Christine Lush-Rodriguez creates clay sculptures inspired by ocean life and her own dreams
By MADISON BROWN
Christine Lush-Rodriguez is best known for her “Fruitoids” ceramics collection, in which she combines the organs of different oceanic and plant life into entirely new organic “life-form” sculptures inspired by her travels and helpful dreams.
She builds her Fruitoids at Artful Dimensions Gallery in Fredericksburg and travels to art shows up and down the East Coast. Her unique, tropical-themed works are influenced by years spent living and working in Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They attract a good deal of buzz in the northern U.S, where her pieces give customers a taste of a tropical lifestyle.
Several Fruitoids on display in Artful Dimensions Gallery.
Born and raised in Doylestown, PA, Lush-Rodriguez has been making art for as long as she can remember.
“Ever since I was five years old and I learned how to draw a star by myself, I wanted to be an artist,” she shares. “Luckily, I had parents who were okay with that concept!”
Lush-Rodriguez was always attracted to art classes throughout primary and secondary school.
“I took every art class in high school that I could. I took ceramics starting my junior year of high school. As soon as I could take it, I knew I wanted to be a ceramic artist, a clay sculptor.”
But Lush-Rodriguez struggled with other school subjects. She was dealing with dyslexia, she says, and growing up in the 1960s and 70s, “at the time, dyslexia was not a word. I was always labeled an underachiever.” A guidance counselor even went so far as to advise Christine’s parents that she was incapable of completing a college degree.
Despite having been let down by the education system, Christine pursued a 26-year-long career as an educator herself. With her parents’ continued support, she earned a degree in art education from Kutztown University.
After graduating in 1984, Lush-Rodriguez moved to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands to begin teaching. The circumstances of this job are a testament to Christine’s resolve to teach and make art.
“When you first start teaching down there [in St.Croix], you don’t get paid for the first six weeks,” she says. “They want to make sure you’re going to stay, because apparently people would come down, accept the position, teach for a week or two, take a little vacation and leave.” Christine received a letter from her principal explaining that she was eligible for a month and a half’s worth of food stamps, and she lived on that alone until she got her first paycheck.
Even after receiving her pay, Lush-Rodriguez faced a heavy financial burden teaching in St. Croix. “[The island was] not very well equipped on many levels,” she shares. “I had to supplement, out of my paycheck, supplies for my students.”
Worse still, in Lush-Rodriguez’s view, was that she couldn’t make ceramic art in St. Croix because she didn’t have access to a kiln. She fulfilled her need to make art using oil paints, which she purchased with her first paycheck.
“I painted a hibiscus that was outside my window, with very bright, beautiful, orange-y [colors]. So that’s what I was doing, there was no clay on the island. I was painting O’Keeffe inspired, in-your-face flowers, with bright bright colors.”
Lush-Rodriguez married and moved to Miami, but she carries a piece of St. Croix with her in her artwork. “[St. Croix] totally influenced my color palette. Coming from Pennsylvania, it was a big color change, a big vibrancy change.”
In Miami, she enjoyed access to clay and a kiln through Miami-Dade University, a new high school teaching job, and a husband who encouraged her to pursue clay sculpting.
“When you open that door and let clay into my life, clay’s going to be under my skin,” she recalls warning her husband. “And he’s like, ‘I’m okay with that, you need to be who you need to be as an artist and clay is your thing.’ So a very supportive husband. He keeps telling me, ‘make bigger, bigger, bigger!’”
It was in Miami that Christine began building a professional art portfolio, and her Fruitoid collection was born.
“I sat down with a piece of paper and said, ‘Alright. I love plants and I love the ocean. Let me see what I can do with that.’”
She put hours of study into her work before beginning the collection.
“I started immersing myself in images of different kinds of plants, seapods, flowers, and oceanic little creatures.”
Inspiration often struck her in dreams.
“I’d look at books and books and books, and then close them up, and during the night, when I’m sleeping, an image would come to me.”
This became a common theme in her artwork.
“Ten years ago or so, my poppy series,” – a collection of vibrant poppy-shaped wall sculptures occasionally possessing Fruitoid qualities – “I woke up at four-thirty in the morning and [my dream] told me [that] I need to make poppies. Immediately I thought of Georgia O’Keeffe’s giant red poppies.”
Lush-Rodriguez’s “Barnacleware” collection, in which she ornaments ceramic pieces with clay barnacles, was prompted by footage from the movie Titanic but further developed in her dreams. She’s developed categories for her pieces based on the barnacle density. “This,” she says of a small gold-glazed bowl in the gallery, “is extremely barnacle-ized (yes, I make up words). That was also a dream that woke me up – it always wakes me at four-thirty in the morning – that I had to just completely cover the whole top edge of the piece [in barnacles].”
Lush-Rodriguez decided to relocate her thriving art career and move north again as Miami’s ever-worsening seasonal hurricanes became too taxing. In 2005, her family was hit by three Category 5 hurricanes. “I was done,” she says, “because I not only had to pack up my house and board up the windows and get ready for the storm, but the classroom that I taught at, I had to secure my students’ work, unplug and wrap up all the pottery wheels in the classroom, take out my books and all the supplies. That year, every week, we were in the ‘cone of uncertainty’, and I was done. The stress is too much.”
Her husband took a job in Washington, and they toured several nearby towns before landing in Fredericksburg.
“As soon as we saw Fredericksburg, it reminded me of Doylestown, where I grew up,” Christine shares. “Two-story, brick little town, and an artsy community – I’m like, ‘this is it. This is where we’re going to move to.’”
Lush-Rodriguez began teaching art at Fredericksburg’s Holy Cross Academy and joined Brushstrokes Gallery in 2006, where she recognized an unfilled niche in the local art community: three-dimensional art was overlooked because galleries didn’t know how to display it.
“Sitting in that gallery, I would watch people come in and only look at stuff on the walls. It was very frustrating to me because [other artists’] paintings, their photography, pastels, need to be on the walls. But we [three-dimensional artists] make stuff that’s just as good, and we’re shoved off into the corners on pedestals. So we felt like second-class artists, and it really frustrated me.”
So in 2011, Christine found a new location and proposed an exclusively three-dimensional gallery.
“I gathered my 3-D friends from Brushstrokes, took them up for a little field trip, and said, ‘What do you think? A nonprofit art gallery with studios that we can work out of, exclusively three dimensional.’ And they were all for it!”
Artful Dimensions has since relocated, and Lush-Rodriguez remains its president. The gallery holds monthly shows to feature the work of its artists on a rotating basis. July’s show will feature Lush-Rodriguez’s work in an exhibition called Treasures of Time. The show will feature blue Barnacleware pieces with white barnacles and ornamentations. ”It’s all about blue and white,” Christine says. “I’m making it look like tumbled pottery from the beach, found stuff.”
Several of the vibrant blue dishes to be exhibited in Treasures of Time.
Treasures of Time will begin on June 28, with an opening event on Friday, July 1 at Artful Dimensions.