When you walk into Butterfly House Studio in downtown Stone Mountain it’s apparent that the artist behind the work, Susan Ryles, is open to change. A brief tour of her studio displays an amazing variety of clay sculptures, each with its own story.
Colorful necklaces with ceramic pendants, jewel-toned, shapely altars, a ceramic pair of beaters, a prickly sea-green wall sconce that looks as if it was just dredged from the sea — each original, hand-built and unique.
“I am interested in exploring the psychology of the self, my own aging process, gender roles and expectations, as well as the social psychology of politics and religion,” Ryles writes in her artist statement.
The butterfly, a symbol for metamorphosis with its life cycle from chrysalis to caterpillar to butterfly, reflects her philosophy about
her work and her personal development. “My journey has changed me in ways that make my old self almost unrecognizable,” she said.
Ryles, who’s been working with clay for 14 years, enjoys
teaching hand building, incorporating many of the skills she sharpened during the 28 years she spent with Bell South. Whether it’s helping people find their creative selves, or assisting someone in designing a commissioned piece.
One of her favorite forms of work is creating a personal shrine or altar, something she discovered in her own quest for a spiritual place to feel at home. “The altars help create a sacred space where people can still themselves and focus in a meditative way,” she said. “I really enjoy making them.”
Yet another side of her work has a “wicked feminist slant with a sense of humor,” Ryles said. It explores contradictions within human nature and takes an iconic look at what it means to be girls and women in today’s world, she explained.
“Whack a Barbie,” for instance lets folks take turns hitting four life-size Barbie doll heads popping out of a pink stove. Knock “career bitch” down and “damsel princess” pops up.
“It strikes a chord with people by taking a funny look at women’s roles,” said Ryles. “At the same time it investigates the incongruities and paradoxes of being female.”
Butterfly House Studio, located in North Town Gallery, is part of the
SMart Inc. program in the city of Stone Mountain, created to give the arts a bigger presence in the city while giving artists an opportunity to launch their own businesses.
Ryles will soon be moving around the corner to head up a new facet of the arts revitalization program in September, called Open Gallery. The concept is to bring more variety to the art community in the city and feature the work of several artists. “This is an exciting opportunity to generate something great for Stone Mountain,” said Ryles.
She will continue to operate her studio within the new gallery space, adding programs in the interest of bringing more creative energy to the Village. For example she will host Free Flutter, a monthly gathering of artists that will work kind of like the art salons did in the days of Picasso, where ideas flowed back and forth.
“Artists can bring whatever they’re working on to the sessions to get feedback from other artists," Ryles said. "This will be a gathering of creative people and a chance for artists to connect with each other.”
Cocktails and Clay, Aug. 12, North Town Gallery,
977 Main St. 7 – 9:30 p.m. Play in the clay with instructors Susan Ryles and Angela Williams. All materials, tools, clay, firing and glazes included in price of $39.95 per person.