Inside-Outside at BMAC

An offering bowl

Looking for Betty at BMAC

A sculptural fountain

Clayworks Kicks Off 25th Anniversary with Exhibit by Founding Member Alan Steinberg

The concept of "Time Evaporation" is gospel to clayworkers everywhere. You step into the studio and sink your fingers into the plastic material, and before you know it three hours have disappeared. At the Brattleboro Clayworks, established in 1983, 25 years have mysteriously flown by. Member Alan Steinberg recalls, "It seems like only yesterday we were building ware-shelves and laying firebrick to create the arch of our gas kiln. Now both the arch and my back have a little sag in them."

To commemorate this anniversary, the Clayworks at 532 Putney Road will host a number of events beginning with its annual June "Art for the Garden" exhibit. This year's show will highlight recent work by Steinberg, the sole remaining original member. Many other Clayworks members will also have garden work on display in the courtyard, and the indoor gallery will be open as well. A grand opening reception is scheduled during Gallery Walk on June 6, from 5:30 to 8:00 pm. Regular hours are Friday and Saturday from 10:00 to 5:00, with additional hours by chance or appointment.

Steinberg looks back on a career that spans almost 40 years, marked by a progression of styles and teaching experiences. He began as a wheel-throwing production potter, with a large, private studio in the Berkshires in Massachusetts, where he made dinnerware, vases, lamps, and planters. When he moved to Vermont in 1981, he abandoned the potter's wheel (and all the wholesale accounts that went with it) to explore a new interest in colored-clay slabs with plants pressed into them that evoked images of landscape, especially sunrise and sunset. The rolling pin became his most important tool. For two years he rented workspace from other local potters while attending meetings of a group of eight young potters who hoped to resurrect an older paradigm, that of the crafts cooperative. The Clayworks was born of those meetings.

By 2001, twenty years later, the other original members had moved on to their own studios and were supplanted by a new generation of potters. There were 14 of them, plus month to month renters and students as well, making for a busy studio. At that point, Steinberg had become bored with his line of colored clay. He took a one-year sabbatical from his business to study with a host of teachers. When he attempted to return from that hiatus, he found he could not bring himself to do the work that had kept him and four employees busy for two decades. And so he struck out for new ground again.

The work being shown during June illustrates this new direction. Rather than making pieces that are "about" nature, the new work appears to be "from" nature. Honoring the relationship between clay and stone, these works appear to be ancient stones unearthed at an archeological dig. Many of them have carvings on their surface in an unknown language. The viewer is left to muse on the mystery of their meaning. Perhaps they contain some important wisdom we would be fortunate to decipher, perhaps a dire warning from a lost civilization regarding a path best not taken.

A few sculptures display faint markings in a 3,500-year-old Chinese women's language called Nu-Shu. This now nearly extinct language was used by women to communicate with their lost loved ones -- mothers, sisters, aunts, and grandmothers -- after they were married at an early age and became the property of their husbands' families. Some works feature Buddhist or Mayan prayers, scribed repetitively in English, like a chant. While Steinberg's work has clearly become more sculptural, he still takes time to do some traditional functional work such as planters, vases, fountains, and meditational "blessing bowls," all of which will be on display.

Copyright 2008, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont

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