Not going to pot

Juror challenges clay artists to be expressive

Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2005


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  "Watering Can," by Marie Herdegen of Homer received an honorable mention award. Juror James Brashear said he looked for pieces that succeeded on many levels. Photo by Jenny Neyman

Ann Wilson of Kenai won the Juror's Choice award for this piece "Vase with Tan Interior," and another vase. The work is on display in the 17th annual Kenai Clay Exhibition.

Photo by Jenny Neyman

It may be called pottery, but that doesn’t mean it all has to be pots.

That was the message James Brashear of Fairbanks imparted to entrants while jurying the 17th annual Kenai Clay Exhibition on display at the Kenai Fine Arts Center.

Along with selecting work to be included in the show and bestowing awards, the University of Alaska Fairbanks professor gave a workshop where he encouraged Kenai Peninsula potters to be expressive in their work.

“What I talked about was the idea of the work referencing something other than pots,” he said. “... The idea is that when you’re throwing pots that are round then a lot of time they don’t reference anything other than other pots.”

It’s not that there’s anything wrong with round pots, but different shapes can give vessels more avenues of expressiveness than round often does. For instance a square shape could evoke thoughts of a house or an oblong vessel could suggest a boat, Brashear said.

In his workshop, Brashear started making round vessels on a potter’s wheel but manipulated them into different shapes that could represent figures, architecture or whatever the potter wanted.

“What I was talking about is being able to use the potter’s wheel as a tool to make shapes that are a little bit more expressive,” he said.


"Dragon Teapot" by Laura Faeo of Nikiski combines wheel-thrown work with sculpting.

Photo by Jenny Neyman

The key is to use shape, as well as other elements like color and texture, to express something important to the potter.

“Whatever turns your crank. Everybody has likes and passions and things that people respond to, so this is one of many ways that potters who are usually stuck in a rut of just referencing other pots can incorporate other things they enjoy, other things they respond to into their work,” Brashear said.

Patty Colburn of Kenai said Brashear demonstrated techniques she’d never tried before, like distorting round shapes by squishing or blowing in them. Brashear also formed a vessel out of three pieces he formed separately on the potter’s wheel.

“We really learned a lot from that gentleman,” Colburn said.

Brashear said jurying the Kenai Potters Guild show gave him a chance to learn something about peninsula potters, as well.

“It was interesting to see how diverse (the show) was,” Brashear said, adding that in smaller communities there often are one or two exemplary clay artists that others emulate. That didn’t seem to be the case in the Kenai show.

“It looked like in Kenai people were real individual,” he said. “I think that’s interesting about Alaska — it seems like people have strong opinions about what they want their work to look like and there’s a lot of diversity. I think the show is a good example of the diversity that clay can express.”

The show contains a variety of work from functional tea sets and plates to sculpted pieces that are meant for display rather than use — and various combinations in between.


"Sign my Dance Card, Please" was made by husband and wife team Sharon and Tom Irvin of Seward.

Photo by Jenny Neyman

“Kenai is a small community but within a small community there’s such diverse ways people have of working with clay,” Brashear said. “... It’s kind of neat to see the diversity that’s in a smaller town. I think that’s healthy.”

Brashear said he accepted all pieces submitted into the show because they all had merit. Where he focused his attention was choosing what to give awards to.

“I think the work I respond to was successful at multiple levels, and that means successful technically, successful aesthetically and it was successful from say a utilitarian or a functional standpoint,” he said. “... And some of it incorporated image and idea, which I respond to.”


"Watering Can," by Marie Herdegen of Homer received an honorable mention award. Juror James Brashear said he looked for pieces that succeeded on many levels.

Photo by Jenny Neyman

Brashear gave awards for bodies of work, rather than single pieces. Ann Wilson of Kenai was awarded the Juror’s Choice award for two intricately shaped and detailed vases, while Charlie LaForge of Soldotna, Letha Cress Woolf of Girdwood and Dan Bartos of Homer received honorable mentions for multiple pieces. Marie Herdegen of Homer also got an honorable mention award for her cheery and functional “Watering Can,” which was her only piece in the show.

The 17th annual Kenai Clay Exhibition will be on display at the Kenai Fine Arts Center, 816 Cook Ave. in Old Town Kenai, through Nov. 30.

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