Ida Cockroft and Peggy Gill Thompson have pottery on display at the Kenai Fine Arts Center.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Pottery is one of the oldest arts in the human repetoire. Over the millenia, different processes, different materials, and different tools have made the medium of clay one of the most diverse in the art world. Pots can be thrown, or slab-built. Some vessels are created for functional use, while others are created as sculptural works.
A fine example of this diversity is the showing of works by two local potters Ida Cockcroft, and Peggy Gill Thompson that will inhabit the Kenai Fine Arts Center until the end of November.
Peggy Gill Thompson's "Hanging Vines" is one of her favorite pieces.
Both women have been making pots for decades. Both women have had families and other careers throughout which they continued to work in clay. Both bodies of work include funtional and decorative pieces. But the work of each is distinctly different.
Cockcroft threw most of her exhibited pieces on a wheel.
"Most of them were out of a need, or a desire to do something that I remembered. The crock was thrown, because I needed a crock when we first came up here. I wanted to pickle some meat, you know, corn it. The footstool was because my husband needed a footstool, and I made one for his computer, so he could sit at it.
Gill Thompson's "Dress in Review."
"I made 'Nefertiti' because I've always been fascinated with the Egyptian culture," Cockcroft said of some of the work in the show. Her Nefertiti is a highly colored bust of the Egyptian queen.
"I threw the hat, the head, and the neck piece, and I built the shoulders off, and I built the face off, and so forth. So that piece is all thrown," Cockcroft said.
Another example of Cockcroft's scultpural works is a group of musicians with their instruments.
"The Spike Jones and his City Slickers when I was in high school, back in '47 I was in 11th grade I saw Spike Jones, and danced to his music. I just kept thinking about this, and so I thought, 'Well why don't I try to throw these, so they're all thrown, except for the piano. I used them to demonstrate to my students, when I was teaching at the college, how you can do this," Cockcroft said.
"Balinese Pagoda Fountain" by Ida Cockroft.
Whereas Cockcroft tends to create work based on a memory, or a need, Gill Thompson tends to find inspiration in the clay itself.
"Often times, it was the clay that spoke on how to convey thoughts and ideas. Different clays resulted in diverse shapes and feelings," she says of her inspiration. "What comes out of one of my pieces is what I'm feeling at the time ... you probably noticed that I had brown clay that I did things with, and red clay, and other clays that are lighter in color. Each clay handles differently ... it tells you something. Although I might have something else in mind when I'm molding something, then something else comes about."
While most of Cockcroft's work is wheel thrown, Gill Thompson tends to favor handbuilding processes, such as coil and slab building. She also has a series of pinch pots in the show.
"It took months for me to produce pottery using the potters wheel. My husband surprised me bny buying a Shimpo wheel for a special Christmass gift; I thought that huge box by the Christmas tree contained some piece of jewelry. Tommy thought by my having a wheel at home, I would be able to conquer the mechanism. Still, it took a long time before I centered clay and produced a cylinder," Gill Thompson said of the challenges of the wheel.
Cockcroft pursued her degree in arts, receiving first an Associate of Arts, and then a Bachelor of Arts. Both degrees were earned while raising five children between Michigan, Alaska, and Missouri. She also taught classes at the college when it was still the Kenai Peninsula Community College, and later when it became an affiliate of the University of Alaska.
Gill Thompson has taken a less formal route to accomplishment in the ceramic arts.
"I happened to have been in the area and bought a bag of clay, for about $7.50. It was expensive because of the transportation up here," Gill Thompson said of her start.
She has been working with clay since about 1970.
"It wasn't continuous. I didn't claim to be a professional potter, it's just something that I did. I was a school teacher. That was my full time job, not playing in clay. ... I just thought I'd use up that one bag of clay, but I didn't. I just kept getting more and working more, and I've enjoyed it. There's a time or two that I thought I'd quit this clay building, just thought, 'I'm not going to do it anymore,' then I just thought, 'Well, I enjoy being around potters.'"
This will, however, be the last show for Gill Thompson. She has found that it has become more difficult to get back to a piece once started. She has developed an interest in self-publishing, particularly in the recording of her family history.
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