May is clay month in the Sacramento Valley. Long recognized as a hotbed of ceramic activity, the region has an extensive history of prominent ceramic sculptors, many of whom studied with the late Robert Arneson at the University of California, Davis.
Roseville's Blue Line Gallery, a hub for ceramic art, is featuring selections from its recent third annual "Ceramacon," a national competition for clay artists judged by Elaine Henry, editor and publisher of the international ceramics journals "Ceramic Art and Perception" and "Ceramics Technical."
Henry selected 30 pieces from 290 entries for the show. Debra Oliva won the $300 first prize (and a show at the Blue Line) with a tricolor bowl with intricate markings made by scratching the thin clay slip that coats the object. It's a masterful piece of ceramic art.
The second-place award of $200 went to Tom Caswell for a gorgeous octagonal crystalline-glazed plate titled "Crystal Clouds." The third-place award went to Ron Hilgers' "Boundary," a geometrically complex container.
When it came to prize winners, Henry was traditional in her selections, but the show was not without some innovative pieces, among them Kris Lyons' "Clutch," a velvety-surfaced accretion of bulbous forms.
Other works that stood out included Jon Lennartz's "Sanctuary," an altarlike wall piece with stacked books and fallen timber pieces; Nikki Anderson's Surreal "Red Drop," another wall piece with figurative implications; and Michael Garlitz's "Holding On," an arrangement of sinuous pearlike forms in a wooden box tied with rope.
Also on view at Blue Line is the third annual "Plates and Totems," which includes 100 plates and 15 totems, making for a splashy display in the large front gallery.
Diverse works here include Steven Allen's "Counterfeit," a plate with fake $5 bills decorating the surface, and Jackie La Fleur's charming jungle scene "Elephant Trail." Linda Fitzgibbon gives us a quirky plate, "Oodles of Os," and Bill Abright offers a sombre "Nocturne" with a bird made of sticks.
There's a primitive charm to Cynthia Bows' plate with a scene of an old-fashioned swimming hole, while John Marin's "Boston Tea Party" has a pop flavor with its head of a Boston bulldog, dog biscuits and a tea bag on a bright red plate.
Marianne De Boer's "My Face" is one of the stronger works in the show, a poetic image of a somnolent face breaking out of an opening in the plate.
The most imposing of the totems is Gary Marsh's "Totem of the Space Between," a towering piece with stark, white, surreal biomorphic forms. It contrasts with the hokey forms of John Albrecht's "In the Moment," a trip down memory lane; and Lee Kendall's "Go Ask Alice," a compendium of "Alice in Wonderland" characters.
Lenore Moyer's "Station Vacation" gives us a tower of Dalmatian dogs and firehouse accoutrements. Jeanette Morrow offers a menagerie of animals rising up from the lap of a pet- loving woman.
Following "Plates and Totems," the Blue Line will offer "America's Clay Fest" (formerly "Feats of Clay") from May 10 to June 1.
"Plates and Totems," meanwhile, will move in a slimmed-down form to Alpha Fired Arts, 4675 Aldona Lane, Sacramento, (916) 484-4424, where it will be on view from May 7 to June 15.
It will be wonderful to see "America's Clay Fest," a new twist on "Feats of Clay," which fell on hard times last year and had to move from the Gladding, McBean factory in Lincoln. It was judged by legendary trompe l'oeil ceramic sculptor Richard Shaw and should be a stellar show.