In 2012, Sunsuk Lee received a ceramic mug that stirred her creativity.
Lee was amazed that a friend made the mug and wondered if she could make one, too.
“I always wanted to be creative, but I didn’t know where to start,” Lee, a retired public accountant, said.
Born in Seoul, Korea, Lee came to the United States in 1992 when she was 26. She earned a master’s degree in business administration from North Kentucky University and has worked as an auditor for Ernst & Young.
Shortly after she and her husband moved from Louisville, Kentucky, to Winston-Salem in 2004, the couple was in a major car accident.
“I lost the functionality on my left side,” Lee said. “My left hand doesn’t really do anything other than just hold things in place due to nerve damage.”
But she hasn’t let that stop her.
“You have to find a way to go on,” she said. You can’t stop because you have a problem.”
When she was gifted the ceramic mug years ago, Lee had recently retired and was contemplating her next step in life.
She started taking classes at Sawtooth School for Visual Art in Winston-Salem and got into handbuilding, a pottery-making technique.
“I was hooked,” she said. “That was 2012 and I have been an on-and-off student at Sawtooth. I still go there. It’s an excellent program.”
Lee, now 53 and a resident of Lewisville, makes different types of pottery.
“I don’t focus on one thing,” she said. Her pottery includes figures, embellished vessels, functional ware such as bowls, plates, mugs, serving dishes, ovenware and spoons.
And the mug that started it all?
Lee doesn’t use it.
“It is in my cupboard on display,” she said.
Q: How would you describe your art?
Answer: Exploration of possibilities. Ever since I retired from my day job as a public accountant I have been exploring the possibility that I could be creative. So far, I have tried pottery, watercolor painting and basket making from locally grown vines such as Kudzu. I love all these media. I have to say, though, I spend most of my time playing in the mud, finding ways to incorporate different things I learn from different media into my pottery.
Q: How have you evolved as an artist?
Answer: At first, I was only working on making different things out of clay. As I spent more time developing my depth as a potter by making, reading books on the subject and talking and asking questions to other artists, I developed interests in other aspects of making pottery such as glaze-making and firing methods. Who knows? One of these days, you may run into me digging up somewhere trying to collect clay. I also enter local art competitions and juried exhibitions intermittently, and help teach pottery classes or give demos to stay connected and experience a different side of being a potter.
Q: Who has influenced your art?
Answer: There are so many wonderful teachers, artists and friends who have helped and continue to make a positive difference in my art. I have to say that the biggest influence came from not whom, but what: nature. I take a lot of walks through the woods, friends’ gardens and pastures to be inspired and find things and feelings to emulate.
Q: What is your biggest challenge?
Answer: To stay the course. It isn’t rare for me to start making something and end up making something entirely different. I have lots of animal statues or abstract something-or-other that started out as bowls or plates. Granted, I had lots of serendipitous results from these incidents, but it is important to be disciplined. Besides, you can blame it on the clay by saying, “It wanted to be this today,” only so many times.
Q: What does art do for you?
Answer: I don’t know if I can say it in a sentence or two. It can be fun and play. It can be zen and relaxing. It can also be an exhilarating discovery and heartbreaking disappointment. It also helps me to be more observant and to look for possibilities other than intended. For now, I say it is something I need to keep close.
Q: Any advice for other artists?
Answer: Work with what you have. You will find a way to make it work as long as you keep going forward.