Lynne Hull is a vessel maker as well as a teacher, a jeweler, and a founding member of the Seattle Metals Guild. She is a supporter of the community she lives in. This is evident in her pride of place, the Pacific Northwest, when she has the chance to order a Ballard Bitter Ale. Lynne Hull lives and works in a small house literally in the midst of an industrial section of Seattle called Ballard, also home of the Ballard Brewery. The least of what she is is what she’s become best known for, as a metal spinner of vessel forms.

vessel forms
Vertical Basket #1, copper, brass, patina, 15 x 3”, 1990

So seemingly rare is the use of spinning in our field that Hull has risen to a visibility where the technique she uses is often more the focus than is her work. It has been a personal and quiet crusade for more than 10 years to elevate the spun metal form from the lower-class association of industrial design and production into a legitimate and beautiful format and technique worthy of any other metal technique and any other art form.

Hull probably was not aware, when she began spinning metal, that Soetsu Yanagi had come to the same conclusion as she when in 1954, as founder of the Japan Folkcraft Museum in Tokyo, he wrote about the crossroad between man’s creativity and the machine:

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No machine can compare with a man’s hands. Machinery gives speed, power, complete uniformity, and precision, but it cannot give creativity, adaptability, freedom, heterogeneity. These the machine is incapable of, hence the superiority of the hand, which no amount of rationalism can negate. Man prefers the creative and the free to the fixed and standardized.

The machine, of course, come into being for man’s use and advantage; therefore, we need not avoid it but should find a way of using it more cleverly than we have done hitherto.

– “Toward a Standard of Beauty,” 1954

Hull has risen, intuitively, to this challenge through her fortitude and her personal and professional achievements. She considers all of these part of a continuous process without end. She has succeeded in establishing a high standard for her work and deserves our attention.

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Hull found her unusual technical niche as a graduate student at the School for American Craftsmen at Rochester Institute of Technology and has evolved with it as an artist. Spinning on a lathe is now secondary to her creative process. Spinning is the vehicle she uses to generate voluminous forms; it is, actually, a sketching process where she merges the industrial with the artistic. There is a host of reasons why Hull has chosen these particular vessel forms, the spinning technique and materials. Together they combine to form a sophisticated vocabulary that is coherent, flexible and personal.

Work Style

Each piece, whether it is a one-of-a-kind sculptural vessel or a limited edition work, is actually unique in the same way that a thrown or handbuilt clay object is unique. Each object is spun and stacked into an arrangement and must be different in subtle ways. However, Hull goes far beyond the notion that machined reproductions are the same. She wants her objects to show their own evolutionary history, the processes of their making.

Tooling lines are left intact on the surface of a spun pot after the spinning and are not burnished smooth or removed. The various elements added to a central form are frequently left with working marks, such as the dimples from her Beverly shears. (Dimples are normally removed or avoided with a protective rubber pad.) This philosophy does not extend to uncut edges, overhangs or messy joints, which could be dangerous or alter the basic form. Through these “fingerprints” one can imagine discovering the mood of the maker in her act of creativity.

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Hull’s integration of the technical with the organic may be seen as a synthesis of influences from two of her teachers. Fully cognizant that young students tend to create work identified with a school or a specific instructor, Hull nonetheless sought the advantages of each educational environment. She was determined to remain tuned in to her own inner voice. John Marshall’s sculptural silversmithing style was organic in approach, with rugged, asymmetric forms. We may see Marshall’s influence in Hull’s leaving the marks of the industrial process on her piece. She is comfortable throwing her forms off center, their body segments and handles centered or tilted. Her use of multiple forms creates a whole that is larger than the sum of its parts.

Vertical Basket #7, copper, wood, patina, 17 x 3”, 1991

There is also a trace of Gary Griffin’s influence as an artist and teacher on Hull. Learning a variety of machine processes at RIT under Griffin also meant dealing with his conceptual challenge to go beyond competence to personal expression. As was evident in Griffin’s own work of the late 1970s, the “clever” use of the industrial machine was tantamount to any other artistic endeavor. Invention, experimentation and practicality could all be used to find new form, new surface treatments and artistic expression.

