How An Atlanta Ceramicist’s Light Fixtures Embrace Imperfection


Woman standing in white room with arms crossed

Creative at heart, artisan Dana Castle waited decades to pursue her passion for ceramics as a career.

While taking art classes at Ignacio Ramírez Center in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Dana Castle had a revelation. “At the time, I was studying pre-Columbian art and I noticed a lot of the objects were utilitarian,” the Atlanta ceramicist recalls. “That was when I started to feel that art is beautiful, and beauty has its purpose, but I wanted art to be beautiful and have a purpose.”

Dana Castle's studio wall tacked with inspirational pictures, words and objects

As evidenced in her Atlanta studio, Castle is constantly combing the world for inspiration.

A white room with a tall standing sculpture and a dancing ceiling sculpture, illuminated by bulbs

Her art form is lighting, but her medium is stoneware clay. The material brings an especially artful quality to items traditionally thought of as utilitarian.

Stoneware sculpture hanging from the ceiling and a three-dimensional work leaning against the wall

A multistrand stoneware chandelier dangles from the ceiling of Castle’s creative space.

Dana Castle shaping clay by hand

Shaping the clay by hand produces the imperfections she appreciates about her organic works.

White studio with open shelves supporting ceramic objects created by Dana Castle

Shelves in Castle's workspace display objects reminiscent of nature, the cosmos and the corporeal form.

The sentiment stuck with Castle through the decades, ultimately becoming the foundational idea behind her current-day company, Crosland + Emmons Sculptural Lighting. A trained ceramicist, Castle could have been content to mold clay into objets. Instead, she thrives on the technical challenges of experimenting with forms and negative space to create illumination. “Complexity is what I love about lighting,” she says. “Ceramics are the easy part.”

Handmade from earthenware or stoneware clay with chalky matte or glossy underglazes, Castle’s work adheres to a strict monochromatic palette that values texture and form over splashy pigments and finishes. “Color feels distracting to me; it detracts from seeing my hand in the work,” she notes. Like the contours of a corporeal form or the surface of some distant moon, flaws, bumps and dips are part of the landscape of her pieces. That delicate humanity is intentional; one fixture calls to mind a graceful tangle of bones, another a chain of stacked vertebrae. “I could make a round globe with no imperfections,” she says, “but it wouldn’t feel of-the-soul.”

Castle’s journey from student to artisan has proved as unexpected as her handmade creations. After graduating with an art history degree, her fateful sojourn in Mexico cemented her art philosophy. But upon returning to the States, she put her artistic dreams on hold for a conventional career, eventually helming a successful marketing firm. More than 20 years onward, still longing for creative release, Castle enrolled in a ceramics workshop at the Mendocino Arts Center in California. Just as she began to feel the time was right for a change, tragedy struck; she lost both of her parents to Covid. “That was the pivotal moment,” she says, “when I decided to no longer fear the unknown.”

Today, from her full-time lighting studio in Atlanta, Castle attests: “Life may not always be comfortable, and it can be scary, but I’ve committed myself to live it to the fullest.”