Western North Carolina Woman

delia lytle
by sandi tomlin-sutker

Sculptor, painter, flutist, singer, single mom: these are just a few descriptive words for Delia Lytle. But they only describe things she does, not who she really is. I would use words like deeply spiritual, community-oriented, grateful for the truly important aspects of her life.

She and I met on a beautifully crisp August morning at Gold Hill Espresso to talk about her work. I’ve seen Delia’s impressive sculptures at downtown Asheville’s Woolworth Walk (see sidebar), so imagine my surprise when I learned that she was classically trained as a musician (with an MA in music performance) not as a visual artist. It was only after a life-changing trauma that she began to paint as therapy. “I’m a fairly intense person, I go through a broad range of emotions regularly…I needed to deal with the trauma, needed to express my suffering.” Initially she turned to painting. Then, through the Odyssey Center for Ceramic Arts in the River District of Asheville (see sidebar), she found ceramics, specifically figurative sculpture. That was four years ago. “There was no doubt this was my medium…it’s turned into a sort of obsession!”

he found this art form allowed her to connect with others in pain and trauma, to let them know they are not alone in their experience. “Often people suffering trauma really can’t talk about it…art is the best way to connect.” And connection is one of Delia’s strong points. Delia lived in Miami with her small son (Aidan, now 8 ½) when her life turned upside down. She lost everything but her son and her life; they became homeless at that point. “That experience gave me a different outlook on life, on people.” She came home to Asheville then to the support of her family and community.
Her art is directly informed by growing up in this area. Her aunts and grandmother were all craftswomen who made quilts, dolls, etc. “I’m very inspired by that mountain woman thing!” she laughs. In her work there is a subtle blend of folk art and fine art. She feels that not having formal art training allows a looseness in her work. She is less concerned about criticism, more able to maintain the joy of the work. “It is said that if you add color to sculpture it becomes folk art…I’m not concerned with those sorts of judgements. One of my favorite quotes is ‘you can judge and you can create but not at the same time.’”

This desire to create without judgment is strong for Delia. For a couple of years she says she lost the joy of her music because of her classical training and the preconceptions of good and bad that went with that. “Music involves other people intensively; at my worst state I couldn’t deal with that. Visual art is more subtle and alone. But both give me vehicles to connect with the divine and with humanity. I need both.”

She says that her sense of spirituality has strengthened over the years and she likes to reflect that in her art, using symbolism to reflect deeper spiritual themes. Although her sculptures are figurative she doesn’t consider herself a realist. “I like to use the eyes, the angle of the head, color, to say what I want, not facial expressions. There is always something emotional or spiritual underlying each piece.”

There was just a little time left in our talk. Finally, I want to know how she does it all. Artist, mother, citizen, woman…she’s even Vice President of her PTA and swims five days a week at the Y. “It was really hard when my son was not in school, when he was younger. Now he comes to rehearsals, he’s also an artist himself, so he works alongside me. About money, I live in a faith-based universe. ‘Let it go and let if flow’. I want to keep my art affordable so regular people can buy it. We’ve been able to make ends meet!” She credits Woolworth Walk with much of her success, telling me they have a range of rents available and want to support artists who might not have another place to show their work.

You know, as a survivor of a violent crime you have to get your power back. You will tend to give it away until you heal.” Her art, her family and community and her spirituality all have been part of that healing.


Western North Carolina Woman
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Celebrating the Spirit of Place in Western North Carolina