In Hull’s creative process the patina is not the end of the work. She frequently applies a patina to a form in order to better “see” the aesthetic arrangements. She has no aversion to removing a surface treatment, trying a different one, or restacking the objects in pursuit of the feel and effects she is seeking.

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Happenstance could be considered a part of Hull’s working style. Beyond working with forms, she welcomes influences from left field. These may include a new way of looking at industrial products that spark in her an imaginative response. For example, she found copper heating coils, which come notched in continuous round sections, to be decorative yet practical. She uses this product for handles and other decorative elements and finds it completely compatible with her aesthetic.

Her Vertical Basket series provides another example of Hull’s innovation. A friend was tearing down a building and discovered a large amount of 3-inch copper tubing. Not wanting to waste it, he literally dropped 60 feet of it on Hull’s doorstep. Hull decided to remove the sharp bit from a tubing cutter and replaced it with another bit she machined herself. This enabled her to create forms that may be notched at any interval she wants. The result, as with Vertical Basket #7, is a beautiful, intricate form.

Work Content and Market Forces

Over the years Hull has accumulated elemental features that can be read nearly as well as a tree can be read through an examination of its annual growth rings. An early favorite is a handle, an arching, near-semicircle of three narrow lengths of tubing visually held together at one point by a modest, simple wrap of wire. This decorative element placed off center echoed Hull’s interest in Japanese packaging design. Its purpose – that of bundling – represented the theme of gathering harvest crops. This wrapping element has remained in her work, although the styles of handles and other treatments change frequently.

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Vertical Basket #23 (aka sister), copper, aluminum, patina, auto lacquer, 15 x 11”, 1991

Another element that has remained in her work is the spiral of tubing, nearly always aluminum and painted with automobile lacquer, that surrounds the opening of the container. Its calm gesture lifts the eye upward. Nearly all of Hull’s containers have a mouth, a remnant of the vessel’s function. Yet, if liquid were to fill the body, it could only leave by evaporation. These spirals can be read as releasing the spiritual essences contained in the vessel, and therefore from our own.

Hull made this association early on, in response to the tea ceremony and the development of utensils that assist nourishment, and tied these to the role of the woman through history. She looks upon vessels as a metaphor for human form. Moreover, “they define a space and create a presence of their own that I see as representing woman…and symbolize woman’s ability to give life.”

Hull’s elegant, simple vessel forms have much content. Indeed, behind many of her forms and decorative elements lies a narrative, understated and rarely brought out into open discussion. At the nexus of Hull’s work is a crossroad that bridges personal intent with technique and the marketplace. Over the years it has been the personal side of her work that has been subdued.

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Hull has found it difficult to sell limited editions with personal titles. It is easier to refer to generic titles and number systems such as Basket Form #14 or Vertical Basket #10. Hull feels clients, be they the general public or gallery buyers, are much more comfortable with generic references which are more businesslike. Perhaps this makes them more approachable. After all, these vessels, or “pots,” as she calls them, will be used to decorate and enliven someone else’s personal environment. On the other hand, this arrangement has also been comfortable for Hull. She has preferred to use this system rather than highlight the personal narrative. She strives to balance the public and the private in pots that appear similar to one another.

Since 1981 Lynne Hull has exhibited steadily and has made her living from her work. Teaching has been a supplement; it has been her work that has sustained her. The path to financial stability has not been easy. When that path has involved the ACE craft fair circuit, Hull has assumed that there is risk in changing the work too drastically within one year. Her creative approach merges the practical with a faith from within that intercedes on her behalf.

A glimpse at Hull’s working style reveals a large number of vessel forms, open, closed, and multiples as well as those of differing heights and diameters. From the dozens of variables eventually comes a new form. She often works with a “conceptual series,” a direction which allows her to make a variety of baskets that relate to each other. Hull stacks fully round, enclosed forms 3 to 4 high in totemic fashion. She has made series wherein a double or triple stacking of bowl forms exposes inner recesses rather than sealing them shut. These recall the metaphor of the vessel as the body, the exposed self, and provide a challenging glimpse inside ourselves.

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Two Narratives

Basket #16 (aka Burial Piece), copper, aluminum, patina, auto lacquer, 8 x 15”, 1984

Basket #16, 1984

In this elegant early vessel we can see narrative content. The broad, wide container sits gently on a black double coil base – like a perfect river pebble set on a stand. The handle is extreme, even heavy, and it runs low over the broad shoulders of the pot. It also obstructs the mouth. The tubing of the handle is stacked, two lengths on the bottom with one short piece resting on top.

