Time to get fired up

Visitors will find more than dinnerware at the 35th annual Clayfolk Pottery Show and Sale to be held this weekend in Medford.

"Most of the public is fascinated with how you spin a lump of mud into something," says ceramic artist Ray Foster during a telephone interview from his studio in Jacksonville. He's busy firing several serving bowls in a gas kiln.

Foster has been a member of Clayfolk since 1988. Back then, only 17 members participated in the annual show. Clayfolk was founded in 1975 by local potters, and today the group boasts more than 150 members in Oregon and Northern California. The nonprofit organization funnels much of its proceeds from the annual November show into scholarships, area workshops, library donations and its Empty Bowls event — an anti-hunger project.

This year, Foster and nearly 70 other regional artists will showcase handcrafted sculpture, tiles, jewelry, vases and dinnerware at the annual holiday event to be held from 4 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 19; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 20; and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 21, at the Medford Armory, 1701 S. Pacific Highway.

The potters will exhibit original work at individual booths and will be on hand to answer questions. Prices for ceramic pieces will range from $2 to $3 for magnets to $1,000 for large artwork, Foster says.

As no two lumps of clay are the same, every piece is unique in its color, texture, shape and glaze. Many of the potters throw pots on wheels. Others build pots by hand or with forms. Still others use slabs of clay to create their original work.

"Everybody has a niche in terms of glaze, style and technique. It's almost like a thumbprint or your voice," says Foster. "Personality emerges with clay."

Most pottery pieces begin with moist lump of clay, which is formed into a shape and then hardened in a bisque fire. After being removed from the kiln, layers of glaze are applied to the piece. It's embellished as desired by the artist and then glaze-fired. However, some potters might choose to fire pieces only once as a method of preserving surface impressions.

"It's extremely labor intensive, and none of it is easy," says Foster. "There is a potential for an error or a boo-boo on every step of the process."

Foster taught art and pottery for 22 years at Eagle Point High School and for 10 years at South Medford High School. His own functional artwork resembles the simple, classical forms seen in the architecture and art in ancient Greece. There is a slight and subtle bulging in the middle. Fosters says he also uses decorative brush strokes over the layers of glaze.

"I never get tired of watching beautiful pots come out of the kiln," he says.

Live entertainment by acoustic guitarist Michelle McAsee, along with a vocalist and mandolist, will kick off the show from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday.

On Saturday and Sunday, several artists will present live demonstrations such as wheel-throwing, making piggy banks, working with textural slabs and creating sculptures. A schedule of demonstrations will be posted at the show and is available online at www.clayfolk.org. Also on Saturday and Sunday, children can mold their own small clay creatures and bowls to take home.

Admission to the show is free. Call 541-846-6741 for information.

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