Jean Greeson comprises half the team at Asheville firm Greeson & Fast Design. Her four-decade career as an interior designer has required loads of creativity, a surplus of stamina, and much travel. But when she took up ceramics a few years ago — inspired by a trip with her granddaughter to the you-make-it clay shop Fired Up! Creative Lounge — some of her early attempts were admittedly crude.
“The first time I made a rabbit I had no idea what I was doing — her ears broke after drying, so I put flowers all over the head to conceal the mistake,” recalls Greeson. Nevertheless, she kept at it — because what started as “something I did for maybe half a weekend a day” had, by then, turned into an obsession.
Today, Greeson can boast a delightful, quirky line of anthropomorphized animal figures, fashioned in her garage studio and fired in her home kiln. The 11” to 14” highly detailed figures have distinct personalities and are bedecked with custom-made garments, accessories, and attitude.
Their playful energy is complemented by enthusiastic glaze colors and relatable facial expressions. Greeson’s opera-singer hippo is properly self important, a yellow-raincoated rabbit tentatively checks for drops, and her rainbow-hued artist elephant holds a well-used palette and brush. Greeson’s “Morning After” bear sports pink hair rollers, coffee, and a cigarette. A bovine figure is an homage to Carmen Miranda, and the cowgirl deer was inspired by the opening credits of the TV series Godless — about an Old West town run by women.
Overall, “they’re the results of my working from animal photos,
doing research on clothing, and generating my own silly ideas,” explains Greeson, who is a board member of the Blue Ridge Humane Society and a “kitten foster mom.” She has given pieces as gifts, but her first public foray was this year’s Open Studio Tour of Henderson County. She’s also taken to doing commissions for friends’ dogs and cats, with accompanying clothing that matches the pets’ personalities.
“I like talking to people about my work and watching them react,” she says. But she credits her husband Don, a graduate of the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, with helping her perfect the figures’ sense of movement and gesture.
Turn-of-the-20th-century children’s author Elizabeth Gordon, whose books Greeson discovered through her great aunt, is another big influence. Gordon’s charmingly stylized illustrations — “Bird Children,” “Flower Children,” “Mother Earth’s Children” — are also anthropomorphic creations, designed with colors and text that reflect the rustic, back-to-nature spirit of the Arts & Crafts movement.
Mostly, though, Greeson considers the process therapeutic: “When you love what you’re doing, you lose all sense of time. When I work with clay, that happens,” she says. “If I experience joy creating them, and bring it to those who look at them, then that’s just perfect.”
Jean Greeson, Hendersonville and Asheville. For more information, see jeangreeson.com.