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Spiritual Ceramics 

by HOWIE STALWICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & F & lt;/span & ew galleries in the Inland Northwest showcase contemporary ceramics the way the Art Spirit does. For the ninth year running, the Clay Invitational highlights ceramics from the functional to the fanciful. This exhibition showcases the full spectrum of what is possible from this most versatile of media: functional dishes, large-scale sculpture, delicately modeled porcelain figures, works cast in multiples, and every manner of surface decoration you can imagine.





Many artists are local and have exhibited in years past. Terry Gieber and Gina Freuen, for example, teach at Gonzaga University. Gieber is well-known for his large-scale "tornado" jars, as well as his expertise in firing methods. Gieber will be showing wood-fired vessels, the surfaces of which reflect the ancient firing process whereby ash and flame leave their traces on the surface decoration on the pot. Freuen is known for her sculptural teapots and wood-fired vessels, in addition to mixed-media drawings like the one she created for Gonzaga's "Drawn to the Wall" exhibit last year.





Mardis Nenno also teaches ceramics -- at Spokane Falls Community College -- and will be showing works that emphasize decoration and firing techniques. Her stoneware and earthenware, for example, are "soda-fired" -- a process in which sodium carbonate and bicarbonate are introduced during glaze firing, resulting in unusual surface treatments. (Another place to see Nenno's work is at Spokane's Kolva-Sullivan Gallery, where she's sharing exhibition space with Tresia Oosting through May 31.)





Josh DeWeese, who specializes in wood firing as well, is an MFA graduate of New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University's first-rate ceramics program; for 12 years, he was resident director of Montana's Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts. Currently teaching ceramics at Montana State, DeWeese sees pots as more than just functional. On his Website, he writes: "I am interested in how pots can be used every day to bring art into our lives, enhancing our experience with food, adorning our homes, and providing a necessary ritual to nourish our soul and mind as well as our bodies."





DeWeese also describes how pottery is related to the human body -- a vase has a foot and neck, a cup has a lip, etc. -- a concept echoed in the work of Mika Negishi-Laidlaw. Her anthropomorphic sculptures suggest figures huddled or in supplication. A former Bray resident, Laidlaw teaches ceramics at Minnesota State University, Mankato.





Another veteran of the Bray (which offers residencies for such things as developing one's business or studio or focusing on new work) is Sara Jaeger, who works as a studio potter in Helena, Montana, where she crafts functional ware prized for its rich use of glazes.





Like Jaeger, Tara Wilson is from Helena and the Bray, as well as from the Red Lodge Clay Center. Wilson is inspired by nature, describing in her Website how pottery is similar to a geological specimen -- it reflects the processes that went into forming it. Wilson is showing wood-fired bud vases, baskets and a teapot.





Elements of nature also permeate the work of Valerie Seaberg, who's from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She hand-builds organic forms, sometimes texturizing the surface by embedding shells and leaves. After pit-firing them, Seaburg incorporates woven coils of pine needles or grasses -- a meditative process she describes as her antidote to the frenzy of modern living.





Jenny Anderson is inspired by Asian bronzes and ceramics in her wood-fired works with eroded surfaces in shades of earthy rust, gunmetal and ochre.





Asian aesthetics are reflected in Don Sprague's work, especially his lanterns, teapots and lidded jars. Included in the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery, Sprague is an instructor at George Fox University in Newburg, Oregon.





Ryan Labar's connection to the area is Gonzaga, where he received a bachelor's degree in biology. A former resident at both the Bray and at the LH Project in Joseph, Oregon, Labar is exploring a series of stoneware temple jars and large-format platters.





Labar sometimes collaborates with fellow Nebraskan Gerit Grimm. Originally from Germany, Grimm apprenticed in production pottery before moving to the United States to attend the University of Michigan and later Alfred University. Influenced by American cinema, Grimm's work echoes contemporary Pop Surreal tendencies with work she describes as "a balance between kitsch and style, parody and irony." Known for her large-scale, mixed-media sculptures, Grimm calls herself "director, architect, anthropologist, stage designer, stylist and performing participant in recreated scenes of a European experiencing everyday life in America."





Patricia Sannit of Phoenix cites her own work on archaeological digs as informing her culturally referential sculptures. By stratifying clay and surface decoration, Sannit simulates the layering that occurs through geological processes and human impact on the environment, as seen in an archaeological dig. Her bowl forms bear ancient-looking marks and geometric patterning, suggesting an amalgam of cultures, while her large totemic forms may reflect of the influence of Viola Frey, under whom she studied. Overall, Sannit's work embodies in clay the marriage of discovery and diligence of any dedicated scientist, resulting in pieces that express timeless beauty and a oneness of humanity with roots that stretch back and back.





In addition to the 13 artists exhibiting, the Art Spirit Gallery will also have available for purchase 20 pieces from a Southwest pottery collection.





The ninth annual Clay Invitational at the Art Spirit Gallery, 415 Sherman Ave., Coeur d'Alene, opens Friday, May 9, and continues through May 31. Gallery hours: Tuesday-Saturday from 11 am-6 pm, and Fridays until 9 pm. Artist reception: Friday, May 9, from 5-8 pm. Free. Visit www.theartspiritgallery.com or call (208) 765-6006.

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