Glimpse: The storied sculptures of Diana Synatzske

by Robin Gary

Diana Synatzske’s artist statement and bio speak fluidly to her journey, work, and motivation.  So much so, that asking questions almost seemed superfluous. Context of size in her work is transcended by the physical representation of the pieces. I was surprised by what was smaller than I envisioned and what was larger than I imagined. Her sculptures ‘Lawn Chairs’ and ‘Suitcases’ have a maximum dimension of 12 inches. The surface details and simple settings of her sculptures  (like ‘Trailer’) recall deeply personal and pinpoint memories of her childhood. The wide-eyed, observant child firmly guides the viewer by the hand, gleaning stories from her recent exhibits ‘through a hole in the floor boards’ and ‘from the top of the closet’. Please welcome our July/August featured artist, Diana Synatzske, She touches hearts with her stories and reaches into the greater community teaching art to those in need.

You started off with a BA in Art and a Secondary Teaching Certification in 2001, teaching at risk children and youth at Happy Hill Farm in Glen Rose, TX. How did the program develop over the 10 years you taught there? Were there 'A-haa!' projects or groups that led to your desire to produce and develop your own art? What would be your key statement to give our governing bodies here in Texas why art in education is so important?

As long as I can remember I have wanted to be an artist or art teacher. It was by accident that I stumbled into my first teaching job at this private school for at risk students. The school had not had an art teacher in years and I went in excited to discover a complete ceramics studio, which is a medium I knew nothing about.  I self taught myself all there was to know and practiced daily on the pottery wheels, anxious to teach students on the process.   I fell in love with clay.  The students gravitated to it, as well.  It became a course in discovery and problem solving, for both teacher and students.  It was an inspiration to me to see those students/youth, who come there with such damaged lives, become transformed and make quality life decisions in relation to their own lives.

In the course of this journey, as a teacher, I developed an intense desire to continue with my own personal work in ceramics.  While doing some research into continuing education programs in Texas, I discovered a Masters of Art Education degree from Texas Tech University through a program developed for working teachers allowing me the opportunity to continue teaching. 

As a teacher, working with at-risk students, I see first hand the value of art education and the influences it has across curriculums.   I am not here tooting my own horn, but art provides that critical skill of problem solving that carries over to other areas of education.  I could see the self-confidence building, by providing projects where students could be successful.  They would start out with the “I can’t” attitude and leave feeling proud of their accomplishments

You migrated to sculpture from functional pottery. What were some techniques that transferred from the functional side of clay to your sculptural work? How did you find yourself gravitating? Was it by process? Distraction? The pull of relating a story?

During the three years I spent gaining my Masters of Art Education degree, fall and spring were spent doing online classes, but six weeks in the summer were spent doing my own art.  Every summer, three of those six weeks were devoted to ceramics with well know artist/ceramist, James C. Watkins.  I began wanting to become proficient using the pottery wheel.  I would consider myself average wheel thrower, but I needed more of a challenge.  I just didn’t see myself as a functional potter.  The first summer I transformed my ceramic pots into sculptural pieces using cogs, wheels, nuts/bolts, welded metal all made from ceramics.  I was drawn to that mechanical feel and realism.  I sometimes think maybe it is this power struggle I feel relating to my gender.  The mechanical look empowered me.

During the spring of 2010, I was afforded the rare opportunity to continue with my education and entered into a Masters of Fine Arts program through Louisiana Tech University.  I applied and received a teaching assistantship in 3D studio.  I left my teaching job and moved to Louisiana, which is a whole new adventure for this Texas girl.  It was through this program and the push from the professors, that I discovered myself.

My thesis became "through a hole in the floor board". When I was eight years old I remember riding in the back seat of the family car and was able to look through a hole in the floorboard.  I could only catch subtle glimpses of changes in the surface of the road as it passed beneath the car.  Experiences that I have had as a child are like those subtle changes in the road surface, a flash seen in a moment.  It is those flashes of childhood moments that have become the basis for my experienced life and my body of work.  As an artist I have constructed work that speaks of the experiences I had as a child and what I learned from these experiences.

