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Clay Folk's 32nd annual show opens

For many potters, the organic experience of sinking fingers into clay is so much more than turning clay into art; it's about transforming an individual into an artist.

The oldest clay-only sale in the state — the 32nd annual Clay Folk Pottery show — will take place Friday through Sunday, Nov. 16-18, at the Medford Armory, 1701 S. Pacific Highway, Medford. Hours will be from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.

At the show, art lovers and the curious alike can see the wide range of clay's capabilities, and the unique stories behind their artistic masters.

The 60 local artists presenting their work at Clay Folk range from former to current educators, full-time potters, and those with "day jobs." These differences in occupation are mirrored in the variety of their handiwork, and they will tell you that is what makes the show worth attending.

The stories behind the artists are as varied as their clay work.

Ashland potter Cheryl Kempner has her own story of transformation.

A potter of more than twenty years, Kempner got her start in clay at a summer recreation class for beginners in Colorado. She has parlayed that course into a now full-time pottery career.

For years, she created ethereal, delicate white porcelain pieces with 24 karat gold accents. But two years ago, something happened that drastically changed her personal style.

Her daughter underwent surgery to remove a benign brain tumor.

Kempner said that once she got back to work in her studio, she "went from white to bright."

Whimsical shapes, "color explosions" and things that made her smile took over. She used her studio as an escape. As she puts it, "art adds balance to the stress of real life."

This is how her popular "crazy birds" and "little village" creations came about.

Seeing hillside villages with her family in Europe more than 20 years ago was her inspiration for creating intricately detailed clay replicas.

A little inspiration goes a long way for Kempner. Years after seeing or doing something spectacular, the once-dormant memory ignited creativity.

Kempner's clay creations are hand-built, meaning she doesn't throw clay on a wheel. She rolls out the clay and then forms her pieces from that slab.

She often adds accoutrements and texture to her pieces. She'll roll the clay between canvas or lace, use coral, stamps and antique buttons, she's even recruited her husband to add steel work to her pieces.

To her, the variety is what helps keep enthusiasm up for her customers. She sells her art at Ashland Art Works, but she likes the ability to interact with her customers at the Clay Folk show.

Kempner said, "at a shop you don't get to hear the little intricacies of the art work, like my daughter made this wreath, and this imprint is from my Aunt Hazel's lace table cloth," or that life changing events can influence your craft.

Medford potter and South Medford High School art teacher Ray Foster also knows something about transformation.

Several years ago he lost his eye due to a blood clot. He's been "throwing" clay for a few decades now, and has taught art since 1976.

The heaviness of the experience shines through in his work. Some of his handmade cups have an eye on them. He thinks most artists work in the same way.

"People change. A passage in their lives can change their creations dramatically," he said. "It makes it more meaningful to them and probably the people who end up buying it."

Foster encourages his students to participate in the show on some level.

For extra credit, some teachers have their students attend the show and talk with artists. He just tells his kids to show up. "(Clay Folk does) a lot for education." Foster said. "Most of us were put in contact with clay by another teacher.

"What I tell my students is that art plays a vital role in their life, even if they're not aware of it. Anything they see and wear is designed by an artist," he said.

"I also tell them that because our society is so plastic, that's why a lot of people are drawn to pottery. It was dug up from the dirt, and human beings hands are all over it from start to finish, converted from the idea into a real thing."

A band is scheduled to perform Friday at the show, and on Saturday and Sunday there will be a children's area for kids to come play with clay, and artists will be putting on demonstrations.

The event is free, and a percentage of the artist's sales will fund an art school scholarship and artist workshops, as well as purchase clay-oriented books for the library system.

Call 773-3190 for more information.

Chery Kempner rolls out clay in her Ashland studio. Jim Craven 11/6/2007 - Jim Craven