Art & Artists
Masters of the Southwest
art & artists
June, 2013, Page 26
Photos by Garrett Cook
Moulds works on the clay tentacles of one of her hanging planters. “I was planning on an early retirement and taking a break, but I realized how physical [my art] is and decided I better start now,” the artist notes.
Potter Diana Moulds’ tentacle planters evolve from some of nature’s more curious forms
Diana Moulds opens the door to her home with two unexpected greeters by her side: Cisco, a peach-fronted conure (a type of parakeet), perched on her shoulder and a proud “papa” duck at ankle level, incessantly bragging about his egg-filled nest. You wouldn’t be able to tell from the front of Moulds’ central-Phoenix home that an artist’s Eden awaits just outside the door ... but it does.
In the backyard, lush vegetation, including meandering vines and trees with broad canopies, grows around a large kiln, gurgling fish pond and a garage-turned-art studio—all built by the artist. Her artwork is abundant—hanging planters with dangling octopusesque tendrils swing at eye level and heavy clay tentacled basins sit at staggered heights around the patio.
Moulds grew up in Kansas as an only child, residing in a rural town of “no more than 3,000 people.” She explains that nature was her primary form of entertainment while living on a farm with chickens and goats, sans television. It is upon this love of nature and its creatures that she models her planters.
“These are my most popular works,” Diana Moulds says of the square two-tone pots shown here. “I think people are drawn to them because they are more modern.”
In 1992, Moulds moved to Arizona to pursue graduate school at Arizona State University after completing dual majors in biology and art. “It wasn’t until my fifth semester of college that I discovered I liked drawing the stuff in my biology labs more than the actual science part,” she relays. “But I was nervous about trying to make a living out of my artwork.”
In graduate school, Moulds began sculpting spiked seed pods from clay. “[The seed pods] led me to a natural interest in cacti and other pointed things. I just kept stretching the spikes, and eventually they became tentacles,” she explains of her recent work.
When the sculptor moved into her current home in 1995, she spent the first few years working on her yard—an area that previously consisted of no more than “a chain-link fence and a patch of grass.” Today, it is a loving nod to the trifecta that rules Moulds’ life: plants, pets and pottery.
Recently retired from a full-time job, the potter now works six-hour days in her backyard, producing up to a dozen of her signature tentacled planters at a time. Her unique wares are sold in nurseries stretching from Dallas to California. The artist crafts her pottery, surprisingly, to the rhythm of high-energy dance music, which she describes as her personal “caffeine fix.”
One of Diana Moulds’ hanging planters is suspended from a tree. “It takes a good three to four years of cracks and breaks [in the kiln] until you start to get stuff that you actually like,” Moulds says.
To make her planters, Moulds begins by placing rolled slabs of red clay into a bowl- or square-shaped mold, pressing in pre-stretched tentacles or other roped clays, and letting them dry. “I like the surprise of pulling the mold off and seeing what’s there. It’s like Christmas—sometimes it’s a happy surprise … and sometimes it’s not,” she chuckles. After the piece has dried, it’s off to the kiln to be high-fired.
The artist keeps many of her planters in their natural state, allowing the true hues of the clay to speak for themselves—though some pieces are finished with a bright glaze.
Moulds hopes to eventually open a retail shop for her wares and continues to search for new and interesting molds, most of which are impromptu finds from local thrift shops. “I’m just a general collector of stuff,” she sums up. “I try and capture the beauty of nature and duplicate that in some small way.”
A demanding quack for attention from the doorway of her studio is a reminder that nature, above all other things, rules this artist and her craft.
Shown here in sea-green and brown glazes, these pots feature tentacles that serve as their bases.
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