Four clay artists, four distinct visions |

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Four clay artists, four distinct visions

Summit Daily/Mark FoxArtist Sue Schmidt prepares her ceramic artwork for this month's show, 'Four Ways with Clay,' at Arts Alive Gallery in La Cima Mall in Breckenridge recently. There will be a reception for the exhibit from 4-8 p.m. Saturday as part of the 2nd Saturday gallery walk in Breckenridge.

Clay can be manipulated, and interpreted, many different ways – and this month four local artists will present their takes on it at Arts Alive Gallery. The “dimensional artistic expressions” by Sue Schmidt, Pam Herring, Dawn Koschak and Janelle Kopp will be on display throughout November, including a public reception Saturday from 4-8 p.m. as part of the 2nd Saturday gallery walk in Breckenridge.

Schmidt makes traditional, functional, wheel-thrown pieces with a colorful and elegant effect.

“I discovered my passion for clay in college,” said Schmidt, an 18-year Summit County resident who earned a degree in childhood education with a minor in art. After a long hiatus, she returned to clay five years ago, now that her children are grown.

“The forms that I enjoy most making are the ones that I combine wheel-thrown and hand-built parts,” said Schmidt. “I am thus able to alter the form from round to most any other shape that I can imagine. This gives me the most freedom in the expression of the work.”

She said working with clay connects her to a deeper part of herself, renewing her sense of purpose. “When I am so totally focused on what I am doing that everything else drops away, I feel completely in the present moment. This is when I feel joy in what I am doing.”

A Panama City native who grew up on the beaches and waters of Florida’s Gulf Coast, Herring’s work is both sculptural and functional, and reflects her connection to the sea and to rock formations.

“I’ve always loved rocks. Always. I have no idea why,” Herring said. “I love the variation in color and textures, differences from rock to rock.” She is currently working on pieces that combine rock with clay, where the bases are rock and the tops are clay.

Her “Contemporary Clay Fossils” series shows influences of both rock and sea.

“As a kid, the biggest rocks were at the state park where huge granite boulders were brought in to keep erosion down at the pass from the Gulf of Mexico into St. Andrews Bay. Because our parents fished there, my sister, brother and I played on the rocks for hours during these fishing trips,” said Herring, who now studies rocks locally while backpacking and rock climbing.

As for the sea, she said, “reminders of the sea having been at high elevations can be found almost everywhere,” especially in the form of fossils. In the Grand Canyon, she said, she saw a fossil of a scallop shell bigger than her hand.

“I have a collection of shells from decades of living in Florida,” she said. “To incorporate the fossil ideas into my clay sculptures, I press the shell into clay, which gives an impression with a fossil-like quality. It pleases me and I think my clientele too.”

Herring holds degrees in fine arts and interior design from the University of Florida’s College of Fine Arts and College of Architecture, respectively.

A former newspaper cartoonist, Kopp discovered her interest in dimensional art in a portrait class with Leanne Wirta at Colorado Mountain College, an interest she continues to develop under the tutelage of Michelle Woods in CMC’s ceramics department.

Kopp models realistic figures of humans and animals-portraits that include “gesture and expression and the play of light and shadow” and sometimes tell a specific story.

For example, in “Standing Ground,” a bronze bison created from a fired-clay model, “the sentinel figure has positioned its formidable flank between a potential threat and something vulnerable, perhaps a calf or an aging herd member. Its massive head is presented to that threat with the clear message of being alert, watching, ready.” The structure of the piece tells more: “The legs are unusually thick and almost indiscernible from the prairie grass – undeniably connected to the earth,” Kopp said. “The hide is an impressionistic shield of wind and fur and grit.”

For Kopp, these elements develop naturally in the process of building her pieces. “Working the clay is very intuitive for me, with one decision leading inexorably to the next; I see the overall connections when my part of the process is done.”

Her part of the process is to create the object, but then the viewer plays a part after that. “An artist can only begin the story,” Kopp said. “The final chapters are within the viewers’ responses.”

Arts Alive Gallery hosts a public reception for “Four Ways with Clay” Saturday as part of the 2nd Saturday gallery walk from 4-8 p.m., wherein 10 galleries on Main Street join the Arts District on Ridge Street to showcase exhibits and artists, usually with light refreshments. Pick up a map rack card at Arts Alive for info, or visit