Mary Briggs is a woman who rarely sits. So much is her desire to keep active that she changed specialties in college because her first choice, graphic design, was too sedentary.
“I was the kid whose foot was always wiggling,” Briggs says, explaining why she became a studio potter after earning her Master of Fine Arts in Ceramics at the University of Iowa.
“The wedging of clay or manipulation of clay is a physical activity that might be likened to a baker or chef — moving around the kitchen and using your arms and creating a physical end product.”
Ceramic Terra Cotta Inspired by Folk Pottery
For the Eugene artist, the completed physical end product is terra cotta functional ceramicware — platters, plates, vases, candlestick holders, mugs — inspired by historical folk pottery as well as the works of 19th century Old Masters painters. Briggs began incorporating imagery on her work 15 years ago when she observed how brush marks and drip lines formed impressions of landscapes. It was a short, but significant, step to drawing period images on her work, adding to its sensation of timelessness and meaning.
She focused upon the 19th century landscape for its calming, romantic element, likening the feeling to that inspired by a country drive.
“I find rural life and nature to be calming and beautiful. By using that imagery on my work, I hope it brings a sense of calmness to those who encounter it.
“I also hope to create an awareness of how important nature is to all of us personally and globally.”
Nature: In the Garden and the Ceramic Studio
Nature, for Briggs, is an element that factors throughout her day and week, whether she is in the studio, creating a body of work that, from start to finish, can take up to three months, or out in the gardens of area residents, who commission her skills in this area.
“I work as a gardener for a week and then in my studio for a week,” Briggs explains, adding that she began gardening as a side job in graduate school, finding it a natural counterbalance to the intensity of studio work.
“It’s interesting to note that most potters are fabulous cooks and gardeners,” she observes. “It was not my experience that graphic designers were much interested in either of those. It was that sense of community that also attracted me to the field of ceramics.”
Briggs’s studio is based in the garage of her home, and has been renovated with added windows and insulation, additional electricity for her kiln, and ventilation. Because there is limited space for storing inventory, Briggs keeps her work moving, and a major means of doing this is through the Schaller Gallery of St. Joseph, Michigan, which represents some of the finest functional ceramic artists of the world. Most recently, gallery owner Anthony Schaller told Briggs to add Rebecca Sive — who may or may not be the Huffington Post writer who penned Every Day Is Election Day; Briggs isn’t sure — to her list of collectors.
Dedicated to the Ceramic Art
Briggs has shown her pottery in group and solo exhibitions in galleries and universities in Minnesota, Michigan, Georgia, Tennessee, Montana , Wyoming, Indiana, and Oregon. Her work is in the permanent collection at Bermuda National Gallery, Contemporary Ceramics, and she has been published in Ceramics: Art & Perception, an international journal dedicated to ceramic art. Her art also appears in the book, 500 Cups: Ceramic Explorations of Utility & Grace by Suzanne J. E. Tourtillott.
Ironically, though Briggs chose to leave graphic design for ceramics, its influence does not go unnoticed in her art.
“I think all my art classes in college have helped with my decoration process,” Briggs says. “From color theory to composition to art history: all those things are in my tool box.” Each piece is individually decorated, in accordance with its shape, size, and form, with the result that every ceramic Briggs creates is uniquely, singularly distinct.
Choosing Terra Cotta
The very choice of terra cotta — known as poor man’s clay because it is not as dense and white as porcelain — is deliberate, with Briggs being drawn to its rustic quality and unexpected, but welcome, irregularities. It’s of the earth, after all, just like gardening.
In the end, Briggs says, that’s what it’s all about: the earth, and beautiful places, and exquisitely shaped ceramics that capture that beauty and encourage those who see the work.
“My work is not about politics or social commentary.
“It is simply meant to serve as a window into a peaceful place.”
Mary Briggs is the Featured Pacific Northwest Artist at Wenaha Gallery from Monday, August 14 through Saturday, September 9, 2017.
Contact the gallery, located at 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA, by phone at 509.382.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.