ART OR CRAFT?: THE MAKERS CHIME IN! — Featured Maker: Kelly Lish

((L) Christmas Fairy House. (M) Quail Family, acrylic on board, 24”x24” (R) Silver Tea Pot Fairy House | Photos and artwork by of Kelly Lish)

Over the past year, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing a variety of makers, from a metalsmith and seamstress to a printmaker and twin fiber artists, to name just a few of these talented creatives, asking them to share their thoughts about their work. One central question guided the discussion: Do you consider your work art or craft? Naturally, I asked them to explain their responses, and the discussions that arose were incredibly interesting. As one might expect, elements of both art and craft were infused, sometimes literally, in their expressions. Common to all, there is a process that one must perfect to a reasonable degree — the craft. Then, there is the creativity that one must summon to make this craftwork exceed the norm so others recognize in it that special quality — the art.

In this interview, the final of the series, I asked painter and sculptor Kelly Lish to share her perspective on the art and craft discussion. Although painters and sculptors might seem an obvious choice for the “art” category, lines often get blurred depending on the kind of painting and sculpting one does. Kelly’s work is incredibly unique in that it offers a fantastical glimpse into the imaginative realm of fairies, gnomes and the places such miniscule creatures, including animals and insects, may live. Her subject matter extends far beyond the traditional landscape, still life or figure genres that for centuries have provided artists a common point of departure while eschewing the intuitive, non-objective abstraction so popular amongst painters today. For these reasons, Kelly serves as a prime candidate to chime in on the “Art or Craft?” discussion, which she does below.

ME: Describe your art / craft?

KELLY: I am a painter and sculptor. I paint flora and fauna in something of a decorative style with acrylics and oil pastels. Generally my paintings are of an intuitive nature, meaning I begin each painting without totally knowing where it will take me. One painting can consist of multiple layers, covering some parts and adding on others, until I reach a point of satisfaction. I also make little woodland house sculptures. For this interview I would like to focus on my sculptures.

For five years now, I’ve been creating these fairly small (anywhere between 18” to 24” in height and about 12” in diameter) fairy houses that are quite unique, to say the least! Basically, they are small abodes that tiny fairies might build to be their home. I begin with an object such as a silver tea pot or an old cowboy boot, items I might discover at thrift stores, antique sales, barn sales, or garage sales. Then, thinking like an architect, I build upon that object, the sculpture’s structure, utilizing found materials like tree bark, moss or anything that nature might suggest as appropriate fairy home construction material.

When I’m roaming around a forest searching for supplies, I find myself in one of the most relaxing, beautiful, magical places on earth. I appreciate being amongst the trees, the moss, the clean air, the little creeks and the mushrooms and fungi that I find under dead branches. I’m totally away from the noises and pressures of everyday life, so I feel no fear or anxiety, only appreciation and wonder. That’s the expression and mood I try to put into my work and seek to provide viewers of my art.

ME: Because I’ve seen your fairy home sculptures in person, I must say, they are absolutely fascinating! I love discovering the main object that serves as the underlying structure and exploring how everything grows out from it. As you intend, your work takes me to a place of wonder and inquiry. Most remarkable!

Do you consider your work art or craft?

KELLY: Art is a complex subject, especially since it involves passion and expression. Art takes the maker into a “creative zone” where time does not exist. Hours can go by and feel like minutes. It’s like some sort of meditation. And when the final piece is finished, hopefully the maker has achieved his or her expression or message, one that the viewer can feel.

Craft, as I see it, is more of a skill. It’s a precise, time-generated skill that shows in the piece. I see “craft” as the disciplined skill of the maker. Of course there is passion involved, and that is what creates the quest for perfection. I, myself, am not a perfectionist and that kind of quest I can only appreciate. It’s less about expression than it is about the beauty of the skill that is practiced and then transposed into the object.

After reflecting upon my own understanding of art and craft, I would have to say my fairy houses fall primarily into the “art” category. When I’m creating them, I’m in the zone, very focused and my imagination is on full blast! I’m just having so much fun creating that I’m not thinking about the final product much. Subconsciously, however, I am trying to make something unique and special, something that will touch the viewer’s heart. My goal is that the viewer will stop being an adult for a few moments and remember and even feel that child-like spark their imagination once held.

ME: How does your work address artistic concerns such as form, composition, color value, texture?

KELLY: I create my fairy houses to look as natural as they might in “real life.” I try to balance the entire sculpture so it is pleasing to the eye. If the bark I use is too thick, for example, then the whole piece might end up too bulky, which is not very interesting to look at. I try to balance the piece so that it’s intriguing to the eye and mind such that every time you look at it, you find something you didn’t see before. I spend time in the forest hunting for different tree bark, mushrooms, moss – anything that will make it appear authentic to the imagination. I try to balance this authenticity with fun little objects that might compel the viewer to find whimsy and amusement.

ME: I enjoy your use of the terms “authentic” and “authenticity.” Because you are bringing the imaginative world of fairies and the homes in which they reside into being through these dynamic sculptures, authenticity really matters! The different objects you describe as your means to do so call to mind a variety of textures (i.e. moss, tree bark), and I feel those diverse textures are one important means through which you achieve your aim. Would you agree?

KELLY: I would totally agree. All these different elements are what make the houses so visually interesting. Just like when you’re in nature, whether it is a forest, beach, desert, or underwater landscape, there is so much variety in terms of texture and color. That’s what makes life beautiful, and my hope is that my little houses can bring this beauty of nature and imagination to life for the viewer!

ME: I dare say they do! Thanks so much, Kelly!

To view the fantastical, whimsical work of Kelly Lish, please visit her website at or see her creations in person at the Artists’ Gallery Sunriver (

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