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McDill’s colorful sculptures to be displayed at CCAC in September

  • This piece, by Layl McDill, will be one of the many on display in September at the Charles City Art Center. (Photo submitted.)

  • This piece, by Layl McDill, will be one of the many on display in September at the Charles City Art Center. (Photo submitted.)

  • This piece, by Layl McDill, will be one of the many on display in September at the Charles City Art Center. (Photo submitted.)

By James Grob,

Layl McDill has been doing what she’s doing since she was two years old.

“In some ways, it all started with Play-Doh,” she said.

McDill, a Minneapolis-based artist, creates whimsical polymer clay sculptures and wall pieces. Polymer clay has been her medium of choice, using the millefiore technique, with some mixed media materials added. She has exhibited her work around the country since 1994.

Her artwork consists of many items, from tiny ornaments and standard-sized teapots, to intricate and life-size sculptures.

McDill will be the featured artist at the Charles City Art Center for the month of September. The CCAC will hold a reception for McDill to kick off her exhibit at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7.

McDill’s work will be on display throughout September, and she will even conduct a class here at the end of the month. Details of how to attend the class are forthcoming. She said teaching her techniques is as much for her benefit as it is for the students.

“It’s pretty amazing to see what people can do,” she said. “I love when people come and ask questions and find out the details.”

Her sculptures are usually covered with glitter and her millefiore patterns. Millefiori is a technique that is often used to create delicate patterns on glassware. The process allows McDill to create tiny pictures inside each chunk of colorful clay.

“People tell me they’re so whimsical and colorful and imaginative,” McDill said. “It’s a totally different world.”

Many of her sculptures are made from her scrap piles of extra pieces of what she calls “Silly Millies.”

Silly Millies are unbaked and can be sliced and baked to make beads, buttons and other craft projects. Each cane is made with about 8 to 15 pounds of clay that are reduced down to about 10 foot “canes” which can be sliced to reveal tiny pictures. Layl makes about 100 detailed and precise canes a year which she uses to create large sculptural wall pieces.

“Basically, I make tiny pictures inside the clay,” she said. “A dog, a cat, a unicorn or dragonfly — whatever comes up.”

McDill went to art school with thoughts of eventually becoming a children’s book illustrator. She received her BFA in illustration from the Columbus College of Art Design in Ohio, but was drawn to working with clay, and found it more exciting to make sculptural work and sell it through galleries and art fairs.

“I did a lot of art fairs, and did a lot of mixed media and started adding in clay,” she said. “This is my best medium.”

At art shows and fairs, McDill said she typically works on a piece while she displays, not only for productivity’s sake, but also for demonstration value.

“I’m layering colors together,” she said. “I’m always doing it at the shows. It’s difficult to describe, so I like to do it in person.”

McDill grew up in Gillette, Wyoming, where she began creating things at a very young age. She said her first early works were dollhouses, marionettes and even an entire “Smurf Village.”

“I grew up on the prairies,” she said. “My house was right across the street from a prairie.”

McDill said she didn’t envision a career in art until she was in high school.

“I never even saw real art until my junior year, when I visited the Smithsonian,” she said. “I thought, ‘Wow, you can do anything with art.’”

After college in Ohio, she settled in Minneapolis.

“My aunt lives in Minneapolis, and she told me that there’s a lot of art here. She said, ‘we need artists in Minneapolis.’”

That was 1994, and 24 years later, Minneapolis is still McDill’s home. She and her husband have raised two daughters. Her work is represented at Clay Squared to Infinity in Minneapolis,  ArtWorks in Austin, Lanesboro Arts in Lanesboro, Gallery on the Lake in Lake City and Morning Glory Gallery in Milwaukee.

McDill said her work might represent an escape from adulthood, or perhaps a mental trip back to the innocence of youth.

“My earliest memory is of playing with Play-Doh and now, here I am, playing with clay for a living,” she said.