Two local juried exhibits show off the hotter side of functional ceramics

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By Jennifer Powell (File photo)

When we swung by the Torpedo Factory Arts Center along Alexandria’s waterfront, we fully intended to review The Target Gallery’s fantastic “Dotted Space” exhibit from visiting artist Wade Kramm, but a chance encounter with the Scope Gallery and artist Stephen Lally made us appreciate the unlikely art of functional ceramics.

Doing double duty that day and manning the gallery, Lally explained that the 15 artists with collections in the “Favorite Things” exhibit were of an elite juried selection curated by renown ceramist Julia Walther. Ranging from vases to sushi platters, the real range was shown in how artists, who were called on to “unashamedly embrace things that tickle their fancy, carve meanings into art and get downright dirty doing what they love,” applied that challenge to their clay forms.

Lally fully engaged visitors with his passion for the process of his wood-fired clay pieces. Using high heat in the kiln from the wood of different trees, thrown into the firebox over 20 hours, the fire brings the temperature up to 2300 degrees Fahrenheit.

As the flame rolls through the kiln, it draws the iron to the surface of the clay, with orange, pinkish and brown marks on the clay forming — called flashing — that create a permanent record of the path of the flame. The flames also deposit ash, which has trace minerals and works as a glass former, so you see where the ash lands and as it melts, it pools into an unevenly glazed and uniquely rich surface.

Wanting to delve deeper into kiln-fired ceramics that can allow for spontaneous creation, Lally also afforded an impromptu lesson in how ceramic artists find their way into juried exhibits and what makes for the master quality of the medium.

Relaying that most ceramic artists of renown must find employment at higher education institutions and in galleries, Lally insisted that many other outlets for creative ceramic work exist as well. Opportunities abound to submit to con- tests nationally and internationally in publications and through member organizations.

Last year, when the Del Ray Artisans were planning their upcoming 2016 gallery exhibits and programs, Lally, a board member of the Kiln Club of Washington, D.C., proposed an exhibit slated for September that will feature 23 artists from 10 states and the District.

Opening September 2, the “Fire and Earth” exhibit is a celebration of these two elements used in the making of ceramics while honoring how fire in the kiln transforms earthen clay into functional drinking vessels. The hybrid show combines a National ceramic cup exhibit with a regional 2-D exhibit. Local Del Ray neighborhood businesses
jumped at the chance to sponsor the exhibit with St. Elmo’s Coffee Pub, Junction Bakery and Bistro and Evening Star Cafe each sponsoring the best cups with cash awards. Artifacts, Inc. Custom Framing is sponsoring the 2-D art award.

The show was juried by Dan Finnegan, a nationally and internationally recognized potter, who has said, “I believe that a handmade mug can change the world! … Cuddled in the hands, raised to the lip, carrying our favorite beverage, nothing that we make is more intimate and useful at the same time.”

Finnegan, in the same collaborative and industrious vein of the Torpedo Factory, is ready to fire up the kilns and our synapses by conducting a workshop, “The Mighty Mug,” in conjunction with the exhibit that will be hosted by the Clay Queen in Del Ray on September 10.

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