Femme Visuale: Wendy Durand, Art with Purpose

Durand uses her St. Pete Artist grant to give back to the community.

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Art is already a beautiful thing. But what happens when art and community service join hands? That’s where the magic happens.

Recently awarded an Individual Artist Grant from the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance, Durand will use these funds for  "Art with Purpose" with Women With Purpose to help recruit volunteers and donors, and officially turn over her ceramic artwork to the organization to help with their fundraising efforts.

“As part of my grant, I needed to do a community involvement piece. When I heard about Women With Purpose, with my background in working with women-focused non-profits (rape crisis, health care, and domestic violence), it just made sense,” Durand says.



Art With Purpose

The Studio @620, 620 1st Ave. S., St. Pete. 

Aug. 17, 6 p.m.



Women With Purpose isn’t only by women, for women.

“The men are very supportive, and we don’t just help women with cancer. We also support people with other catastrophic illnesses, though the vast majority is cancer," Jane Morse-Swett, Director of WWP, says about the non-profit she founded. “We’re here to support the family. What we do is fundraise through events, and a lot of times other people have events for us. The money is used for non-medical care, which really makes sense. Not everyone is fortunate to have sick leave with their jobs, but we also help cover basic necessities like electric, mortgage, rents, car insurance, or car repairs.”

In Durand's Woman Vase series, which subtly portray the female figure in earthy clay, the artist pays tribute to women who have passed through her life as friends or clients in her prior non-profit work.

“The Woman series is complete for now, although I often return to series for a special order or because for one reason or another I feel I have more to add to it. This series has a special place in my heart because of the work I have done with women in my prior career. There will come a point when I return to the women vases and may want to do some that are somewhat more abstract,” Durand says.

Five vases will be on display during the event, where guest speakers — including the executive director of St. Pete Arts Alliance John Collins and Jane Morse-Swett with WWP — will further explain what the non-profit is all about, and why volunteers and donors get involved. It also exposes artists to ways they can use their art to benefit an organization.

“I can’t believe how many events Women With Purpose does, it’s mind-boggling,” Durand says. “I had a stroke four years ago, so I really relate to the mission of this organization. I wasn’t sure what to expect at my first meeting with WWP, but when Jane says it’s a great group of women, it’s almost as if you should just go and just feel the energy. How the women talk about their cancer was so interesting. Most of them didn’t want to go to a ‘support group,’ but Women with Purpose is more of a resource group of ‘been there, done that,’ but there’s a great sense of humor in this group.”

Though Durand will show and donate only her voluptuous vases during this event, she’s no one-trick pony: she has a broad ceramic portfolio ranging from functional to sculptural pieces.

“Currently, I am working on a series of three different boat forms, where I will make four of each. It’s a very different subject matter from the Women Vase series, but it reflects my connection to water. I grew up on Long Island, surrounded by water and I now live overlooking Tampa Bay, so my art often includes work based on sea anemones and various kinds of water vessels,” Durand says of her work.

Most artists have a long history of art-making, with early influences shaping their work; Durand’s experience was much different.

“I grew up in a household devoid of art: no painting, sculpture, glass, pottery, not even music. Television was the highest form of ‘art’ in my home. It wasn’t until college that I saw a potter throwing on a wheel. I was mesmerized, but it never occurred to me to major in art — a decision that would not have been accepted by my family. However, I did hold onto my dream. I spent 30 years as an executive director in women-focused nonprofits,” she says.

When she moved to Florida, she became the finance and administrative director for a new arts venue, The [email protected], the location for Art With Purpose.

“It was the first time that I had full exposure to art in all its forms, and I loved it,” Durand says.

Her main building technique in creating her work is a slab construction, where she uses a multitude of firing techniques to get different surface designs and colors.

“Once I began to take pottery classes, I knew that this would become my life’s work. The creation of ceramic art, whether a pot or a sculpture, involves both technical skill and creativity,” the artist says. "There is something calming and centering about clay that allows me to fully express who I am. My work has evolved over time from wheel-thrown vases and jars to sculptural and functional hand-built work. It wasn’t until I discovered hand-building that I found what allowed me the most creativity and finally gave a voice to my work.”

Since receiving this grant, Durand sees potential for more collaborations with non-profits in the future by writing grants and choosing a non-profit to donate works of art that connects with their mission.

“But behind it all, there is nothing quite like the joy of immersing myself in clay and attempting to make something beautiful from it. I want people to want to touch my work and for my work to touch them,” Durand explains.

Join Durand on Aug. 17 during her community engagement event and enjoy art, food, drinks, music, and stories about how Women With Purpose has changed people’s lives during their time of need.

To find out more about Wendy Durand: durandpottery.com

To find out more about Women With Purpose: womenwithpurposefl.org

Urban Dictionary defines Femme Fatale as “a woman with both intelligence and sex appeal that uses these skills to manipulate poor helpless men into doing what she wants. May cause death.” Keeping in line with this concept, the women highlighted in Caitlin Albritton's "Femme Visuale" series aims to highlight local women artists and show off some lesser-known talent that's been hiding in the shadows. In the art world, if it ain't big and loud, it ain't being seen (looking at you, Koons). Art as a grand spectacle leaves little room for modest, sincere, or quiet voices, especially women's voices. And I promise, we won’t bite.

 

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