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Beauty and utility from the potter's wheel

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Photos by Annette Brand Potter David Strong, with the potter's wheel turning, "throws" clay to shape the inside of a bowl with his hands.

David Strong, potter, has been working in clay since the early 1970s, both as a teacher and as a full-time potter.

David said, "I maintain a life balance between teaching and producing and selling my work.

"I have always been interested in the arts. I enjoy drawing and two-dimensional work.

"And I am really attracted to the tactile use of clay and making products useful in people's lives ... and abstract work as well.

"Teaching is my natural gift," David added. "Teaching is very important to me. It comes easily and I enjoy the relationship to people, to helping them create in the medium of clay a vision they have."

David first started working in clay in college in midwest Ohio. After graduating college he taught high school art and worked in the art center there.

He came to Colorado in the 1970s to Anderson Ranch at Snowmass because there is a very prestigious art school there. David arrived as a student and went through a number of different programs at Anderson Ranch.

David and his wife Suki Strong left Anderson Ranch and moved to Cedaredge in 1980 to work full time producing wares and works for sale. Suki is a painter, working in pastels.

David has a line of his own work, and work he creates collaboratively with his wife, called Brymstone Pottery. Brymstone Pottery is available in numerous stores and galleries throughout Colorado, and other states as well.

David also taught pottery classes at local schools and in his studio.

He exhibits his work at the Creamery Gallery in Hotchkiss, Main Street Gallery in Cedaredge, a cooperative store in Aspen, the pottery store in Telluride, Anderson Ranch in Snowmass, other galleries throughout the state, and in fairs and at sales.

About 15 years ago David and several other artists formed a cooperative in the North Fork Valley and were looking for places, an outlet, to display their work.

"We were approached by the Tullis sisters (Joanne Tullis and Linda Tullis) who were just beginning to refurbish the Creamery in Hotchkiss as an art gallery. They offered us use of space in the gallery and a place to teach. That was around 2005," David said.

"After that first year, I became manager of the Clay Studio at the Creamery and have been ever since, maintaining the space and teaching adults and kids."

"Kids' classes are very popular," David says. "We have eight to 10 kids per class."

Occasionally David offers special workshops in pottery making, glazing and other pottery processes for the community in the Clay Studio at the Creamery.

"The Clay Studio is also open for people, as individuals, to pursue their projects. They pay for monthly studio space and we provide the clay, glazes and fire their work," he said.

"Over the years scores of adults and many hundreds of kids have worked in the open studio program or fired their work here."

Although The Creamery Arts Center will close its doors Aug. 15, the Tullis sisters will continue to accommodate classes offered by David and his wife Suki.

The Creamery and David have provided clay classes to the Partners program, working with kids in an art medium of their choice, mentoring them in that medium, mostly in clay.

Classes are offered through Community Options for different groups.

There are classes for seniors who come from their senior residences to the Creamery for classes.

David said, "I continue to produce my line of work at my studio on Cedar Mesa but my major interest is maintaining the programs at the Creamery.

"From its inception, the kids' art and clay classes have been an important part of the Creamery's mission.

"Working with the visual arts provides young students the opportunity to discover and work with their innate creative nature in a non-pressure environment while learning to use the processes of planning, problem solving and critical thinking.

"Each student is a unique individual. In class they can choose to work with a suggested project or they can explore their own direction. Clay work requires a hands-on connection, manipulating real material while learning a vocabulary of art," he said.

Those coming to the Clay Studio to create an art object on the potter's wheel discover it is a many-faceted process.

Many steps are needed to create a bowl. First the amount of clay needed for the bowl is cut from a larger mound of clay with a special tool consisting of a length of wire with a round handle at each end. That portion of clay is then "wedged", spread out and wedged thoroughly, including around the edges, to work out the air and make the clay smooth (similar to kneading dough).

The potter puts the clay on the wheel head and centers it, with the head opening up into the clay. With the wheel turning, the potter shapes the inside of the bowl with his hands, pulling -- or "throwing" -- clay. This involves constant throwing of the clay to give its final shape. When the desired shape is complete, the potter stops the wheel.

The bowl is removed from the wheel and its bottom leveled with the wire tool.

The clay will shrink, making the bowl smaller than when it was taken from the wheel.

Before the bowl, and all objects, becomes ceramic it must dry. When the clay is dry, the bowl is fired in a bisque kiln at 1,800 degrees. It is then hard and porous and is dipped in a bucket of wet glaze; the water is absorbed and the residue is the actual glaze that sticks to the surface of the bowl. It then goes back in a kiln and is fired at 2,200 degrees, wherein the glaze melts and fuses to the surface of the clay, making it a usable, functional bowl.

The Clay Studio mixes its own glazes and has about 25 glazes in different colors and textures, from glossy to matte.

David and the Creamery community are particularly pleased with firings in the Raku kiln. David explains, "Raku is a Japanese firing process adapted by Americans. The glazed pieces are quickly heated in the Raku kiln and removed hot from the kiln and placed into combustible material that affects color and glaze.

"It's a very spontaneous way of creating fired work. It's fascinating with the kiln glowing bright orange. We use large tongs to pull out the art. The effects are very rich.

"A lot of beautiful work comes from our classes," he said.

The Creamery holds a Raku Opening the second Friday of each month for the public.

"It's a special show. This is an opportunity for anyone to fire their work in the special Raku kiln," David said.

Each year the Creamery holds a special Raku firing for Hotchkiss High School artists in conjunction with their end of year show.

Kids working at potter’s wheels in Creamery Clay Studio class wait their turn for assistance from teacher David Strong.
Tall vase by David Strong which accommodates tall grasses.
Platters from David Strong’s pottery works.
Glazed pieces quickly heated in the Raku kiln, removed hot and placed into combustible material that affects color and glaze. On the left is Daphna Russell’s buffalo with a glossy finish; on the right is David Strong’s matte-finish pot.
Potter David Strong displays art objects formed on the potter’s wheel in his kids’ classes indicating the different stages they go through to become ceramic. From the right: two wet objects waiting to dry; three dry objects dipped in wet glaze, waiting to be fired in the kiln at 1,800 degrees; two objects waiting to go back to the kiln to be fired at 2,200 degrees; and two finished objects with glaze fused to the surface of the clay, and now usable and functional.
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