Clay and canvas: Friends pursuing creative dreams after retirement find fun, fellowship in Market Street Festival


Gail Funderburk, left, and Becky Abrams share the laughter of longtime friends Wednesday as Funderburk works at her potter’s wheel. A few of Abrams’ canvases are visible in the background. The two artists will be among 230 arts and crafts vendors at Columbus’ Market Street Festival May 5.

Gail Funderburk, left, and Becky Abrams share the laughter of longtime friends Wednesday as Funderburk works at her potter’s wheel. A few of Abrams’ canvases are visible in the background. The two artists will be among 230 arts and crafts vendors at Columbus’ Market Street Festival May 5. Photo by: Luisa Porter


Funderburk experiments with various techniques. She “stretched” the wall of this small pot to produce a repeating “cracked” pattern.



Jan Swoope





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For years, Gail Funderburk moved in the banking world. One of the friendly faces of Trustmark Bank in Columbus, her days were shaped by finite numbers and critical tallies. Her friend, Becky Abrams, spent 22 years in the classroom as a music educator, a joy occasionally weighted by paperwork and regulations. 


But, enter Act II. Retired and energized, both Funderburk and Abrams are now free to scratch creative itches, a luxury postponed during full-time careers. Today, Funderburk does her adding and subtracting with clay, molding bowls, trays and vessels in a "Jimmy Buffet blue" workshop tucked in the woods of western Lowndes County.  


With acrylic paint, Abrams fills canvases with plump owls, vibrant blooms, fluorescent flamingos and one-of-a-kind crosses in her North Columbus studio. 


On May 5, the two friends will branch out, taking Funderburk's Alligator Alley Stoneware and Abrams' Art from the Heart public as first-time Market Street Festival vendors. 


The annual festival, which encompasses multiple blocks in historic downtown Columbus, draws thousands of visitors each year to the city's biggest "block party." It will be the largest audience Funderburk and Abrams have entertained. 


"We're so excited to be doing Market Street," said Funderburk, showing the way into a shop complete with workroom, a "mud room" (containing the potter's wheel) and even a small showroom. A separate structure a few steps away houses two kilns. 


"It sure didn't start out to be this," she laughed, describing how a chance stop in a Starkville pottery shop during the Johnny Cash Festival about six years ago sparked her imagination. "I've been hooked ever since," she declared. 


As Funderburk's fascination with pottery grew, her husband, Lee, graciously gave over his own workshop and added to it. He even included a floor-level opening in the mud room for a hose, so the space be sluiced down after a few sessions of throwing clay 


"If I can think it, he can build it," the potter smiled, complimenting her handy spouse.  


Funderburk is intrigued by textures and experimentation. 


"Clay has a mind of its own," she conceded. "I've got a gully full of throw-aways." 


In addition to shaping pottery on the wheel, she also hand-builds pieces, enjoying the free form element. 


"I love layering," she said, holding a unique bowl composed of strip upon strip of clay. Several other pieces display a "cracked" technique, produced by carefully stretching the clay at selected points.  


On some pieces, she's impressed the surface with bark, leaves, golf balls or even doilies, creating distinctive patterns. 


"I look at everything differently now," she explained. "I see texture everywhere. I see something and wonder, 'How can I use this?'" 


The possibilities, she emphasized, are endless. 


"I just love it so much. You take a piece of clay, roll it, knead it, shape it however you want," she marveled. "I could never get complacent ... " 




Painter's palette 


When Becky Abrams retired as music teacher at Stokes Beard Elementary School in 2011, the artistic talent channeled previously into eye-catching bulletin boards and banners found free rein on canvas. Her creative streak, she said, is a gift from her father. 


"My daddy, John Harmon, was an architect for years, with the Rosamond architectural firm: All of us (in the family) got some of his amazing God-given talent," she said, gesturing freely, seated in her cozy live-in studio on Ridge Road.  


Her designs, sometimes whimsical, always vivid, pop with color. Many demonstrate a fine hand at small details or lettering. 


One personal painting reflects a special moment with a grandchild. On the canvas, a young girl on the beach, dressed in white, with long, dark hair, reaches up toward stylized swirling clouds. Waves tumble to the shore. A line of text on the painting reads, "Mimi, I touched the wind."  


Abrams touches her heart, conveying the impact of the shared moment she tried to capture in paint. 


A teacher's love of children carries over into her new endeavor. At paint parties for youngsters, kids get an art lesson and guidance in replicating one of several designs Abrams has tailored for the purpose. Each child leaves with their own painting. The concept is popular with adults, too. 


Adding painting to her other artistic outlets -- which include playing piano for the Suzuki Orchestra and Central United Methodist Church, as well as teaching art and music for the Columbus Arts Council's upcoming summer camps -- makes Abrams "happy as a lark." 


"It's been a new feeling that I haven't been able to feel before," she said of the freedom she's enjoying. 


Both Abrams and Funderburk look forward to their Market Street Festival "buddy plan," sharing a booth, supporting each other. 


Main Street Columbus spearheads presentation of the annual festival. The organization's manager, Amber Brislin, said, "We have so much wonderful talent in our community, and we're happy to provide a venue and this exposure for the vendors. The festival is so important for us, to continue what we do in sponsoring other downtown events and improvements throughout the year, so it's a win-win opportunity -- for us and for the artists." 


Editor's note: Find a full schedule of Market Street Festival's events and entertainment in a festival wrap in the May 4 edition of The Dispatch.


Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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