Ceramic artist gets back to nature with her work

With inspiration flourishing from the beauty of the eastern shoreline, a fascination with foreign artistic culture and an appreciation for her Native American heritage, ceramic artist Judie Campanelli has her work cut out for her.
Coastal Point • RUSLANA LAMBERT: Judie Campanelli, above, works in her studio, where she creates her ceramic works of art. At right, is a vase that Campanelli created.Coastal Point • RUSLANA LAMBERT:
Judie Campanelli, above, works in her studio, where she creates her ceramic works of art. At right, is a vase that Campanelli created.

“I don’t consider myself a ‘potter,’” said Campanelli, “but a clay artist.” Instead of the traditional potter’s wheel, she uses flat sheets of clay, shaping each work by hand, and adding original design and patterns. Glazes are often added before firing in kilns to add color and texture.

Originally from Montana, Campanelli has been practicing her passion of clay artistry for 35 years now. She received formal training at Montana State University and pursued later studies in Maryland. Now she works out of her studio behind her South Bethany house, where she says she’s never felt more at home.

Her gratitude and recognition of nature are what initially inspired Campanelli’s art. “I’ve always loved the earth and have been around nature all my life.” Campanelli claims she doesn’t always know what she’s going to make when she begins a project. “The clay,” she said, “almost has a way of speaking to me. It begins to take on its own shape or design.”

“Some of my pieces are functional,” admitted Campanelli, “but most of them are not. They are strictly decorative or design artwork. I have a commission to make wedding bowls, but no two are alike. I am not a production person.” There is originality in each piece of art she creates, from detailed wall hangings and free-standing vessels to elaborate fountains and ornate garden art. Campanelli works primarily with porcelain and stoneware clays.

“I love making art that pleases me,” said Campanelli. “I use a lot of texture in my work, too, whether it’s rolled into the clay, carved into the clay or added at some juncture. I really like the fusion that comes with the clay. It starts out as an organic lump from the earth. Then you add more organic materials to it.” In a matter of hours, or sometimes, days, Campanelli will finish another masterpiece.
Coastal Point • RUSLANA LAMBERT: A vase that Campanelli created.Coastal Point • RUSLANA LAMBERT:
A vase that Campanelli created.

Before moving to her South Bethany home 11 years ago with husband, Peter, Campanelli began getting exposure from local shows in Annapolis during the early 1990s. She participates in numerous Mid-Atlantic and Florida fine art/fine craft shows and stays active in art leagues and associations, including American Ceramic Society, the American Craft Council, Rehoboth Beach Art League, the Clay Guild of the Eastern Shore, the Venice (Fla.) Art Center and the Sarasota (Fla.) Art Center.

This year also marks the 10th year that Campanelli has participated in the Southeastern Delaware Art Studio Tour (SEDAST). She has donated a piece titled “Verde” for the artist raffle in the 12th annual SEDAST, set for Nov. 24 and 25, and will join other area artists in opening her studio doors to tour-goers for the event.

“[The tour] has really evolved over the years,” she explained. “The arts really come alive here. It’s a great way to establish partnership with art groups, sponsors and the community.”

Some of Campanelli’s artwork is purchased by repeat customers, and people mostly hear of her by word of mouth. Either way, her artistic life is a busy one.

“I definitely have my hands full,” said Campanelli. She spends as much time as possible at her studio — that is, when she’s not traveling to shows or workshops. Between January and April, most of her time is spent in Florida, during the peak time for Florida art shows.

“I couldn’t do any of it without my husband, though. He helps with the glazes and takes care of the finances. He’s really supportive.”

Campanelli said she sees herself reflecting her emotions through her ceramic art for the rest of her life. “As long as I’m happy with what I am making and I’m able, I’ll be doing this.”