Mold Me, Shape Me

by Carrie Scozzaro & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & W & lt;/span & hether you call it pottery or ceramics, there's something inviting about clay. Maybe it's a primal response, triggered by the seemingly magical combination of earth, water, air and fire used in the construction of everything from a simple stoneware pot to the most delicate porcelain teacup. Certainly there is an aesthetic response to this versatile medium that, in the expert hands of such artists as those at the Art Spirit Gallery's Clay Invitational, can be transformed into virtually any shape, color, size and surface treatment imaginable.

The 16 ceramicists exhibiting at Coeur d'Alene's Art Spirit could be categorized in a variety of ways: by genre (functional, figurative, abstract); by construction (wheel-thrown, hand-built, cast); by specialty (salt firing, porcelain, mixed-media decoration). For example, Josh DeWeese creates timeless pots that convey his interest "in how pots can be used every day to bring art into our lives, enhancing our experience with food and providing a necessary ritual to nourish our soul and mind as well as our bodies." In the show, DeWeese is joined by function-oriented potters Ben Krupka, Rick Mahaffey, Deborah Schwartzkopf and Ken Turner.

Artists Sandra Trujillo, Richard Swanson, Gina Freuen and the collaborative pair of Nancy Halter and Greg Jahn take functional ware a step beyond by adding figurative and narrative elements to their works. Trujillo creates what appear to be commercially finished ceramic pieces, such as covered jars or teapots, then uses them as canvasses for illustrating her stories such as "Love Mistake No. 1: The Underpants of Jesus Martinez," which depicts a marital betrayal in a deceptively simple cartoon-like style.

Working almost exclusively in the figurative realm are Beth Cavener Stichter and Chris Antemann. Stichter, who will have a solo exhibition at the gallery in 2007, unites her interest in art and science to create mostly large-scale pieces that anthropomorphize animals such as rabbits, goats and sheep. Antemann's figurines combine animals, humans and elaborate settings to present an evocative study of the domestic narrative.

The works of Laurie Rolland, Trey Hill, Miranda Howe and Keith Simpson round out the genre categorization. Rolland's organic-looking constructions, for example, relate to forms from the natural world, whereas the pieces by Hill and Howe resonate with more geometric forms. Simpson's pieces include both, as well as figurative and narrative elements in uninhibited constructions that often suggest dark humor.

Unfortunately, categorizing artists according to genre neglects to fully convey the expertise or uniqueness each brings to his or her artform. For example, several of the 16 artists are connected to the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Mont., including past resident Simpson and current residents Howe, Antemann, Schwartzkopf, Hill and DeWeese, who is the Bray's current resident director. Many more have received grants from the prestigious organization, founded in 1951 "for all who are sincerely interested in any branches of the ceramic arts." Several artists exhibit worldwide, including Rolland, who is a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and Turner, who is in China leading a professional arts and cultural exchange.

Although the Art Spirit Gallery only represents three of the 16 artists, all the ceramic artists in this seventh annual exhibition come highly recommended, according to gallery owner Steve Gibbs. Many are locally known, such as Trujillo, Simpson and Freuen; the roster is supplemented by artists from Oregon, Washington, Montana, British Columbia and even Ohio and Connecticut. Expect to experience works that exemplify the variety and versatility of clay transformed by the capable hands of many of the bests artists throughout the Northwest and beyond.

The Clay Invitational at the Art Spirit Gallery, 415 Sherman Ave., Coeur d'Alene, runs May 12-June 3. Opening reception: Friday, May 12, from 5-8 pm. Visit or call (208) 765-6006.