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Artist of the Month - April 2007

The Remains of the Clay
by Annabelle Numaguchi

Collette Webster
Collette Webster

As I wander through the private yard of Collette Webster’s new pottery studio, weaving my way through tiles, teapots and basins, I am enchanted. This garden is currently the repository for Webster’s clay creations that haven’t met her expectations.

In one area, an oversized bowl that was once meant to be used as a sink now serves as a birdbath. A glossy monarch butterfly who will never beat or lose his wings graces the basin’s ledge among scattered leaves that will never blow away. One of these immortalized leaves has curled slightly and detached itself from the basin, leaving the sink porous (pun intended), which is why it sits in this back yard, a resting place for the remains of the clay.

All around this private haven insects, butterflies and lizards peer out, forever frozen in a look of natural repose or alertness. They are a testament to Webster’s love of natural motifs in her pottery and to her talent at rendering these creatures in artistic and realistic fashion.
I have to watch where I place my feet since part of the path is inlaid with a fabulous scene depicting an Asian-styled golden-throated heron with blue-tipped wings soaring through delicate clouds and a rabbit peering out from a wheat field. These pieces were intended as a mural mosaic that didn’t accommodate the thickness of glue needed to support its weight. So despite hours of measuring, sculpting, firing and glazing, this mural now graces a dirt path.

Keg

This resting place for fabulous pottery that cannot be used for its original intentions is a wondrous testament that working with clay can be a metaphor for living a zen life: find beauty wherever it lies, enjoy the process and don’t get too attached to the results.

It’s only been six years since Webster discovered a penchant and talent for pottery in a community class in Leadville, Colorado. She can readily attest to the frustrations of this art form. Despite the time and care invested in a piece, there is no guarantee that the chemistry involved will perform in an expected way. Hours and hours of sculpting, carving, glazing, and so forth can seem for nought when the clay inexplicably cracks in its final firing.

The majority of Webster’s work succeeds and you can imagine how fabulous the shelf displaying her wares on the inside of her new studio/gallery is when the outtakes out back are so stunning.

Webster wows with the variety of forms she gives her earthenware. The unifying element is nature, particularly birds, butterflies and flowers. That is not to say that her pottery is trite or frilly, although that might be a feat on its own. On her bowls, cups and sundry pots, Webster recreates nature as its seen, not sentimentalized.
The fauna she carves or sculpts looks like little creatures caught in amber, forever frozen in a moment of everyday life. A school of minnow-like fish encircle a particularly large sconce. Webster has captured the density of the school and its movement, which imbues life to the baked clay.
Webster’s petite frame belies her strength. Normally, I don’t see any point in describing an artist’s physique. After all, she is the artist, not the art. But, pottery demands a physical performance. The large scale works Webster produces require strong arms.


Fish School

If the potter does not master the clay, the clay masters the potter. Anyone who has experimented with using the wheel for the first time will understand why it’s called “throwing” since the unruly mass of spinning dirt has a tendency to fling the inexperienced potter about. It takes strength and skill to center a ball of heavy wet clay.

Webster possesses both in spades. She creates 5-gallon water jugs, floor lamps, basins and her current chef d’oeuvre, a magnificent fountain.

Once on its base, the fountain should stand about four feet high. The sculpture is created in the image of a Mother Earth, with a rounded torso and a head whose delicate features evoke a female. She looks benevolently down towards hands that emerge from the globular body, around which insects, dragonflies and frogs frolic.
This maternal image that gives forth water is as close to a self-portrait as I can imagine in clay. Webster, a former baker and caterer, has simply rerouted her nurturing side from giving people something to eat to giving them something to eat it on. She describes her creative side as “I still have to feed people.”


Plate

At the time that I saw this fountain that will eventually grace the front of Webster’s studio it had undergone its first firing from greenware, raw clay, to bisqueware, baked clay. It was awaiting its second firing, in which all the dull glazes magically transform under a 2100 degree temperature to brilliant colors and glosses.

Part of the craft of a potter is anticipating the chemical reactions of the clay and various slips, underglazes, glazes and oxides that can be used to decorate pottery. Much imagination is required in believing that red will turn black, pink will turn violette, brown can turn brilliant blue, and so forth.

Therein lies the crux, however. How do you imagine the final outcome without getting too attached?
There is something fitting in having the remains of the clay displayed in the back yard, a dust-to-dust metaphor. This idea implies something deep and benevolent for Webster as the one who carefully molds wet earth into beautiful, colorful and recognizable shapes, bakes them and loves them no matter their faults, literal and figurative. Once she has given life to clay, she values it as a creator should, even as she focuses on new pottery, exploring the endless possibilities her inspiration and skill provide.

Collette Webster’s Studio/Gallery is located at 225 South 400 East, and she can be reached at (435) 220-0166. The Gallery opening is scheduled for mid to late April. Commissions available.


Collage

Fish

 

 

 

 

 

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