Ceramics add magic to gardens

Staff writer

To walk through Lynn Unruh’s rural Marion garden is to walk through a place that looks like it could be from a fairy tale. The gardens around her rural Marion home are dotted with castles and other small ceramic houses. She makes all of them by hand.

The one-to three-foot ornate ceramic structures tie perfectly with Unruh’s love for gardening and architecture, both manmade and not, which is why she started creating them.

She uses photos of houses and architecture designs from the Internet as inspiration. She then puts her own spin on them using slabs of clay to create the structure, windows, doors, and every detail one can imagine. Unruh creates individual shingles for the roofs and knobs for doors.

“I love details,” she said. “If a piece doesn’t give me a certain feel then I don’t stop until it does.”

Her most involved piece is a gnome house nearly a foot tall. It features many handmade flairs, including potted plants and vines growing up the side of a clay-emulated tree trunk that the house is built into.

“I try to create things that make gardens or the area surrounding my creations more magical,” she said.

Different textures created by specialized carving tools give the roof, floors, and sides different feels. To get towers on castles, she rolls slabs of clay around a wooden dowel then removes the dowel.

Details like that make creating a piece such a long process. She estimates a piece takes anywhere from one to three weeks to create. That doesn’t include time to glaze the piece or to fire them twice in a kiln.

Sometimes pieces she has been working blow up or crack while in the kiln.

“I’ve learned a lot about patience and craftsmanship since I’ve started because if you don’t make a piece just right or if it has air bubbles, it won’t survive firing,” she said.

Unruh doesn’t throw away pieces that break in the kiln, instead she studies them to see why they broke, then gives them a home in her garden, which houses several pieces.

“I don’t get blow ups as much anymore,” Unruh said. “I’ve gotten to where I can make a new structure and it looks good and turns out well, which makes me feel good about my skills.”

Unruh learned how to work with clay in high school. After taking a hiatus from clay working she picked the hobby up again after discovering she could make her own clay out of bread crumbs and glue while attending the Hillsboro Arts and Crafts Fair. She then created miniature figures of cartoons and fictional characters 1 or 2 inches tall and sold them.

When friend Paula Hayen opened a clay shop in Hillsboro, Unruh volunteered to help run the store. In return, she received supplies and guidance she needed to develop her skills. It was then she started creating miniature houses for gardens and potted plants.

Unruh moved her studio to her home after Hayen died in 2009 and her shop was closed.

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