Hendley searches out old tools to use as embellishments on the raku vessels and urns she builds and fires in her daily wrestle with metaphor and function. “What I do is a tough spot to fit in,” she acknowledges of the conflict between creating practical objects and sculptural ones. “The demand is usually for functional art, but not all of this work is highly functional. I have to ask, do I really want to perfect the craft, the form, the elegance?”
Her funerary urns, for example, strip the tool adornments of their former role but incorporate them into working vessels that will hold human remains — and the symbolic expression of people’s creative potential. Other pieces are less purposeful but equally powerful, with barnacle-covered surfaces, organic ridges and an earthy, metallic glazing that always manages to surprise the artist when it emerges from the fire.
Clay is an agreeable material, Hendley says, and you can do all sorts of things to it or simply ball it up and start over if a piece is not working. This is what she teaches students in three classes at the Glen Allen Cultural Arts Center, where she manages the ceramics program.
She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University three years ago with a bachelor’s degree in crafts. Since then she’s created shelves of work, some sold through a gallery in Knoxville, Tenn., and some through Astra Design in Richmond. The forms are exceptional in their narrative appeal: Open-mouthed babies hold forks and spoons and wavy hammers lodge in shimmering vases.
If these pieces have stories to tell, they may relate to Hendley’s studies in literature, or her habit of listening to recordings of books while she’s doing the repetitive decoration that is time-consuming but critical to the finished pieces.
Hendley’s work is not a simplistic production line of throwing and firing, but an investigative trek through the more complicated aspects of human nature and their relationship to her art. “I find that the most satisfying and graceful observations are found in the minutiae, the faintest gesture, the smallest intake of breath during a conversation or the most furtive look,” she writes. “The obsessive surface treatment in my work is a reflection of the idea that individuals pick up scars, tics, stutters, bumps and blemishes that make each one into an extraordinary sight on the human landscape.”
Her fluency in translating people’s “precarious and grotesque beauty,” as she describes it, gives her pieces mysterious, almost primal subtexts. Concerns about pure function might diminish in deference to the stories hidden purposely within.