Local artists Alan Vaughn and Stella Wissner (Photos by Isadora Pennington)

The walls of the second floor of the Smyrna Public Library are alive with color and art, featuring the works of local artists Alan Vaughn and Stella Wissner. Both residents of North Buckhead, Vaughn and Wissner share a studio space with a group of other artists in Chamblee. This current exhibition showcases Vaughn’s mosaic pieces and Wissner’s “Portraits in Clay.”

A peek around the corner leads to a long one section of the space with a series of mesmerizing geometric works that Vaughn calls canvas mosaics. A closer look reveals that these compositions are actually made of carefully arranged small squares of stenciled canvas. He has spent years honing his skills and developing a unique personal style expressed in abstracted design. Using repurposed squares of canvas leftover from his painted floorcloth works he has found a way to create something altogether new. Leaning on his love of math and geometry, he utilizes color and line to create his works that seem to warp and move within the frame.

“What I’m really interested in, what I have worked in pretty much my whole career, is geometric simplicity. Turned out pretty well,” he said, gesturing to the walls behind him. Vertical and horizontal bands, simple three or four color schemes, and a linear arrangement are all frequently seen in his works. Though some evoke a sense of stillness, others seem paused amidst an undulating motion. 

It’s quite clear that these mosaics, and the floorcloths that they come from, are an area where Vaughn is continuing to explore and push his design aesthetic. But that wasn’t always the case. Vaughn first discovered a love and talent for art when he was in school when he began drawing maps. “I loved the coastlines and the little wriggly lines and trying to get the proportions just right,” said Vaughn. From there it was figurative work, such as the roses that his sixth grade teacher asked him to draw on cards for his classmates on Valentine’s Day. I suppose you could consider that his first commission. It was many years later before he would begin experimenting with floorcloths and later these mosaics.

“It wasn’t a change, it was just metamorphosis. It wasn’t a real thought process, but I was doing a lot of hard edge painting and color manipulation by using colors in a scientific way. That was just what was going on in that era in the ’60s and ’70s. It just appealed to me. I’ve always kind of headed in the direction that feels comfortable to me. It is not so much a conscious change as going with the flow.”

Today, Vaughn is an exhibiting artist, technically retired though he does continue to teach art classes both individually and at the Chastain Arts Center. “I have retired, but the phone keeps ringing,” he said with a wry laugh. 

Gazing out from a long row of display cases are a number of faces. There are animal masks and human masks inspired by African art. There are figures that represent the elements and planets. A third display case is full of Spirit Figures, miniatures that appear to interact with each other like a mother and son on the first day of school. 

Wissner says that her goal is to bring joy to those who experience it. Her garden faces in particular, with figures like owls and cats, are intended to peek out from behind plants in your yard. “I know there are a lot of bad things in the world but there are a lot of good things too. I make things that are fun, whimsical. Hopefully people like it.”

Long before she was working on faces, Wissner developed a penchant for making ceramic flowers. Whether displayed on stakes in the yard, positioned on tiny custom pedestals on your shelf, or hanging off the wall, her floral pieces are colorful and joyful. 

The early days of Wissner’s artmaking coincided with the Chihuly exhibit at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens. Inspired, she began exploring florals in her handbuilding works. “I said to myself I want to do in clay what he has done in glass. And so I started making these large flowers,” explained Wissner. “I’m a nature fanatic, and I come from a family of gardeners. Gardens and flowers are in my blood.”

After growing up in England and receiving a degree in chemistry from the Imperial College, she landed an opportunity to complete a research assistantship at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Once on American soil, she was in love, and she eventually found her way back. For nearly 30 years she worked as a research scientist before retiring, after which she dedicated herself to her art. 

She has had a studio space since 2004, working diligently to develop her own style and deepen her knowledge of the materials and techniques. Her pieces feature Lizella clay, earthenware, porcelain, and even colored porcelain which she formulates herself. “This is something I love about clay, there are so many different techniques,” said Wissner. “That’s what I love about clay – the infinite variety.” 

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Isadora Pennington

Isadora Pennington is a freelance writer and photographer based in Atlanta. She is the editor of Sketchbook by Rough Draft, a weekly Arts newsletter.