BLOWING ROCK — Local artist Donald Ray creates his newest pottery and canvas created using unique techniques due to his disability.
Ray has created art for the last 30 years, focuses mainly on ceramics. In recent years, he has began creating wall-hanging art as well. Ray utilizes special techniques including painting by mouth and transferring digital art to canvas and hopes his supporters ask him questions about his process.
“I hope people are comfortable enough to ask me anything, I really am an open book,” said Ray. “I hope people take away that when limitations are put on you there’s always another way around it. Often what looks like a catastrophe is quite a blessing in disguise. Life is not hard unless you make it hard.”
In 1992 Ray suffered a spinal cord injury from a diving accident and has been paralyzed since. When first navigating life as a quadriplegic, Ray found a new purpose in creating art. Ray began creating art almost immediately after returning home from the rehabilitation center where he recovered, despite the fact that he did not consider himself an artist prior to the accident.
“If I wasn’t paralyzed, I wouldn’t be creating art probably. It’s just as important as any other part of me,” said Ray. “It was a complete epiphany when I discovered art, like a light turned on ... It’s wonderful and being paralyzed is a great part of it, I think it makes my art even more important.”
Ray is a diverse artist creating a variety of functional and decorative art through a variety of means. Many of his pottery pieces are painted by mouth and designed using a stylus pen and computer software. Ray also uses technology to draw designs using a tool placed in his mouth that are then printed on canvas. Ray’s art has a distinct and evident inspiration.
“When people come to the show and glance at my work for two seconds they’re going to know what inspired me and it’s these beautiful mountains,” said Ray. "I had the privilege, emphasis on the word privilege, to grow up in Blowing Rock during the 80s. I’m a nature boy, I grew up in the woods. And when you look at my work, there’ll be no doubt what inspires me.”
Much of Ray’s work is created in partnership with Eric Reichard. The pair has been working together for nearly 30 years and have created hundreds of handcrafted pots.
The creative team works together on the design and execution of each collection, with Ray creating the design and embellishing the pottery with local iconography and imagery painted by mouth. Reichard completes the pieces with expertly skilled firing and finishing techniques.
“It is the greatest privilege of my entire life to work with Eric. Eric is one of a kind, he’s the most energetic, kind person I’ve ever met in my life,” said Ray. “He has done more for more people quietly than anybody I know. He has been literally a blessing in my life and he’s made a difference that I can’t quantify.”
Ray is associated with Trillium Arts, an artists residency that fiscally supports artists and accepts community sponsorships of specific artists. Co-founder Heather Hartley has known Ray since childhood and has helped his art career “blossom.”
“In the earliest days, my first table was on King Street. I had no idea what I was doing... When Heather and Phil got involved, it kind of gave me guidance that I desperately needed,” said Ray. “Heather’s professional experience has given me just a level of guidance that’s been really vital to getting this thing rolling. I was very stagnant so their guidance has been wonderful.”
Ray shares that much of his art is a collaborative effort beyond the creation process. From inspiration to caregiving, he is grateful for the people that help make his artistic dreams realities.
“I would love to extend a special gratitude to Mr. Eric Reichard, Kay Dixon, Trillium Arts and all my family and friends without whose support this would not be possible,” said Ray. “ Also a special thanks to my nurses, without whom I would not be doing this right now.”
Ray was going to be featured in a show originally scheduled for June 11 where his artwork would be displayed and for sale in the courtyard of The Martin House located in his hometown of Blowing Rock. This show and a Meet the Artist conversation with Ray will be rescheduled for an undetermined date due to a Covid-19 exposure.
Though he has participated in numerous street fairs and a small exhibition at the Jones House, Ray cites this upcoming show as his “first big deal show.”
Ray hopes to participate in more shows moving forward, exhibiting a variety of work he creates. He hopes to make art that people can take home with them and enjoy. One of Ray’s biggest goals is to create a set of dinnerware, whether through a corporate collaboration or individually. He hopes to be able to achieve these goals with the help of an artist assistant that he hopes to secure in the near future.