Sparks fly as Cheryl Kempner cuts through a sheet of metal with a super-heated plasma torch.
Soon she holds up a piece of metal cut into a shape of a flower.
"It's really very rapid. The plasma torch melts the metal in order to cut it," she says.
Kempner will be showing her metal and clay sculptural creations during the Ashland Open Studio Tour from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 14-15, in Ashland, Talent, Phoenix and Medford.
She will demonstrate plasma torch metal cutting at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 15.
The free annual tour features 25 artists in 20 diverse settings — from studios carved out of bedrooms to a sunny remodeled cottage to a converted century-old barn. Maps and more information are available online at www.ashlandost.com and Ashland Gallery Association galleries. The artists will have work available for purchase in their studios.
Kempner worked as a clay sculptor for decades. She wanted metal legs for her signature whimsical clay birds, so she signed her husband Ken Kempner up for a welding class at Rogue Community College. He has since retired from his job as a professor at Southern Oregon University, but still does welding for his wife, who designs their creations, handles the clay work and cuts metal with her plasma torch.
Visitors to their home at 447 Pape Street high in the Ashland hills will be treated to a spectacular, panoramic view of the Rogue Valley and inside peeks at the Kempnerses' working spaces and techniques. Cheryl Kempner has an indoor studio where she rolls out slabs of clay like pizza dough, then shapes them into birds, vases, dishes and a holiday line of illuminated Christmas trees.
The clay is fired in a kiln that reaches temperatures topping 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit.
The couple do their plasma torch cutting and welding work in their garage.
Their latest creations, such as garden poppy sculptures, are also colored in the garage using durable powder coating — a technique more often used to color cars and motorcycles. Powder coating lasts 10 times as long as paint, making it ideal for garden art that has to withstand the weather, Cheryl Kempner says.
The colored powder, which comes in shades such as red wagon, sticks to the metal, coating it. To finish off the process, the couple bake powder-coated pieces in a regular toaster oven, which they also keep in the garage with their metal cutting and welding tools.
"Now that we know how to powder coat, I want to powder coat everything," Ken Kempner says.
The Ashland Open Studio Tour features other artist demonstrations on both days:
Textile artist Claudia Law will demonstrate painting on fabric at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, at 762 B St., Ashland. Angelique Stewart is showing home decor at the location as well.
Linda Elesiya Evans, who specializes in Impressionist-inspired landscapes, will show outdoor painting techniques with pastels at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, at 232 Phoenix Hills Drive, Phoenix.
Linda Dixon, who makes vibrant paintings that incorporate layers and found objects, will show how to create texture with mixed media at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Ashland Art Center, Studio 7, 357 E. Main St., Ashland.
Elaine Frenett, painter and visual journal maker, will do contour drawing with watercolor at 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, at 1109 Lithia Way, Talent.
Ilene Gienger Stanfield will do portrait painting from a live model at 11 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, at 2702 Deer Trail Lane, Medford.
Expressive, colorful painter Denise Souza Finney's topic is understanding acrylic mediums in painting at 1 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, at 225 Ohio St., Ashland.
Julia Janeway will show surface techniques and carving in ceramics at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 15, at 2000 Ashland Mine Road, Ashland.
Other artists participating in the open studio tour are:
Bold, colorful painter Suzanne Etienne at 143 N. Third St., Ashland
Animal and landscape painter Michael Gibson at 315 Butler Creek Road, Ashland
Denise Kester, a printmaker focused on magical realism with animals, birds and nature, at 438 Helman St., Ashland
Painter and sculptor Margie Mee at 1049 E. Nevada St., Ashland
Richard and Rochelle Newman, showing mixed media and digital painting, sculpture, woven tapestries, works on paper and artist books at 847 Skylark Place, Ashland
Sculptor and figurative, landscape and floral painter Pamela Ourshalimaian at 188 Central Ave., Ashland
Landscape painter Leif Trygg at 247 Oak St., Ashland
Sculptor, painter and jeweler Elin Babcock at 291 Oak St., Ashland
Electronic collage, video and soundscape artist Bruce Bayard and figurative and landscape artist Ann DiSalvo at 621 A St., Ashland
Ceramic artist MaryDee Bombick at 421 Prim St., Ashland
Classically trained realist painter Sarah F. Burns and abstract painter Megan Headley at 106 Talent Ave., Suite 5, Talent
Stone sculptor and stone-cut print maker Harriet Green and cartoonist, filmmaker, photographer, illustrator and author Martin Goldman at 9647 Wagner Creek Road, Talent