Loving the Arts

Downtown Businesses celebrate Valentine's Day by hosting Artwalk

There are probably hundreds of Craig residents who have art made with local hands, thanks in part to students in a college course that have kicked out pottery here for more than a decade.

When Jerry Paulson started up the pottery shop in the basement of The Center of Craig in 1992 he questioned whether the idea of throwing plates, pots and mugs would take off.

"I had my doubts at first," he said, methodically trimming clay off a spinning mug atop a pottery wheel. "But it's been growing ever since."

Pottery classes offered through Colorado Northwestern Community College-Craig effortlessly fill with about 20 students each term, said Pottery Instructor Susan Erickson.

Creating pottery gives students a chance to relax while creating something beautiful and useful, she said.

In the last couple classes, students have been busy making mugs and bowls for Craig's annual Art Walk. Students create the dinnerware and serve soup or chili in it. This year they'll sell the food and bowl combination for $8 at the event scheduled for Feb. 14.

The Art Walk starts at The Center of Craig at 5 p.m. Participants are handed a map to pinpoint businesses displaying work by local artists.

Last year the pottery made by CNCC students sold out in less than two hours, Erickson said.

For that reason, the class is making twice as many, or roughly 160 pieces, this year.

"It gets down to the wire in here," Erickson said scanning over students putting the final glazes on a variety of earthenware. "It seems like every year we have to make more."

Over the years, art from the local pottery class has spread into area homes.

Pottery student Deb Varner has given away or sold a number of the curvy platters she's become known for.

"I just have a vision and the next thing you know, it's a project," she said. "I give most of my stuff away, but I never want to give away the ugly stuff."

Erickson has given away so many pieces that some relatives have begun request specific items, like a set of plates or a couple of bowls.

And many other students create class projects to give away as holiday gifts.

"People are so impressed if you actually make something for them," said third-semester student Tiffany Ripkoski. "That's what it all about."

One misconception new students often have is thinking they'll master the art after a couple classes, Erickson said.

"Throwing looks so easy," she said, laughing. "So everybody thinks they'll be doing it next week."

But the skills needed to get that point take time to cultivate.

Students first learn a variety of methods including coil and slab pottery. As the semester comes closer to an end, Erickson offers students a chance at Raku pottery.

Using a special kiln at her home students create pottery with a weathered and rustic look.

"If I offered Raku earlier in the semester, that's all they'd want to do," Erickson said.

Much of what the students' deem "ugly" is actually very attractive, only they can't see it through their overly self-critical eyes. Ironically, those are usually the first pieces to go during the Art Walk, students said.

Proceeds from the sales go back into purchasing clay and equipment for the class.

This year's Valentine's Day art event is one of handful of art celebrations offered in Craig throughout the year.

During the summer months, competing chainsaw sculptors create woodcarvings on display in Craig's City Park. When the snow starts to fall, holiday arts and crafts shows set up shop around town.

A mid-February art event is an opportunity to get out and mingle, said Mary Shearer public relations director at CNCC.

"It's an excellent time to get out and do something in the middle of the winter," she said. "Pottery is a very culturally inspired thing."

Many students sign up for the pottery class as a way to seek a slower pace of life, even if that's for only a couple hours a week, Erickson said.

"It represents an earthy way of life," she said scrutinizing a sand-colored bowl she held out in her palm.

"Sometimes I come in here exhausted, but after I throw for a while it just feels good," Erickson added. "It's invigorating. I end up losing track of time."

Varner echoed a similar sentiment.

She signed up for her first college pottery class when she realized it would be free through the CNCC scholarship program. Because of a voter-approved mill levy tax for the college, Moffat County residents can attend the college free of charge, not including the price of fees and books.

Even after three years with the art class, Varner is still hooked.

"At this point I would pay whatever they asked to take the class," she said.

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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