In 1993, Jerry Mitchell tried again to make a living out of clay.
His first attempt as a full-time clay artist came about in the 1970s, when he took it up professionally after graduating from the University of Montana.
At the time, Mitchell as a young man didn’t know how to market his works, and “I was broke within six months,” he said.
He put it down in 1980, then worked selling insurance and working as a farm hand, among other vocations, until picking it up 13 years later.
“At some point I decided I wanted to get back into it … I have been making a living out of it ever since,” said Mitchell, who for 10 years has been creating works of art out of an at-home studio in Santa Rosa Beach.
Mitchell makes functional pieces, bud vases, large bowls, and baths and houses for birds, but his most recognizable pieces are quirky vase-like people.
These hand-sculpted statues are made to resemble whimsical characters such as pirates, fishermen, doctors and cowboys. Mitchell calls these creations “My People” and inscribes them with cheeky names such as “My old fishing hat,” “I’m paradise for the right pirate” and “Do you want to be my ride, cowboy.”
“Some of them are self-portraits,” said Mitchell, and one can almost see the resemblance between the artist and his fisherman.
Mitchell sells out of art shows around the country, and locals will be able to catch him Oct. 27 and 28 at Henderson Park Beach in Destin for the Destin Festival of the Arts.
He finds inspiration for many of his pieces from fishing, and nature in the form of lizards and frogs, herons and hummingbirds.
“Even on some of my whimsical pieces, I might stick a turtle or lizard on them, just for fun,” said Mitchell.
“(My wife) Janice says, ‘Art should evoke an emotion,’ ” he continues, “and my emotion is happiness. I like for my art to create happiness.”
Janice Russell Beck, Mitchell’s wife, is a watercolor artist, and the two artists’ studios are side-by-side, which Mitchell says helps in the creation process.
“When she’s painting, I can say, ‘How do you feel about this piece I’m working on?’ ” said Mitchell.
The two also work together during their European travels during the summertime, when she teaches painting seminars. He said the scenery and works of pottery in Spain, France, Italy and Greece inspire him “to come back and work harder.”
Mitchell says that since his artist mother, Darlene Mitchell, first introduced him to clay, he has been hooked.
“You can do anything with clay,” he said. “It’s just so versatile.”
He added that the touchability of the completed art also sets it apart from other mediums.
“You might not want to touch a painting,” he said. But clay, “You can pick it up and hold it in your hand.”
Mitchell’s pieces offer something for every budget, ranging from $15 to $300.
“I need to have … something for the college student and something someone might want to put in their home as a centerpiece,” he said.
And that is just another way his art makes people, including himself, happy.
“We just enjoy this way of life; we’ll never be rich,” he said. “But this is the lifestyle that we’ve chosen. It’s just been a good match for us.”
If you’re unable to get to the art fair, but are interested in Mitchell’s art, he can be reached at 231-4842.