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Island Expressions: Lynn Berry

June 29, 2008 — One of the tenets of the Baha'i faith is 'Work as a form of worship.' For Lynn Berry, that means she virtually spends her life at the altar. As a third-generation potter, and the daughter of Baha'i parents, Berry has found her calling in clay.
For the last 11 years, she has managed to turn her love of clay pottery and sculpture into her living. A tenant of Tillett Gardens, Berry nestles into a green-and-yellow clapboard studio with purple trim and hand builds the muddy substance into artful platters, and lately, copper laced wall hangings. Her studio is called Ridvan, which is Arabic for "paradise."
Three days a week, she pulls shut her studio door, walks a few paces through the Tillett Gardens courtyard, and assumes the mantle of executive director of Arts Alive, an offshoot of the Tillett Foundation, which is dedicated to the arts.
In her administrative role, she raises funds, organizes and executes five musical events a year, and two arts and crafts shows, all held within the gardens. As a potter, she designs, creates, and teaches pottery and clay sculpture.
Reggie Walters said learning from Lynn is a joy.
"The first time I started on the wheel she showed me an example," Walters explained. "The second time she held my hand, and the third time she let me go. She wants each student to individualize their own work, not make it Lynn's work. It's very freeing."
Berry wholesales her pieces on the mainland and sells them retail at Gallery St. Thomas, a co-op downtown, as well as out of her studio. She also works on consignment. Her pieces range from a few dollars for small pieces to four-figure works.
If artists are known for signature styles, then Lynn Berry's is cracking things. She specializes in a thermal shock technique called raku, originally developed in 16th century Japan, which delivers little cracks throughout the clay, giving it a distressed look.
And when she's not doing raku, she likes to roll out the clay, let it dry, then break it into pieces, which she then glazes, and fires and hooks together using copper wire, creating wall hangings that elicit double-takes. Very stylized and stunning.
Born in Detroit and a one time resident of nine Caribbean islands, Berry and her husband, also a clay artist, are happily settled in the Virgin Islands. Stepping outside her studio to take on the desk work of Arts Alive calls on skills she developed during years of administrative assistant work. But, she prizes those organizational skills for getting her to where she is today.
"You don't start out as an artist and say, 'OK – I'm going to be an artist and sell my work," Berry explained. "You're an artist because something in your being tells you you have to do this. Everybody grows as an artist, so you don't start out at the top."
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