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Clay dreams

Wren Wertin

The potter volunteers as a cat socializer at the Eagle County Animal Shelter, as well as a foster family for cats in need. Her passion, though, is playing in clay.

The local artist shows her work at Plaza Gallery in Vail and will be a part of the Studio Tour in August, when artists open up their studios to the scrutiny of anyone curious about what goes on behind those closed doors. As for Loper, she doesn’t mind an audience.

“It gives me a chance to clean up once a year,” she said, laughing. “I enjoy it.”

Loper creates both functional pieces and vessels that exist for their own sake. Preferring classic lines and traditional glazes (“I’m not into funky pots,” she said), Loper works with both high-fire and low-fire kilns. Taking inspiration from the world at large, she is currently creating vessels with the help of her horsey friends. When they comb the tails of their horses, they save the thick strands that come out. After taking a pot out of a low-fire kiln, Loper drapes the hair on the hot clay.

The glaze under the hair disappears and the clay is visible, creating a squiggly pattern. If the pot is too hot, the hair will simply incinerate; if it’s too cool nothing happens. If it’s the perfect temperature – magic. She’s been honing this skill for five years.

“I once had a teacher who told me, “If you don’t enjoy the process, there’s not a big enough bang about the end product,'” she said. “I love the whole process.”

Loper began throwing pots after a dinner party clean-up resulted in the shattering of one of her plates. Unable to buy a replacement, she enlisted the help of a friend to make her another. Neither the glaze nor the size was quite right, a fact she pointed out verbally. The friend issued a challenge to see if she could do any better, and Loper found herself in a class. An hour later, she was in love.

“I learned how to center and was hooked,” she said. “When you center, the clay isn’t pushing you. You’re pushing the clay.”

Thirty years later, she’s still at it. She’s experimented with all sorts of techniques, including raku.

“Since I come from a background of functional pottery, I have a strong feeling for the value of beauty in the common object,” she said. “The force and power of the fire has always amazed me, especially in the raku process. The results can be so unpredictable that each pot is individual, special and has a life and character of its own.”

A member of the artists co-operative Castle Clay in Denver as well as the Plaza, she’s busy moving pots around. By extension, so is her husband Bill.

“He carries cartons for me,” she said. “He says in his next life he’ll probably marry a jeweler.”

Is her house full of pots?

“Naturally,” she said. “Well, as many pots as can fit in a condo.”

They’re not all hers, though, as her clay love extends to other artists’ work. One of her prized possessions is a work by Akio Takamori, a Japanese potter living in Montana. His vessels are fanciful and lean toward the abstract. They’re often based on images of himself.

Loper has developed a following. If she has a signature functional vessel, it’s her casserole dish with distinctive handles, dubbed “The Loper Loop” by a friend.

“Most of my pieces are things unto themselves,” she said. “Flowers don’t necessarily help them.”

Ann Loper’s work can be seen at the Plaza Gallery in Vail. For more information call the gallery at 476-4477.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555 ext. 618.


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