Tennyson Corley grew up in Gaston, SC. Her youth found her surrounded by animals and land in the rural areas right outside of Columbia. Now she and her family reside in Columbia on their small farm full of a menagerie of animals and inspiration for her art.

Tennyson Corley with Sly Clyde and the bad habit

With a donkey, a duck, a bevy of dogs, and stray cats on her current property, and being raised around horses, Tennyson consistently has animal characters that pepper her imagination and are realized in the clay of her current art.

Tennyson grew up watching her mother work as an illustrator. As an independent artist, her mother’s work was on billboards, signage, and in books. She spent many years working at Sandlapper Publishing, a regional publishing house in Columbia. Tennyson shared that being able to see her mother navigate being a working artist gave her insight into what to expect when she began her career.

But just because her mother was an artist, it was not a foregone conclusion that Tennyson would follow that path. In high school, though undecided, when pressed, Tennyson said she was interested in being either an artist or archaeologist. She ended up attending Columbia College for a while before contracting meningitis. After healing, she was feeling a bit bewildered and unsure, so Tennyson moved back home and later began to create art again, and mounted the occasional show. 

Even though she didn’t start off knowing she would be an artist, she confirmed that art “feels like the right path.” She is excited for her upcoming solo show with Black Creek Arts in March. We also spoke about her publishing a book based on her ceramic characters and their stories. I am very enthusiastic about the possibility of this becoming a thing.

The art of Tennyson that I was introduced to is mainly sculpture, but in our conversation, I was reminded that she has only really been working with clay and pottery for less than a year. She started almost on a fluke. Because her son was taking a pottery class, she started to take one too. She shared with me that, “playing in mud felt like the missing piece to what I was missing in my practice.”

Tennyson has an intelligent and slightly snarky storytelling style, a beautiful swirl of Lewis Carroll, Dr. Seus, and George Orwell. Her commentary through her art speaks to the extraordinary and to the everyday. Her work is special. This is demonstrated by the commission that she completed for South Carolina Audubon’s Folly Beach Lighthouse Heritage Preserve and her growing popularity in the Southeastern region. 

She feels that the hardest part of being an artist is “trying to stand out and networking”. Standing out to galleries and those who can promote your work can take considerable time and energy. As some artists argue, that time and energy could be used to better and extend their artistic practice. Tennyson’s goals for 2023 are to get her own kiln, get into one more gallery or book one more show, and above all, just “don’t quit working.”

Let’s support this uncommon artist by showing up at her upcoming appearances at Black Creek Arts in Hartsville, in Columbia at Historic Cottontown, and at the Tiny Gallery show sponsored by Jasper Magazine. You can find her work at Shain Gallery in Charlotte, and you can always follow Tennyson Corley on her website, Instagram and Facebook.

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