The potter’s wheel of life: Velda Dougherty finds creativity from condo overlooking Crab Island

Jennie McKeon
Velda's inspiration for pottery stems from history. In these pieces, she integrates Celtic knots into her work.

As an artist, Velda Dougherty feels right at home in Destin.

"Being in this area around so many talented artists, is like a shot of B12," she joked.

After vacationing in Destin for the past 14 years, Dougherty and her husband Gregg decided to make it a permanent home in early September.

As transplants from Missouri, there was a bit of a culture shock. The Doughertys traded their Missouri home, sitting on 11 and a half acres filled with oak trees, for a naturally lit condo overlooking Crab Island. While her scenery has changed, Dougherty's search to release creativity has never wavered.

Artistic roots

Dougherty's artistic roots began as a child. Growing up on a farm in Missouri, she loved to draw horses. In school, she took various art classes and was even awarded a university scholarship as a senior, but ended up on a different path.

"I married early and we didn't have any money so I just got a job," she said. "Going to school to get a degree in art, I always thought I would just be a poor, struggling artist."

After raising two girls, and spending a few years as a Realtor, Dougherty went back to school and started taking classes at Truman University — ironically one of her daughters was taking dual-enrollment classes there as well. She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1993, just shy of 40.

Dougherty only took a few classes at a time, which allowed her to pour herself into assignments using her artistic abilities.

"All of the students hated me because I would produce watercolor paintings for my interior design class," she said with a laugh.

Creating something out of the earth

It was at Truman that Dougherty developed her passion for pottery.

"I love oil paining and watercolor and life drawings," she said. "I really anticipated becoming a painter. But I started to fall in love with pottery. It felt so good to be creating something out of the earth."

Dougherty purchased a few old, electric kilns from a nursing home and began firing pieces out of her garage. Eventually, she saved up enough to buy a gas kiln and started to enter her work into arts festivals.

"I work in series," she explained. "I'm inspired by Art Nouveau and fascinated by Egyptian art and Celtic knots. There's always something in history that motivates my art."

On the festival circuit, Dougherty made a name for herself winning Best of Show at the Red Barn Festival in Kirksville, Mo. for three consecutive years while also showing her pieces in galleries throughout Missouri and Iowa. Her husband, Gregg played the part of roadie, helping her move the fragile pieces.

"He's been such a big supporter," she said.

Dougherty counts her daughters as her biggest fans saying they've even fought for custody of some of her pieces.

Perhaps the best prize she won was at a Mexico, Mo., festival where she won a trip to Shigaraki, Japan, which is famous for pottery making since ancient times.

Dougherty primarily works in raku, which is a Japanese technique used for ceramic tea bowls. The trip was something she'll never forget.

"I got to work with a master potter in his studio," Dougherty recalled. "He wore the traditional kimono and drawstring pants. I got to throw some pieces, which they shipped back to me. I was so enthralled with the whole experience."

Making a home in Destin

Many of Dougherty's pieces are functional — in fact she even sculpted and fired 150 place settings for her daughter's wedding, a labor of love, she said. If she were to find studio space locally, Dougherty said she would like to explore more sculptural pottery.

While her kilns are still in Missouri, she has ventured to her first artistic passions — drawing and painting. She has joined open air and portrait painting classes in Destin and Niceville and is soaking up inspiration from artists along the Emerald Coast.

"I just love the area," she said. "Everyone is so friendly and happy. It's motivational."

For more information, you can contact Velda at