A freak thunderstorm sent an unwanted guest — one of Tallahassee’s many mighty trees — plummeting through ceramics artist Dorrie Sanders-Duarte’s house last year. While she made it out of the incident in one piece, the intrusion on her home began appearing in her pottery.
“A lot of my newer things have a lot of clouds and rain,” remarks Sanders-Duarte. “It didn’t occur to me that that was what happened, but I’m directly influenced by my life. My immediate surroundings, plans, and thought processes all go into my work.”
Sanders-Duarte is the proprietor of Myakka Clayworks, which she began out of her garage a few years ago. The studio is named for both a dominant type of Floridian soil and her daughter’s nickname.
After moving to Tallahassee, Sanders-Duarte immediately got involved with the Tallahassee Clay Arts organization, and is looking forward to opening her studio to invited visitors for their fourth annual ceramics studio tour on Nov. 17.
The subject matter that appears in her pottery comes straight from her mind and heart. Sanders-Duarte used to cultivate a tiny vegetable garden, and that experience is apparent in her whimsical vegetable line of mugs. There’s also the cityscape lamps that reflect the skylines she has lived near in Massachusetts and California.
“What I like to do is make people happy,” says Sanders-Duarte. “The art I make has some humor to it. It’s bright and cheery and I want people to see it and say, ‘that made me laugh’ or ‘this is making me smile.’” Even as a child, Sanders-Duarte wanted to wrap joy within her work and gift it to others. She would fold slips of paper with doodles of potted plants and sell them to her family as greeting cards. The satisfaction she found in this simple gesture continues to motivate her today.
Sanders-Duarte attended the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, where she studied graphic design. Simultaneously, she held a job at a local pottery production studio, Salt Marsh Pottery, working with calligraphy and prints, and admittedly having no interest in clay.
After graduating with her BFA, she worked her way up to head maker at that same pottery studio, learning how to design, glaze, throw on a potter’s wheel, and hand build with clay. As she took part in workshops and residencies to bolster her skills, she eventually fell in love with the medium. Sanders-Duarte credits strong women like Betsy Powel and Sheilagh Flynn for providing mentorship as she sought out her own style and flair.
“Powel is very dedicated to the craft and I learnedeverything I mostly know about clay from her,” says Sanders-Duarte. “Flynn’s work was the first time I saw forms being made that weren’t typical bowls, and I had no idea you could do that. It was a starting point for me, thinking about what I could make that wasn’t standard.”
Sanders-Duarte’s mugs, plates, lamps and cake stands exhibit their own unique personalities. Her vegetable-inspired creations began as a happy accident while she was illustrating mugs — a crooked line quickly turned into a carrot, and from there, radishes have become her favorite motif. This graphic style is leftover from her design days and is something Sanders- Duarte considers to be her signature as she blends the art forms together.
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