The story of this vessel is summed up by its nonpublic title, Burial Piece. It was Hull’s intention to suggest the environment of the Plains Indians with a broad low profile, flat and exposed to the elements. The handle construction is an allusion to the practice of the Plains Indians who buried their dead above ground. There is a quiet, a calm and a reverence to this sculpture that fit this sentiment.

Basket #4 (aka Upward Bound), copper, aluminum, patina, auto lacquer, 16 x 11”, 1986

Work Influences

The most apparent influence on the form of Hull’s vessels is from Eastern cultures. She recalls that even as a child she loved the Chinese ceramic vase given to her lather after World War II. Her father was an Air Force pilot who served in China, and perhaps the familiar and comfortable stories from those “good old days” were made concrete in this special gift. It was tall, teardrop round with its low belly heavy and thick. There seems to be a presence of that form in all of Hull’s “pots” today.

The spiritual connection with this Chinese pot led her to research Chinese form and detail, and she found affinity with the ceramic ware of the T’ang Dynasty of the late 7th and early 8th century A.D. Its forms and surface designs were minimal, not at all like the popular bold and punchy Chinese bronzes of other periods.

Basket Form #14, copper, aluminum, patina, auto lacquer, 14 x 10”, 1989

Hull traces Japanese influence on her work to several sources. First, she was attracted to Japanese design and style where “their clear and simple design format has always drawn [her] to their work.” An interest in the tea ceremony eventually instilled in her the importance of the vessel as a symbolic object. Just as the invention of the vessel made basic nourishment easier, these vessels help nourish the spirit by brightening an individual’s space.

Hull is admittedly very sensitive to and influenced by her environment. The Pacific Northwest is an American gateway to the Pacific Rim cultures. Many of the public and private buildings there reflect this influence. They have developed a community of gateways and decorative portals that more symbolically than physically divide public space from private. This symbolic understanding is also a common cultural practice of the Native American peoples. Hull’s vessels meet the viewer with decorative and gestural handles that function at this level of greeting.

Vertical Basket #10, copper, patina, 13 x 6”, 1991

Out of a wide variety of rich patinas, Hull’s green patinas are of a special origin. Unlike the popular verdigris patina so often used today, Hull’s blotchy green surface treatment is not reminiscent of an ancient object, but of a memory; it is a reminder of the great mosses of the Northwest’s woods. Hull grew up riding horses, in a less populated time in Bellevue, Washington. She recalls the woods and the freshness of its air as she rode along seeing the thick, beautiful greens of the mosses everywhere, the telltale sign of an old, little-touched woods. The woods she rode through, as well as the ball field she played in, have since grown into malls, housing developments and businesses. It seems that every time she chooses to spray on a green patina, she is preserving the forests and refreshing her memories.

The artist and craftsman, however for he may be from on ultimate liberation, is continually willing his work. He devotes his life to acts which are a personal commitment to value. He is, to varying degrees, an example of a practicing initiative. A creative person. Initiating, enacting. Out of personal being. Using his lifetime to find his original face, to awaken his own voice, beyond all learning, habit, thought; to tap life at its source.

William Baran-Mickle is a metalsmith and writer living near Rochester, NY.

  1. Yangal, Soetsu, The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty (collected writings adapted by Bernard Leach), Kodansha, 1980, p. 108.
  2. It is only fair that I disclose that Lynne Hull is not only a colleague but a friend. We attended the same graduate program at RIT and earned our MFA degrees in 1981. Although she returned to the West Coast immediately thereafter and I remained in New York, I have followed her career and have never ceased to be impressed by the quality of her work.
  3. Hull received her BFA from the University of Washington, Seattle, in 1978. John Marshall was the professor of that program. She received her MFA degree from the School for American Craftsmen, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York, in 1981. Gary Griffin and Hans Christensen were the professors of that program.
  4. Hull, Lynne, A Discussion of My Work, masters thesis, Rochester Institute of Technology, 1985, pp. 12 – 13.
  5. , p. 10.
  6. Richards, Mary Caroline, Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person, Wesleyan University Press, 1969, p. 43.