Blending Art: Laura Butler Hughes Talks Dexterity

"Laura Butler Hughes is an artist, educator, and arts organizer living in Eugene, OR by way of Buffalo, NY and Baltimore, MD. Through diverse research and production methods [drawing, writing, book making, clay squishing, garbage archiving, butter sculpting] she wonders what it means for all of us to live and die together, on Earth, right now. Hughes has been an artist member at Ditch Projects artist-run gallery in Springfield, OR since 2016 where she has organized a number of exhibitions, including a recent collaboration with the Springfield History Museum, QUILT BLOC," Hughes writes about herself in her powerpoint. Photo by Mario Gallucci

LBCC hosted Laura Butler Hughes for the final art talk of this school year. Along with being one of our very own LBCC visual arts educators, Hughes is an artist who wades in and out of the pools of drawing, writing, book-making, garbage-archiving, butter-sculpting (arguably the richest of all mediums), and, as of late, digital designing. 

Hughes shed some light on her journey from student to artist to educator, why she gravitated towards specific mediums, and how her techniques in each have blended to create the mixed-artistry magic she brings to the table.

For almost the entire month of April, Hughes had her latest exhibition, “Good and Great,” displayed in South Santiam Gallery. 

Her uniquely built and crafted ceramics lined the walls, owned a display pedestal, and stole their own art show. Her work begs for a closer look, and largely asks the question of ‘How did this come to be?’ 

As Hughes gave us a virtual tour of her latest work, Professor and art talk host Anne Magratten voiced said question, with the same befuddlement most of us were likely experiencing; “It feels like they’re all made out of little tiny pieces that you magically adhered to each other!” 

Magratten was exactly right — these were works of clay, but the kind that challenged our default-thinking of ceramic work. 

Instead of a solid, smooth final product looking like it was made from a large block of clay that has been shaped and whittled down, Hughes took the opposite approach in that she built her pots and creations with small, often thin, almost always non-uniform pieces. 

And not just a few bits here and there — many bits. So many bits. Layers on layers of all the bits. The seams aren’t smoothed over. The craters aren’t hidden.

While the majority of the work of “Good and Great” is made of clay, Hughes says she wouldn’t classify herself as a ceramicist. It’s obvious her pieces haven’t been thrown on a wheel, so to answer Magratten’s burning question of ‘how?’ Butler said she thinks of those little pieces as brush strokes or marks to the piece. 

And on clay sculpting itself, she said “I think about it like drawing or painting.” Hughes’ noted that some of the artists who have inspired her for years are those who haven’t adhered to one specific medium. She works with clay, but isn’t a ceramicist.

While she studied sculpture, she turned to drawing when she felt she couldn’t sculpt all the things she wanted to sculpt. She drew how she wanted to sculpt. It is this premise of, not necessarily mixed-mediums, but rather, mixed artistry, that resonated so loudly from this talk. 

The idea of approaching our modes of operation, our chosen identities, with the mindset of our other identities, allows for there to be room for fluidity, which then gives ourselves permission to create and work in a new and surprising way, making space for new and surprising output. 

If you attended the prior two art talks of this school year, you know firsthand how each one has been completely unique and crowd-pleasing. With all of her poetic yet down-to-earth wisdom, Laura Butler Hughes’ was no exception.

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