I love the names of your exhibits: through a hole in the floorboard and from the top of the closet. Selecting iconic objects from your childhood and life, you have developed a substantial body of work.

How do you research your pieces? How do you determine what size the final object should be? What are your favorite must-have tools? Do you work on multiple series/installations at a time?

What were the factors in selecting your clay body? Surfaces? Firing techniques? How would you describe your studio practices?

It has been hard leaving that comfortable art school community and like-minded supporters of your work, but I had to graduate and move on.  The practices that I developed in grad school carried over into the practices I try to sustain in my working studio today.  I was very fortunate to establish a relationship with one of the top galleries in New Orleans (Cole Pratt Gallery), where many of my pieces are in residence. 

My studio practice remains constant, with one day spent searching and applying for exhibitions bringing me more recognition and maybe a possible sale and the rest of the week doing work between real life needs.  My research comes from my personal experiences as a child.  I do a lot of personal journaling about my past and thoughts on how it influenced me today.  I love to draw and many of my pieces are formulated through this process.  I feel that I don’t always have to be doing ceramics for motivation, so I watercolor, experiment with different photographic or printmaking processes, work with wood in my garage workshop, go on adventures with my kayak, or just explore roads less traveled taking my trusted “Diana” camera with me.  All of these things tend to lead me to an idea or inspiration.  When I first came away from grad school, I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I think now I just let things happen.

The sizes of my pieces are generally determined by the actual size and sometimes the size of my kiln. I use detail and size to win the attention of the viewer allowing them to gain a relationship through their own personal experiences. Through this perspective and narrative of life I have developed a language which communicates with the viewer.

I love my studio space, which is in my home.  Recently, I took out a bedroom to expand my space and allow me to spread out and to teach small intimate classes. My favorite things that are a must in my studio are my slab roller and a large wood wedging table that I built this past spring.

Experimentation and testing is crucial, but not final. I experimented with various types of clay bodies, finally settling for white sculpture stoneware.  It was a perfect fit for the development of my large iconic sculptures.  Hundreds of glaze tests were performed and explored and continues.  My search has brought me to a satin glaze base, which has a multitude of interchangeable combinations.  The satin finish evokes depth and a tactile quality.  It also plays into the illusion of reality that drives my concept of a softly spoken moment in time. I have come to realize that I am drawn to the process as much as the final outcome and it seems that no challenge is too great.  My greatest sense of peace comes from working with my hands.

You work out of your studio, Curly Tail Panther Studio in Stephenville, TX. Are you teaching any more?  What are your best routes to sales and exhibitions?  

I have been further challenged accepting a position with the Texas Juvenile Justice Department teaching art to incarcerated youth.  This is a female unit with capital offenders. This is a whole other article in itself.  I feel a great sense of accomplishment and inspiration from this experience. I still find time to work in my studio and feel this journey will give me new experiences to draw from.

My diligence in searching out exhibitions and quality shows has afforded me many upcoming opportunities.  I will be doing a solo show in Granbury, Texas as part of the Tarleton State University’s Langdon Review September 9-17.  I will have a solo show opening at Louisiana Tech University September 22-October 8 and I will finish the year with a solo show at Cole Pratt Gallery on November 7-30. Some of my favorite sites to explore upcoming shows include, but is not limited to these, are:,, and  When searching for exhibitions to show in, I look for who’s jurying the show, the location, and the exposure.  I never think much about the awards, because I feel honored just to be chosen to participate.  The juror is very important.  There is always a chance for it to lead to other shows and more exposure.  Location is important to me, because I like to deliver my work.  I love to visit new places and meet new people. I am truly blessed with all these amazing opportunities to further my work and do what I love.


Diana's Artwork | Diana's TCAA Page  | Diana's Website

Texas Clay Arts Association 2014

Images in header (from left): Annie Foster, Karmien Bowman, Mimi Bardagjy

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