Judy, by Melody Ellis, represents an old woman with a frying pan and beaklike nose. Ellis designed a housedress for her that seems unexceptional — until you realize it is studded with tiny flowers that move. “All her joints articulate,” Leodas said. “The parts move, like a puppet.” She gently touched the piece to demonstrate how the head, neck, flowers, and legs moved — not an easy feat, considering that the object is made of clay and fired at extremely high heat.
If the kinds of traditional figurines for sale on eBay commonly have a certain cute factor, the artists Leodas has assembled for this show seem more interested in playing with edgy imagery, experimental techniques, and surprising details. Anne Drew Potter’s impish figure Lisa Beggar is not only naked, smiling upward at some imaginary person for a potential donation, but she’s also unpainted. She is claycolored from head to toe. Cynthia Consentino’s Girl With Squirrel looks normal enough with its girl in a blue dress and Peter Pan collar, an animal friend perched at her feet. However, Consentino has designed the heads to be reversible, and as Leodas swaps them, the piece suddenly becomes eerie, especially the squirrel with its huge human face.
Janis Mars Wunderlich’s Woman in a Shoe uses nurseryrhyme imagery. The frilly pink shoe could be right out of a children’s book, but the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe has probably never been depicted as a sharp-toothed green monster. The puppets on the woman’s arm are like miniature versions of the monster-woman. The expression on her face is one of wariness, and her nose drips blood.
Pattie Chalmer’s version of Wonder Woman has a pageboy haircut and cellulite-dimpled thighs. Russell Biles’ copulating lovers could be the images on a black velvet painting for sale in Tijuana. However, the open-mouthed couple look more uncomfortable than passionate. The coup de grâce is Biles’ decision to cover the white-glazed clay bodies with black spikes. “Touch these,” Leodas said. “They’re really sharp.”
Behind the table where the figurines were being temporarily displayed, an entire wall of shelving was devoted to the storage of packing crates. Leodas said the mailing of valuable ceramics has evolved to a science over the years at Santa Fe Clay. Figurines might be safe in a solid box with bubble wrap, but a hallway in the gallery with pieces made by the artists coming to Santa Fe to present workshops this summer showed possible shipment nightmares: some of the works were life-size.
Leodas has worked to attract big-name ceramics artists to present a variety of workshops, similar to the Santa Fe Photographic Workshops classes taught by high-profile photographers every summer. Student participants who attend the workshop with Claudia Alvarez in June make standing figures based on a “conceptual exploration of the self,” and in a workshop with Lisa Reinertson in July, they create large-scale figures based on a live model. A workshop called “Soul Work” with Curt Lacross in late July involves life-size human busts; others concern coil and slab building.
What happens during the five-day workshops is amazing, Leodas said. Students come to experience the process of making a work like some of the major players in the field do — from beginning to end — and to see how to respond to an idea. Afterward, she said, “we dry their work slowly and have shipping options.”