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Clayfolk annual show and sale returns with ‘Out of the Fire’

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Polly Beach works on a bowl at her studio in Ashland. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune
Polly Beach works on a bowl at her studio in Ashland. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune
Works by Clayfolk members are displayed at the site of the sale, a former clay shop in downtown Talent, which burned in the Almeda fire. Photo courtesy of Clayfolk.
Mugs are ready for glazing at Polly Beach's studio in Ashland. Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune

The crazed, pocked and scorched remnants of Bonnie Morgan’s former pottery supply shop in Talent looks — on the surface — like devastation.

The Ashland ceramics artist, however, found inspiration in the Almeda fire’s aftermath and translated the flame’s erratic and unpredictable effects into a new kiln firing technique. The distressed surfaces, she says, are reminders of the region’s losses last year.

“The pots become fire-marked,” says Morgan of her recent experimental “saggar” vessels.

Applying natural materials, such as seaweed, corn husks, copper wire and salt, to ceramics pieces ready for the kiln, then shrouding them in aluminum foil before firing, yields unexpected hues and textures, says Morgan. She doesn’t approach the process with expectations but cedes control, which echoes her sentiments about losing two commercial structures in 2020’s wildfire that destroyed parts of Talent and Phoenix.

“I had no control,” she says. “They’re just gone.”

To reclaim some control from the pandemic’s uncertainty, the group that Morgan helped to found in 1976 moved its annual show and sale this year to a new date and location. Clayfolk’s “Out of the Fire” sale, planned for Oct. 23, couldn’t be better suited to the site of Morgan’s burned building in downtown Talent.

“Many of us felt it needed to be outside,” says Morgan, who serves as president of the nonprofit that boasts about 125 members throughout Southern Oregon and as far away as Eugene, Bend and Mt. Shasta, Calif. Most are in the age group at increased risk from the coronavirus, says Morgan.

This year’s scaled-back outdoor event replaces the organization’s indoor extravaganza, traditionally slated for November, which members couldn’t conscience hosting since the sharp rise in coronavirus cases, says Morgan. Last year, the group held smaller, “dispersed” sales between Ashland, Grants Pass and Roseburg — also outside and also in mid-October.

“A lot of this is trying to adapt to the challenges of COVID,” says Morgan.

Clayfolk also recognizes the community’s continued struggle to adapt since Almeda. Artists have earmarked a donation to a local fire recovery organization and also plan to solicit contributions from the public at the sale. Harnessing fire’s potential to realize change is a defining aspect of ceramic arts — and a palpable metaphor this year.

“Fire is powerful and destructive, but it is also how we transform our clay,” says Morgan.

Artists will transform the site of Morgan’s former storefront, 111 Talent Ave., into a diverse pottery bazaar and gallery the day of the sale. About 15 artists will show and sell hundreds of pieces, from fine sculpture and jewelry to what Morgan calls “art for your kitchen table.”

“There’s something special about that favorite coffee mug,” says Morgan, adding that most Clayfolk members produce functional pieces.

The signature feature of Morgan’s store — a ceramic teapot finial on the roof — was consumed by the fire. But the inferno spared concrete perimeter walls of the circa 1924 Malmgren Garage, later a lumberyard and fruit processing facility before its stint as Morgan’s business, which closed in 2008. Most recently an antiques dealer rented from Morgan, who says she’s working with local historical preservation consultant George Kramer to rebuild the property on Talent’s list of historical places.

The site, in addition to artists’ covered booths, will host Wake N Bake food truck for the event, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. rain or shine. Masks are required, and hand sanitizer will be available. For more information about Clayfolk, see clayfolk.org.