Body Parts… a kiln

by Joanna Foreman

Gnarly hands and footless legs. Bald, oddly-shaped heads; beefy torsos with appended shoulders and axillas, commonly known as arm pits; muscular thighs and dimpled arms, primarily of the human body variety.  Floppy rabbit ears; wings and exquisitely carved feathers.

Lifelike birds, fish, toes, fingers and horns casually scattered on the kiln floor. This particular kiln in Pembroke Pines has seen its share of a curious assortment of body parts.

Props for a horror film, you ask? Fear not-these are figurative chunks and fragments of Diane Martin Lublinski, Artist.  When assembled, they become her memoir, the history and life story of the artist herself.

Many folks dream of writing a memoir.  Personally, I thought about it often and for many years before I wrote mine.  Diane Lublinski had a similar experience.  She says, “This idea of telling my story started as a desire to honor my people, my family, my friends.  I wanted to tell the story of me—who I am, who I came from, what I love, what I think about.  As a teenager I used to fantasize about standing on the roof of my house and shouting my story out to the world.  And now, because I work in clay, I tell the story with my most important tool, my hands.  Here is my rooftop—I stand on my clay.”

The Miami Design Preservation League produces Art Deco Weekend each January when Ocean Drive is converted into a pedestrian-only promenade for three full days featuring vintage and fine art.  People stroll from 5th to 15th streets on Ocean Drive as it becomes a street fair with food vendors, live performances, retro fashions, jazz music, and classic and antique cars dating back to 1900.

While vacationing in South Beach in 1999, I was captivated by Lublinski’s attractive displays of Art on Silk, her medium of choice at that time.  I selected a Bird of Paradise painting mounted underneath a vintage screened window frame.  Several years later, my husband, aware of my growing fondness for Diane’s work, jokingly offered these parting words to me at the airport where I was headed to Miami, “Don’t buy art!” I assured him that I had no such intention.

 However, the next day I spotted Diane’s tribute to the Art Deco architecture of Ocean Drive.  It currently hangs above our fireplace.  We fondly call it “Don’t Buy Art”.  I have never regretted my impulsive purchase, because a major change was in the air for the artist. I consider myself fortunate to have watched it develop.

Here, she offers a background to that change.  “I saw my paintings as colorful and decorative, but there was little of me in them.  I enjoyed doing them but they did not capture my heart.  My niece suggested taking a ceramic class at a local college; I knew during the first class I had found my medium.  I continued to paint for some years after that, but I think of my time silk painting in the same way as the other things I have done in my life to earn a living—a secretary, office manager, computer work, and answering 911 calls.  Now, clay is my life’s passion.”

Diane was born in New York City and grew up in South Florida where she continues to make her home.  Born of Cuban Spanish parents she had a rich multi-cultural upbringing, and that cultured history makes an appearance in each piece she creates.  She has shown her sculptures in over 200 exhibitions in the last 20 years. During that time, she has won over 90 awards.

“I am drawn to the figurative form influenced by a childhood love of fantasy, expressing the absurdity of things while drawing influence from unexpected sources like the lyrics of music and nursery rhymes.  As a self-taught artist I’m sensitive to proper technique, having a clear idea of what I want before I start a new piece.  I don’t make sketches but immediately get busy with a combination of wheel thrown pieces, coils and slabs.  I alter by pinching, cutting and adding clay until my idea emerges.  My work is decorated with colored slips and underglazes while still wet and then fired to 1830°. After adding pigmented washes and glazes my final firing to 2232° completes the process. Ultimately, a slab of clay comes to be a ceramic sculpture.”

Diane Lublinski gives us further insight into how her hands tell a story using her passion for clay: “I have never thought of myself as a storyteller.  However, recently I realized my history is expressed through my hands.

 My father was a woodworker; I use his tools to make impressions.  My mother’s jewelry, the drawings my brother sent me as a child, years later the drawing made by my youngest grandson have all become molded applications.  The stars are a reference to family.  My fascination with the ocean produces seashells, fish and coral.  The creatures represent my fears.  The tags with words and phrases are the thoughts I do not say out loud.  The warriors’ armor is a reference to the way I shield myself from the insensitivity of others. All small parts of my life, all with some meaning to me, and so I  tell my story in clay.”

