolina Artisans Center in Walterboro. In October, she has a solo show at Park Circle Gallery. As she was preparing for the Piccolo Spoleto Crafts Fair, Ray explained why she’s focusing on pottery.

Afternoon Moon (oil on canvas, 12 x 28 inches, circa 2017)

Coastal Landscapes: The series was inspired by the landscapes around my partner’s parents’ house on the Intracoastal Waterway. The light, color, and silence there are enormously powerful, but I wanted to capture it with just a few lines. I’d describe the style as pseudo-minimalist because the details aren’t expounded on too much.

Pursuing Pottery: I was a large-scale weaver for 34 years, then I moved to faux painting, and later, oil painting. Then I took a hand-built pottery class. About a year after the class, I decided to make more pottery. I really like building things, and clay gives me the material to do so.

Perfecting her Technique: I struggled for a while with how to form the oyster shells, but I was watching my grandson squish out clay to make monsters one day, and that’s when I realized how to do it. I just squish the clay and form it until I get the texture I want. For the shark teeth, I did the same thing: I free-formed little pieces and experimented with stains and oxides. They came out so beautiful, and they’re so fun. When I was making them, I was laughing—it just made me so happy.

(Left) ”Sea urchin” pinch pots and clay oyster shells; (Right) Gale Ray has traded her paintbrush for clay, hand molding it to create organic vessels and decorative oyster shells, inspired by her Lowcountry home.

A Different Canvas: I like to experiment, but pottery is more exciting to me at the moment. No matter what medium I’m working in, though—even as a weaver—I view myself as a painter because I’m building an unusual canvas. For the oyster shells, I have a group of glazes I use randomly, so ultimately, they’re like abstract paintings.

Gratitude: I get up when my cat asks me to, check e-mails, look at Instagram, and come out to the studio and work as much as I want to. I have a meditation I do where I list what I’m grateful for, and I’m grateful my days are structured toward whatever I want to do.