Oftentimes, parents groan when their child comes home from school with a “project.” We know, although some teachers apparently don’t, that there will be hours of parent-time required to help, and the very prospect is daunting.
But for Judie Beck, her son’s school project, years ago, made a major change in her life.
“His class was studying American Indians, specifically the Cherokee,” the Richland, WA, pottery artist remembers.
“He wanted to make a traditional house, in which the Cherokee used saplings that they wove together, plastered with mud and roofed with bark.
“We lived in Tennessee at the time and our soil was red clay. So we dug up clay, found some nice bendable twigs that he used as the saplings, and I helped him construct the house.
“Now I don’t garden because I hate getting dirt under my fingernails, but I thoroughly enjoyed helping him manipulate the clay.”
So pleased was Beck by the experience that she mentioned it to a friend, who replied that she (the friend) had always wanted to take a class in pottery making from a local artist at the Oak Ridge Art Center in town. Two days later, after Beck had signed herself and friend up for the class, the friend’s response was,
“Oh my gosh! I was thinking I’d do it after the kids were grown!”
Functional Pottery with Sunflowers Design
Why wait? was Beck’s opinion, and she hasn’t stopped getting clay all over her hands ever since. (As an aside, her friend is now an instructor at the center, teaching pottery.)
Working out of a studio built into a section of her garage, Beck creates functional pottery from serving trays to lidded butter crocks, “just what I like, basically,” she explains.
“I’m always making mugs. And bowls — I love making bowls. Everyone needs bowls. Bowls hold just about anything.”
Beck’s main challenge doesn’t come so much from working with the clay — which potters know can be “fussy” during the kiln firing, when pieces can explode under the high heat — but rather, from the designs she incorporates onto the finished work. Describing herself as a person who couldn’t draw a straight line with a ruler, Beck credits her friend, Irina, with the latest design of a sunflower.
“Her initial reply was, ‘Just draw one; it’s easy,’ at which I laughed. So she drew one for me to use. She’s a fabulous artist and it probably took her less than five minutes to draw the original sunflower that I am now using on my work. I call it Irina’s Sunflower.”
Patience and Persistence
Transferring the image onto each piece is time intensive, Beck says. After finalizing the design, she effectively creates a transferable decal by tracing the image onto newsprint paper, then applying multiple layers and colors of underglazing, each of which needs to fully dry before the next application.
When the transfers are finished she then makes the pottery pieces onto which the designs are to be applied, for example, the mugs. She throws multiple mugs, lets them dry to the proper stiffness (leather hard), makes the handles, trims the mugs, and then applies the transfers. It all takes patience, precision, and persistence.
Beck has sold her work throughout the country, including Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Indiana, Arizona, and of course, Washington. Her work has been juried into the Allied Arts Gallery at the Park in Richland, where she sells through the gift shop. She also participates in festivals and fairs, focusing on three events per year: an April and October bazaar in Patterson, WA, and a November event at the Calvary Chapel in Kennewick, the Make a Difference Bazaar. Throughout the year she brainstorms on what people will buy for spring, fall, and Christmas, with some of her regular customers offering suggestions on what they want her to make.
Happy Pottery and Sunflowers
Beck also teaches classes, one on one, in her studio. Between the teaching, the three yearly events, and, of course, the actual making of pottery, she keeps plenty busy. It is a busy-ness that is satisfying, and crowning that satisfaction is knowing that the people who buy her work have an opportunity to enjoy it every day. That’s her goal: making people’s day better through pottery.
“I want my work to make people smile,” Beck says. “I want it to make them happy, every time they use it.”
That’s a good goal. And it all started with one of those school projects . . .
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 5 p.m. from Monday through Friday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.