All fired up!
It’s something that’s driven past and overlooked every day by most.
To many, it’s just dirt or mud, but to a growing number of local artisans, the primal element of clay, when combined with water, fire and imagination, is art.
An ancient art form, with its roots in practicality, creating pottery is often a capricious endeavor.
What shape will it take?
What color will it be?
Will it survive the kiln?
Not only has it survived, it has thrived here in the valley. So much so that the Tomé Art Gallery is hosting its fifth annual All Fired Up! potter’s show, highlighting the work of nearly 20 local potters.
This year’s show doesn’t have a specific theme, so visitors to the gallery can expect to see pottery in all shapes, forms and finishes. From garden ollas to tiny turtles to platters decorated with wispy, whimsical koi, the show will have it all.
Jan Pacifico, an instructor at the gallery and a potter with nearly 50 years experience, says that the show will feature three or four pieces of what the artists are working on now.
Nancy Corrigan, a former high school art teacher, will be showing her “ceramic landscapes.” Since her pieces looked like “little landscapes anyway,” Corrigan decided to take a more purposeful approach.
Heidi Snell laughs, and says she is “still painting pottery.” The wild ponies galloping across Snell’s pieces are inspired by the wild horses of New Mexico, she said and recent visits to historical locations in the area have yielded up several different petroglyphs she is now featuring on her pots.
Also bringing a little horse to the show is Nancy Deas and her horsehair pottery. Nearly 10 years ago, Deas began experimenting with the technique that requires hot pots and strands of the aforementioned horsehair.
While Snell has been leaning towards horses, fellow potter Joyce Johns-Hutchinson has been concentrating on leaves.
“It’s been an ongoing fascination,” Johns-Hutchinson said.
Using mostly sycamore and cottonwood leaves, she presses them into the clay, and after the pieces are fired, uses watercolors to add the finishing touches.
While the gallery features many different kinds of art, Pacifico said at one point, the co-op was thinking about paring down the number of potters it featured.
“But each piece was different. A different style, a different method,” Pacifico said. “We just couldn’t say no.”
And many of the featured artists began their time at the gallery as students, she said.
The potters say they learned to work collaboratively, without strife and competition.
“Someone would have an idea and you could just watch it evolve,” Johns-Hutchinson said. “It would grow.”
When they speak of working and learning together, the potters portray an organic, living process of creation, giving and taking, sharing ideas and inspiration.
Pacifico calls the area a “potters paradise” when she talks about the different kinds of clays waiting to be dug up and formed. But that’s not always an easy thing.
The clay has a life, a mind of its own they say. And with the possible exception of Pacifico and her nearly five decades of experience, it doesn’t always listen to them.
“Every time, it’s different,” said Dora Hernandez, who creates bowls with a pattern she calls “flowers of paradise.”
“The kiln gives what the fire wants,” Hernandez said.
They chuckle and nod at the truth. Pacifico says it’s all up to the “kiln gods.”
The potters also talk about not only Pacifico’s ability to “tame” the clay on the wheel, but her value as a teacher.
“She really fosters creativity,” Corrigan says.
Pacifico says she does that by not expecting her students to be like her.
“I can give people instruction, but I don’t want them to make my pots,” she said. “I want them to make something different — something their own.”
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