Interestingly enough, Lublinski is surrounded by the ocean, yet she doesn’t swim or go to the beach.  Her muse lives in another world, the world under the sea.   The beauty of coral reefs and sea life fascinates her.  Her ocean-themed figures have the barnacles of her life attached.

“Let me elaborate on some of this—it’s very personal and important to me.  My mother was born in Spain, grew up in Cuba, married young and came to New York to live with her husband, where my brother was born.  She loved the United States so much that she stayed after her husband died.

My father was born in Cuba and came to New York at about 20 years of age. He met my widowed mother, married her, and I was born there. Our family moved to Miami when I was five. My father was very talented and he developed a booming woodworking business. We were not close, as he seemed cold and distant to me, but my mother and I had a warm and loving relationship. She often wore a heart-shaped pendant with a pretty design on a chain.  After her death, I missed her so much and I wanted to honor her, so I used her heart pendant in a casting process so I could include it in my sculpture.  From there it grew into the use of all kinds of hearts, they all came to represent her, as well.  As an adult, I worked for my father for 10 years. He died 13 years ago and I inherited many of his tools. In spite of our poor relationship, I choose to honor him by using his tools to impress into clay, the results of which remind me of flowers. Fitting, I think, because flowers can represent a wide range of emotions. Friendship, jealousy, infidelity, love, betrayal joy, energy, passion.

My brother died of a heart attack about 25 years ago.  While a young man in the Navy, he wrote letters to me, his 6-year-old little sister. He was merely 17 years old, so young, and probably lonely. Those letters contained his words and lots of silly drawings, and I’ve kept them through all the years.  I used his drawings and made them 3D (from clay naturally) and then cast them into a mold.  I utilize these quite often, imbedded, oftentimes hidden in my sculptures.  There is another small figure with a crown that’s from a picture my youngest grandson drew when he was 4.  I sometimes have him holding hands with my brother’s figure, just for fun.

Lizards, Stars and Keys: I have a fear of lizards, which is strange, mainly because I live in tropical Florida where lizards abound. I insert the creatures on my pieces to represent fear. I bought a souvenir Texas star while visiting the part of my family that lives there, and I cast it, as well, so I am able to think of my Texas family whenever I see it. My husband of more than 35 years, Steve Lublinski, was a motorcycle policeman for many years. After a day of work, I always knew he was home when I heard the familiar sound of his multiple keys jingling from his gun belt as he walked up the sidewalk.  He used these keys to open boxes that controlled traffic lights.  I cast a few of his keys and apply them in my pieces to honor him.

Working in clay is so different than the other mediums . . . painting, drawing, photography etc. They all use tools—brushes, pencils, ink, markers, a camera.   Although I use tools also, my main tool is my hands.  I leave behind the marks and impressions made when I touch it.  It’s still there after the firing. I love the feel of clay so much and I enjoy seeing the marks my hands left behind, permanently fired into a piece.”

As a young girl, Diane absorbed herself in comic books, stories set in the past, and biographies of famous people. “I do a lot of research on symbolism before I use something, and I use so many different things (birds, ravens, rabbits and crows) but in the end it’s all about my own thoughts and what I find appealing, or what is going on in my life at the time.”

Diane dearly loves mythology. Rabbits represent mythology and they are  one of her specialties in the figurative form of teapots, bells, and other small pieces. Her method of forming those endearing floppy ears and giving each creature’s face its own personality inspires me to inquire regarding a purchase. Some pieces are slated for galleries, while others can be shipped directly to lovers of ClayForms by Diane Lublinski.

 A group of bells, each  one adorned as a rabbit, caught my attention. I bought one for my granddaughter, Greta, months in advance of Christmas, and I enjoyed seeing it each day on my pottery shelf until Christmas Day when Greta arrived and immediately grasped it, holding it gently to her heart as she would a newborn infant. The bell now resides in a special place in Greta’s home in Loveland, Colorado.