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Catrett shapes her life in clay

Photo by Terry Lewis

Photo by Terry Lewis

ALBANY, Ga. -- The basement of Gayla Catrett's Beach Drive home is stuffed with "experiments" in wood, acrylic paint and clay.

The basement has a low ceiling, so watch your head. Keep your eyes open because you are also likely to run into or stumble over a piece of art, finished or in progress. Oh, and look out so you don't trip over the failed experiments.

Catrett's husband, Basil, works with wood while Gayla, who holds a degree in art from Darton College, paints and sculpts.

The couple owned a Roto-Rooter franchise until selling it in 2003, but they still work for the company.

"I was always interested in art," Gayla Catrett said. "When I went to Darton, I told an adviser I wanted to sculpt and I wanted to find a class or someone who could help me."

That's when Darton Art Program Coordinator John DiMino stepped in.

"When John came along, he really encouraged me to stick with the sculpting," Catrett said. "The drawing classes were helpful, and in the ceramics class I learned to work with clay. One thing John made us do was to create a small sculpture while blindfolded. I learned a lot from that."

Still, Catrett's workshop is filled with 10 years worth of mistakes, or "experiments" as she calls them. And with each experiment, she's learned along the way.

"I would work for months on a piece only to put it in the kiln and see it blow up," Catrett said. "That is very frustrating, but I also learned from it. Sculpting is difficult around here because not many people do it, so there's no one to talk to and compare notes with."

Catrett's latest piece is an as-yet-unnamed bust of a woman. She's been working on it since December of last year. The artist keeps it wrapped in plastic and must mist it with water multiple times daily to keep the clay workable.

"I love to do faces," Catrett said. "This piece started out as my niece, Ragan, but the more I worked on it the more I realized that this is an older woman and everything changed. Sculpting is like that.

"I get totally zoned out when I am working on her. I have to keep my nails cut because I can accidentally gouge the clay. And it might sound crazy, but I talk to her as I work on her. She really seems content and at ease."

When she finally finishes a piece, Catrett must place it into a kiln and create a mold. Both steps present additional problems.

"Making the molds is very difficult, the most difficult part of the whole process," Catrett said. "You spend so much time trying to make it work, and when it winds up not working it is frustrating. It seems I do that all the time.

"But I learn from the mistakes, and when it does all come together it's a great feeling of accomplishment."

Catrett says sculpting has become her passion and a large part of her life.

"Yes, it is a passion of mine," she said. "I think people who don't have a passion are missing out on a big part of life. Deep down, everybody has something they really, really want to do.

"Just do it. The sense of accomplishment when you finish is absolutely overwhelming."