Review of Celebration of Clay, 2003

Celebration of Clay, An Appreciation

by Betsy Williams

The 2003 Celebration of Clay show, a non-juried show open to all members of the New Mexico Potters and Clay Artists, was held at the Harwood Art Center in Albuquerque from September 12 to September 26, with the opening reception held on September 19.

The quality of the work included in this show was, in fact, stunning. Variety, enthusiasm, originality, professionalism, and craftsmanship were apparent in the work submitted by forty member artists with diverse approaches to clay. There were electric, gas, wood, pit, and raku fired pieces; porcelain, stoneware, and earthenware pieces; glazed, stained, and painted pieces; dipped, sprayed, sponged, and dabbed pieces; simple and complex pieces; figurative, abstract, sculptural, functional, and decorative pieces; funny and sad pieces; bright and subtle pieces; by professionals and beginners. Juror Gary Carlson expressed his pleasure at the quality of the work in the exhibit. “It’s great to see so much good work, and so varied, from the New Mexico potters,” he said. “I was proud to be one of the jurors for this show.” As a whole, the level of work was something that all members of the New Mexico Potters Association can be proud of.

Perhaps owing to the very fact that this was a non-juried show, and that members themselves submitted their finest work, the diversity of the work lent a natural fullness and cohesiveness to the show. Work was submitted by artists from all parts of New Mexico, with a concentration of artists from the Albuquerque area, and included artists from Roswell, Dixon, and many points in between. The fluid arrangement of the pieces in relation to one another, thanks to the hard work of volunteers preparing the display, contributed significantly to an impressive exhibit. Skillfully curated, it revealed that there was truly something for everyone. Judy Nelson-Moore, one of the judges, observed, “Many pieces were celebrations of the collaboration between artist and the fire. Others were the development of inner visions of the artist that translated into universal. I think it is a testament to the power of clay as a medium, as well as to the diversity and virtuosity of the NMPA membership, that the show was so diverse and yet, exciting and interesting, when all the pieces were together.”

The judges selecting this year’s award winners were Judy Nelson-Moore, Gary Carlson, and myself. As judges, originality, level of craftsmanship, and a successful execution were three main criteria that we held foremost in our minds, and we gradually narrowed our selections down to a choice for the Best of Show Award, and four choices for Honorable Mention Awards. A total of $400 was awarded in cash prizes. There were many candidates for the awards, and our decisions required individual contemplation as well as group discussion. We learned from one another, sharing our opinions, praises, and critiques of the pieces on display, all the while considering our established objective criteria as well as our own personal standards of excellence.

The Best of Show Winner, Elaine Biery’s “Bosque Tribute II,” won us over with its high level of craftsmanship, successful execution of idea, and interesting glaze and decorative effects. Bosque Tribute, an aptly named bowl, held a row of trees delicately carved on two opposing sides of the bowl’s circumference, and a richly variegated matte blue glaze in the ‘bosque’ interior of the bowl. Elaine is a retired schoolteacher who lives and works in Albuquerque. Congratulations, Elaine, and thank you for entering such a fine piece in the show.

The Honorable Mention Award recipients, listed by in alphabetical order, were:

Pauline Bittner of Albuquerque with “Altarpiece #9,” a deeply mysterious and intriguing piece of assembled slabs with a wide range of abstract surface decoration,

Stephen Cox of Albuquerque with “Probe Fish,” a bulbous fish with a probing snout, made from fabric-like strips of clay delicately wrapped and joined,

Wanda Dent of Roswell, with her remarkable wall piece pair, “Hope and Despair,” rich in symbolism and imagery, skillfully painted and integrated with the figures themselves,

Ashley Wong, a student in the UNM Porcelain Class, with a pleasingly light wheel-thrown “Porcelain Vase” having a tall stem neck and a dark persimmon glaze under a gossamer of freely flowing strands in black.

Congratulations to each of you for your work, uniquely worthy of recognition.

The process of judging as a group meant that while each judge may have chosen different winners if deciding alone, together we chose the awards where there was a meeting of the minds, and where we as a group felt confidence in the integrity of our decisions. There were, without a doubt, many other exceptional pieces, which made us feel the weight of selecting only five awards in all. On behalf of the judges, I would like to thank everyone for entering such fine work in the Celebration of Clay Show. Photographs from the show can be viewed online at

Next year we hope to make it much more convenient for members statewide to enter their work. We would like to organize drop-off points in key locations outside of Albuquerque, such as Santa Fe, Taos, Roswell, Farmington, and Las Cruces. The designated locations will be able to accept work during a specified number of days prior to show set-up, and volunteers will be asked to transport the work to the show. If you are interested in helping out with this effort, please call me, or any other board member, to discuss your ideas.

Every member, whether beginner, professional, or in between, is encouraged to share his or her vision with the rest of the membership. Let’s all look forward to making next year’s show even more spectacular.

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