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Raku artist JoAnne Bedient sculpts must-have accessories

By Staff | Jun 11, 2009

An eye for whimsy and a talent for what is nothing less than pure, hand-sculpted style is what keeps Fort Myers resident and renowned island artist JoAnne Bedient – perhaps best known for her fashionable raku shoes – always one step ahead.

But if you happen to wander into the 2 Islands Gallery at South Seas Island Resort, you’ll find that it’s not just Bedient’s sculpturally and aesthetically pleasing boots and high heels that make her unique.

Bedient has been coming to the islands since she was a child, but made a permanent transition to Southwest Florida in 1980.

“We moved from Kansas after the worst blizzard imaginable at the end of January and we’ve been here ever since,” she said.

Bedient has always liked art, but she says when she went off to college at Fort Hays State University, she didn’t know which artistic field she wanted to pursue.

“I had never worked in clay before then and I never really felt like there was a certain area that I fit into,” Bedient explained. “When I took my first ceramics class, I just knew. I loved the feel of it. I could think of something and then I could do it in 3-D, whereas I couldn’t do it as well in 2-D.

“I got my degree in art with an emphasis on ceramics. My minor was watercolor and I haven’t done a single watercolor since I graduated. Clay is my thing,” Bedient continued, noting that she’s not a potter, she’s a ceramic artist. “To me, a potter makes functional work on a potter’s wheel, and all of my work is hand built. It’s only function is maybe to bring a smile to your face.”

She recalled how after marrying her husband in college, the couple would frequently – just for fun – discuss what the most bizarre and uncomfortable item fashioned from clay would be. They decided that underwear would certainly be the strangest item.

“Of course, I hadn’t thought of shoes yet!” she joked.

Bedient is probably best known for her whimsical shoes – everything from Crocs and flip-flops, cowboy boots and platforms to mules and classic pumps.

“When you have a special occasion to go to, don’t you think of the shoes you want to wear to that special occasion? So why shouldn’t any occasion call for a shoe?” Bedient said, noting that it was one of her kids that brought about her creative shoe fetish. “Around 1998, one of my daughters was in college and she went into downtown Fort Myers to a store called Flowers to Fifties, a vintage retail shop. She bought this red pair of patent leather shoes and they were just so funky. I was sitting there looking at them and I thought, ‘That reminds me of my red glaze. I think I’ll try making those shoes.'”

After she finished the funky red footwear, she was hooked and began researching shoes from throughout the world and history.

“Then I started getting into the more whimsical ones, and they’ve been my favorite. A lot of them have come from commissions,” Bedient continued, noting that her “Fashion Emergency” shoe – inspired by an old red and white Cadillac ambulance – was requested by a woman who’s sister owns an ambulance business.

Her “Dressed to a Tee” shoe was inspired by a friend who’s parents live and breathe all things golf. Her ‘Dancing by the Light of the Moon” shoe was inspired by a quilter who, having a day job, could only work on her craft at night, “by the light of the moon,” Bedient said.

“I did a boot that was inspired by downtown Fort Myers and I did some transfers on it. I had the Arcade Theater, the woman at the well on McGregor near the the Edison home, the ‘God is Love’ sign was on it and there were palm trees all around the top of it. That’s probably one of my favorites,” she said.

“My ‘Lady Godiva’ boot is another one of my favorites,” Bedient added, noting that this particular boot takes its name from the swirling, smoky patterns that form on the clay’s surface during the naked raku technique.

“My favorite quote of all time is Picasso’s ‘Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.’ So to me, these shoes are washing away the dust.”

‘Though perhaps, in Bedient’s case, art kicks dust away from the soul – or sole!

But shoes are not her only area of expertise.

“I love to do teapots. I guess it’s because teapots are considered functional but none of my work is really functional. I don’t know, there is just something about teapots that I like,” Bedient said.

In addition to shoes and teapots, Bedient also creates decorative wall tiles, fanciful hearts, quirky perfume bottles and colorful pears.

JoAnne Bedient’s shoes, pears, bottles and much more are available at 2 Islands Gallery in Chadwick Square at South Seas Island Resort. The gallery is open to the public every day from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

For more information, call them at 472-5111 ext. 7633.