Liz MacDonald’s Ceramics
by Kristin Nord
I’m descending a steep stone staircase to Elizabeth MacDonald’s studios — past banks of glistening myrtle and her well-appointed kitchen garden. The property itself exudes Litchfield County charm, from the circa- 1790 white colonial out front to the stone walls and the way the buildings fit the land.
I find the artist already at a work table, gouging crevices into wet slabs of clay. This is a process with a number of stages, and later in the day she’ll paint these slabs and dust them with pigment. Finally, after the tiles have been fired, she’ll begin to work with them, transforming them into whatever forms or scenes they suggest.
“It is difficult to classify Elizabeth MacDonald’s ceramics — except to say that they are consistently beautiful,” Alexander Purves, the renowned architect and professor emeritus at Yale University’s School of Architecture, has said. “She is able to evoke an entire natural world while confining herself to the making of objects no larger than your hand.
“Sometimes this world lies within the single piece, but often she creates this larger world by bringing these small pieces into interaction with one another. This ability to develop a scale much greater than the size of the individual part is much like the magic of architecture — which is one reason her work sits so comfortably within an architectural setting,” he added.
Her tiles have a hand-hewn, vestiges-of time character and are layered with color and texture. Clearly, her travels to countries like China and Cuba have informed her. Her beautiful preparatory notebooks are filled with photographs of crumbling walls and the beauty found in ancient cultures.