The new “Studio” sign hanging at 76 State Rd. in Chilmark caught my eye; then I noticed Heather Sommers’ open studio newspaper listing, and stopped by to see her work. Ms. Sommers’ grandparents bought land in Chilmark in the 1950s, and she’s enjoyed the Island every summer during their family vacations.
Ms. Sommers bought her own home in 1985, and since 1996, lives and works in her 1868 home for three-quarters of the year and spends the other quarter in Palm Springs, Calif., where she is a member of Silica Studio, a dynamic membership studio with many inspiring hand-builders to work alongside and learn from. She is an adept and interesting artist who has worked in many mediums, beginning as a printmaker with a graphic sensibility, and primarily focusing on ceramic sculpture. She was represented by Shaw Cramer Gallery for 20 years, and is a part of the original artists group organized by Nancy Shaw Cramer. Ms. Sommers converted her garage into a working summer studio and converted a two-horse stable about 10 years ago into a year-round studio and exhibition space.
Earlier in life Ms. Sommers enjoyed making block prints, and said, “My interest in texture, clay, and patterning comes through. I tend to work in series, and a series may last three years; a clay body, a theme such as these (pointing) altered vessels, or a theme of boats, or animal sculptures. Using clay as a canvas to be hung on the wall has been the past three years.” Ms. Sommers writes, “My mother recognized my interest and encouraged me with lessons, trips to art museums, and art supplies. She praised my efforts. It was at the Museum of Modern Art, in NYC in the 1950s, where I saw work by Rodin, Picasso, Maillol, and Degas, that the foundation was laid for my lifelong affinity for sculpture.” She taught art in schools for many years, and during the 20 years she lived with her family in Worcester, studied ceramics, metal, and photography at Worcester Center for Crafts. In fact, at age 10 in West Tisbury was the first time Ms. Sommers “watched a potter throwing clay on a stand-up kick wheel [and] knew pottery was for me.”
Ms. Sommers’ works are hand-built hollow form, beginning with slabs. She enjoys the challenges, much like architecture, of figuring out the necessary inner support, and what kind of bases she can build for her works while “conjoining the parts so they won’t crack in firing.”
Since the election, social politics has become Ms. Sommers’s focus/theme. She is driven by “learning how to make anything with her hands.” Hanging in her studio are some interesting handmade paint brushes from a workshop she attended, beside works from varying thematic periods. There are examples from a series of boat-themed works, where some are more altar and totem pieces while others are clearly political, done in the 1980s for a show called “Brother’s Keeper.” There are a few foot-focused works sitting on the floor that play with humor, such as feet as the end of a whale’s tail and another where the feet are wings of an owl. Feet ended up as a theme for Ms. Sommers when she was suffering from plantar fasciitis and realized, “We don’t celebrate our feet unless they’re not working for us,” but she did so in a “surrealistic way.”
On a recent visit, Ms. Sommers walked me outside to see a foot-themed work along with others in her small flower garden, inspired and influenced by time in Asia.
One current series Ms. Sommers calls “reframing,” using either boards on the outside and clay inside or the other way around. She uses relief to counter the flat board, whether image area or frame. All the reframes were started during her winter in California. Political commentary drives her latest project, creating small, controversial sculptures to use in photographs with short comments. She will keep the sculptures and ideally sell posters and prints of the finished images.
Although she showed me a few pieces, they are not yet complete, but nonetheless very powerful pieces. On-Island, Ms. Sommers has been a member of a private watercolor group for six or seven years, as well as of the group started by Nancy Shaw Cramer 20 years ago. I recommend a studio visit any Tuesday; you’ll leave inspired by honesty, depth, and purposeful creation.
Heather Sommers’ Open Studio, 76 State Rd., Chilmark, continues through the month of August on Tuesdays from 11:30 am to 4 pm, and other days by appointment. Follow her on Facebook at Centaur Chronicle or on Instagram at @sommers_studio. She can be reached at email@example.com or 508-645-2587.