DEER ISLE, Maine — Her admirers describe sculptor Lynn Duryea’s work as “industrial” and “minimalist.” The colors are often cool shades of blue, gray or green. Her forms are strong, simple and graceful.
On Saturday at her Deer Isle studio-home, Duryea — recently named 2012’s Maine Master Craft Artist by the Maine Crafts Association — said she’s influenced by the weathered, abandoned landscapes of postindustrial sites: grain elevators in the Midwest, decaying dock pilings on the East Coast.
“With my new work, I’m trying to evoke something, not replicate it, but suggest it,” she said. “I’m evoking history, wearing away, the passage of time.”
Duryea works with clay and found objects, but many of her pieces at first glance appear to be hewn from metal or wood, which she said is owed to her years of experimenting with different glazes.
Sadie Bliss, acting director of the Maine Crafts Association, noted the sometimes misleading look of Duryea’s work Sunday as she praised the award recipient.
“It has these industrial, heavy forms, but there’s also movement to it,” Bliss said. “The colors are kind of dense, but the actual forms are light and have this sense of motion. A lot of it doesn’t even look like ceramic. That exemplifies her mastery over the material.”
Duryea was an art history and museum studies student at New York University when she first threw clay. At the time, she worked as an administrative assistant in the 20th century art department at the Metropolitan Museum and was on the fast track to an academic career. She enrolled in a pottery class and was absorbed in ceramics in a way she said she never felt in academic studies.
Her father had been a wholesale seafood dealer in her hometown of Montauk, N.Y., and a lot of his product came from the Gulf of Maine. In the early ’70s, Duryea traveled with him to Stonington, where she learned about the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts.
“I spent two summers here, in ’72 and ’73, and I went to Haystack for a session,” she said. “I got in touch with a local potter, and after working with him for a month, I decided to quit my job at the Metropolitan and move here.”
Duryea has been working with clay in one way or another ever since. Along the way, she co-founded the Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts in Newcastle, which has hosted more than 1,100 artists in residency since 1986.
She’s also a dedicated teacher who has worked as an artist-in-residence at Windham Prison, led a 12-year ceramics program for people infected with HIV, and ran a workshop at the Island Nursing Home and Care Center in Deer Isle. She also is an associate professor of art at Appalachian State University.
Duryea is now best-known for her work exploring industry, history and weathering. But in the past, her pieces were as at-home on the dinner table as they were on a gallery pedestal.
In the early ’80s, she had a successful run of functional dinnerware, three-piece sets featuring colorful designs inspired by modern quiltmaking, which caught the eye of Tiffany and Co. in 1981. Tiffany ordered 18 three-piece sets in three different patterns. That’s 162 handmade pieces.
“I got the order, which was by far the largest amount of work I’d done until then,” Duryea said. “I had never worked in that kind of volume before, and my agent told the buyer they could have it in a month. I said, ‘Sorry, that can’t be done.’”
But Duryea did get the order filled in two months. It brought her career to the next level and kicked off a 15-year stint in the production pottery business, where she marketed her work and employed several artisans out of a Portland studio.
Lynn later enrolled in graduate school at the University of Florida, where she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in 2002. It was there, she said, that she first explored the themes that would come to dominate her work.
Elena Kubler owns the Turtle Gallery in Deer Isle and has known Duryea for 30 years. She said Duryea’s evolution has been a joy to watch. She described Duryea’s work as “mysterious” and “powerful.”
“I have some older pieces of her work, and it’s very, very different,” Kubler said. “Nevertheless, if you look carefully at it, you can see it was leading to these new shapes. It’s all part of the evolution of a very serious and committed artist.”
Duryea will receive her award at a ceremony at 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 11, at the George Mason Gallery in Damariscotta Mills. Watershed Center for Ceramic Arts will also be honored for its “25 years of contributions to craft in Maine, the United States and internationally,” Bliss wrote in an email.
Selections of Duryea’s work can be seen this summer at Turtle Gallery, 61 North Deer Isle Road, Deer Isle, from July 15 through Aug. 25, and at an exhibition by Watershed’s founders at the George Mason Gallery, 123 Borland HIll Road, Nobleboro, July 10-29.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.