By Stacia Friedman
Are artists born or made? Looking at the dynamic career of Laura Demme, it’s a mixture of the two. “My mother was an artist. She encouraged me and my four siblings to be creative. We were always making costumes and painting,” said Demme, who lives in Wyndmoor and admits to being “in her 60s … I used to make furniture and clothes for dolls, and my aunt taught me how to do crewelwork.” She credits her family’s non-judgmental attitude with allowing her to explore her creativity to its limits.
Demme’s story started in Norristown but quickly turned into a nomadic travelogue. “When I was five, my family moved to Mexico for my father’s job. Mexico City was different back then, much smaller,” said Demme, who is bilingual. “When I was 12, we moved back to the States, just outside of New York City. I worked in a fabric store while I was in high school, teaching other kids how to sew.”
She then studied at Peters Valley Craft School in Layton, N.J., trying out various mediums, including fiber, ceramic and wood. Art was a family calling. “My brother and two of my three sisters also went to art school. My only sister who didn’t go in that direction landed in the TV and film industry.”
After traveling to Europe and California, Demme returned to New Jersey to attend Ridgewood School of Art. While still in her 20s, she started showing her fiber work — wearable art — at New York City galleries and across the country. More shows followed in quick succession, including an American Craft Council Show in Rheinbeck, N.Y., Works Gallery in Philadelphia and American Crafts Museum in NYC. Not enough mileage? Add on Demme’s travel to Central America to work on a commission.
Demme moved to New York City in the 1980s to work as assistant editor for Good Housekeeping’s craft department. “I sketched knitwear ideas, had my mom make up the samples, then wrote the instructions for the magazine,” she said. “Later, I branched out to other publications, designing for Vogue Knitting and Needlecraft Magazine.”
From there, Demme started doing freelance design for yarn manufacturers and design houses in New York and Hong Kong, traveling to Japan and Europe for inspiration. She designed knitwear for department store private labels and a veritable Who’s Who of prestigious American designers, including Ralph Lauren.
“In 1991, the bottom fell out of the fashion business. I attended a one-day course in Philadelphia to transition my career in another direction,” said Demme. That was where she locked eyes with her future husband, graphic designer Tom Stone. Within two years, they were married.
The newlyweds lived in Conshohocken before settling in Wyndmoor, where Demme fell in love with the flat-roofed, concrete homes built on the former Stotesbury Estate. “I love the community,” she said. “The modern architecture reminds me of the Mexico of my childhood.”
While raising her daughter Lucy, Demme worked as an adjunct professor at the former Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science (now Philadelphia University) and began teaching doll-making, watercolor and decorative painting at Whitemarsh Art Center. By then, she was working in raku, a type of hand-shaped Japanese pottery fired at low temperatures.
“I currently work in several mediums: ceramic, fabric, encaustic and mixed media … I incorporate some found objects and metals into my pieces … I have begun to work with wood-firing and porcelain along with other high-fire processes, like salt and soda.”
Demme’s 25-year-old daughter, Lucy Stone, is a recording artist in Philly’s music scene with her group, Vexxed. Demme’s husband, Tom Stone, is the co-founder of Stone & Glidden, a company that custom-designs and installs Smart Home technology. Demme teaches several artistic disciplines privately at her Wyndmoor studio.
Her raku sculpture will be on display at Show of Hands Gallery, 1006 Pine St. in Center City, Sept. 15 thru November, 2017. Her “Day of the Dead” open studio in Wyndmoor, Nov. 4-5, will be open to the public. For more information, visit LauraDemme.com.