Clark Island artist, Gayle Bedigian, combines her ancestral ties to the island and its natural beauty to create uniquely inspired ceramic art. Working on many projects at one time, her studio is populated by a myriad of clay forms that capture her natural surroundings in which nearby granite ledges slope down into the ocean, birch trees sway in the breeze, sea birds soar overhead and fish dart through the shimmering water. Her home is part of her family history. She says her most recent project, Clark Island Stonewear, “is designed to capture the beauty of the natural granite ledges where I grew up, a place where my mother grew up and her mother and grandmother before her. These granite stones were the trade of my grandfather and his father before him. And these granite stones provided a dry sitting place, a picnic spot for freshly caught lobsters, a warm place to rest after picking blueberries, a forever place to carve your name, and a place to view the breathtaking Milky Way at night.”
Bedigian’s process for creating this unique “Stonewear” begins along her shoreline, a tract of land given to her by her aunt many years ago. She begins by taking a large slab a clay and pressing it onto the granite rocks where she used to sit. The imprinted texture of the rock forms the inside face of a clay sculpture. She then cradles the moist and pliant clay into a form to shape it into a low-profile bowl as it dries. This is called “slumping.” After drying, the clay is fired in one of the large kilns in the corner of her studio. Afterward, Bedigian adds sea water mixed with mason stains and grit and fires it again. Depending upon how many different treatments she applies to the form, she can fire the clay up to seven times.
Other ceramics created by Bedigian are hand painted with dynamic and sometimes whimsical designs inspired by birch tree bark, sea gulls, puffins, fish, landscapes, and commissioned designs. Each design is hand-formed and painted so that no two are alike. Although most of her ceramics are fine art meant only for display, some pieces also have a utilitarian purpose, like a cup or platter. In either case, they all bear the unique shapes and marks of this artist.
Bedigian was not always a ceramicist. Born and raised in Boston, but spending her summers on Clark Island, she was encouraged in the fine arts by her father, Robert Briggs, who was a well-known commercial artist and by her mother, who was a copywriter. Their entrepreneurial free-lance careers taught Bedigian to trust her instincts and to take risks. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1971 from the University of Massachusetts, where she met her husband. There, her concentration of study was etching and print making, but she did take one course in ceramics. This qualified Bedigian to teach art. Because the newlyweds moved to Bar Harbor so her husband could join Jackson Laboratory, Bedigian had the opportunity to teach art at the one room schoolhouse on Cranberry Island for five years. This was a challenge, since, by that time, she ferried back and forth from the island to the mainland with her own young children and art supplies in tow.
Eventually, Bedigian turned to sculpting, making Christmas ornaments for commercial sale. Her business took off and in one year her company employed 26 craftspeople. Simultaneously, she joined with two other women to open a store in Bar Harbor called “Driven Women.” They sold their own creations as well as those from other women. After eleven years, her husband transferred jobs to Maryland where Bedigian taught ceramics to high school students. This transition also marks a transition in her ceramics from craft to fine art. By 2003, one of her former business partners died in a tragic skiing accident and Bedigian turned her creativity to painting a ceramic memorial for the family. This was the start of commission work for the artist and she soon had more work than time to make it. In addition to private commissions, Bedigian has done custom work for the National Cathedral in Washington and the Baltimore Museum of Art’s Gift Gallery. The artist is represented by Port Clyde Art Gallery. You may read more about her on her website: www.gaylebedigian.com. —Katharine Cartwright