Monthly Archives: August 2014

Transforming Clay from the Simple to the Sublime: Three Fort Collins Artisans at Work

Chris Wolff Pottery

Chris Wolff of Fort Collins has made countless one-of-a-kind pieces of pottery over the years.

Have you ever wandered through an art fair or exhibit and marveled that there could be so many variations of a mug . . . or a pot . . . or a pitcher?

Besides their boundless imagination, artisans have an amazing number of down-to-earth choices for letting their creativity take form in clay.

My education in ceramics began unexpectedly on the Fort Collins Studio Tour late in June. If you read my post on August 6, you know about my visit with Susan Sternlieb, who showed me how a well-flattened slab of clay can slump to become a bowl.

Later on the tour I met three artisans who continued my education: Chris Wolff, Cindy O’Neill, and Heather Bartmann. Through them I began to grasp how many choices go into each one-of-a-kind ceramic piece. Continue reading

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With Fiber, Wire, and Strips of Glass, Megan Tilley Weaves Her View of Life

Megan Tilley's textile sculpture

Megan Tilley brings together her passion for both sculpture and weaving in this fiber and copper wire wall hanging.

In her home on the west side of Fort Collins, Megan Tilley surrounds herself with her art – and not just for the Fort Collins Studio Tour, when I met her. Permanent, focused lighting brings out the best in her wall hangings, mobiles, and sculpture. Her home has become both her studio and her gallery.

Megan calls her work collectively Raw Life Expressions. As she talked about it, I realized that what I need words to do, Megan does with fiber, metal, and glass. No wonder the results are so unique.

Megan specialized in sculpture during her undergraduate days as a fine arts major at Colorado State University. She took a weaving class simply to fill a requirement – but fell in love with it on the first assignment.

Now a loom sits across a corner of her living room with all the aplomb of a baby grand piano. Continue reading

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Handmade Furniture Takes a Woman’s Touch at Anne Bossert’s Studio

Furniture by Anne Bossert

The same dye that colors Anne Bossert’s textiles brings stunning color to birch, maple, and other woods she uses. (Photo by A. Bossert)

When I started planning “Handmade on the Front Range,” I wondered what I would say about artisans who work with wood. That’s a “guy thing,” right? Bulky equipment, saws, sawdust . . . What would interest female readers?

One of the joys of meeting artisans and learning about their work is having my preconceived ideas blown away. That’s what happened when I met Anne Bossert, fiber artist and furniture maker, on the Fort Collins Studio Tour.

Anne’s studio lies on the northeast side of Fort Collins, in one of the practical, no-nonsense-looking buildings a few blocks north of Mulberry Street. Not exactly the place where I would expect someone with artistic sensibilities to hang out.

Any skepticism evaporated the moment I walked inside. At the far end of Anne’s meticulously cleaned workshop stood three tables that made me gasp. Let me show you why. Continue reading

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Don’t Miss Fort Collins Studio Tour…Even If You Already Did

Fort Collins Studio Tour booklet

Summer essentials for the artisan aficionado …

Every year for four years, artisans and artists of Fort Collins have opened their studios to the public one weekend in June for a free event called Fort Collins Studio Tour. But here’s the catch: No one can take the entire tour in one weekend.

This year there were about 50 places to visit scattered all over Fort Collins and only 17 hours to get there.

So whether you toured what you could or missed the tour completely, you passed up studios worth exploring. It may be August, but it’s not too late to do some catching up.

Getting Acclimated to the Art Culture of Fort Collins

I’ve lived in Fort Collins for three years now, but this year was the first time that news of the tour caught my attention. I spotted it on the Lincoln Center’s website early in spring when I was looking for what was coming next to the Center’s art gallery.

The Lincoln Center – a hub for the performing and visual arts in Fort Collins – had organized the tour and would be promoting it with an exhibit of sample work by the tour’s artisans and artists. The Center’s tour booklet, handsomely printed on thick, glossy paper, gave me everything I needed to pick studios to visit and to connect them dot-to-dot in a customized route.

And so I set off on a weekend of surprises and delights.

Everywhere I went, artistic people had cleared and cleaned so visitors could really see their work and their creative space. No small feat.  Most of the 16 studios I visited occupied some area of the homes of the artists and artisans – sometimes outbuildings, often basements, and occasionally a room of the house. I was constantly aware of what a privilege it was to enter those private places.

How Slumping Gave Me a Lift

My tour began at a vintage house on Mountain Avenue, the home of Susan Sternlieb. Susan, an avid potter, greeted me graciously as I stepped into her living room. An inviting assortment of refreshments on her coffee table added to the spirit of hospitality which I would experience many times during the tour.

Susan Sternlieb consistently chooses a contemporary look for her pottery.

Susan Sternlieb consistently chooses a contemporary look for her pottery. This bowl was on display during the Fort Collins Studio Tour.

After giving me time to study her bowls, plates, and platters displayed around the room, Susan led me to her studio in the basement. On a large worktable she had thoughtfully laid out each step of the process of making a slumped bowl.

Slumped. I had often wondered what that word meant when I ran across it in pottery descriptions. Some magical process, surely. Susan picked up a well flattened, perfect circle of clay and set it on top of a ring maybe two inches high and somewhat smaller in diameter than the clay circle.

slumped bowl by Susan Sternlieb

Except for the pre-painted design, this slumped bowl will turn creamy white in the intense heat of the kiln.

I enjoyed a silent chuckle as I watched the clay slump into the middle of the ring. No magic necessary–just gravity. The edges of the clay spread out over the top of the ring, reminding me of the shape of a classic soup bowl.

After Susan had completed her demonstration and answered my questions, I moved on to the next thing that caught my eye: A large display rack of ceramic buttons in a variety of sizes, designs, and colors, unlike anything I’d seen before.

Ceramic buttons

Ceramic buttons caught my eye at Susan Sternlieb’s studio.

I thought of the artistic fashion creations I’d seen at the Lincoln Center earlier in the year. It occurred to me that if I were a fabric artist (which I’m definitely not), I would create a costume inspired by Susan’s ceramic buttons.

As I continued my tour to other studios, more warm welcomes and pleasant surprises awaited me. Each Wednesday this month I’ll be sharing more about the people I met, the items I saw, and the moments that captivated me.

How about you? What did you enjoy most on the tour? If you didn’t go on the tour, do you have a favorite artisan in Fort Collins? How about a favorite arts event? Please let me know by clicking “leave a reply” at the top of this page.

Susan Sternlieb’s contemporary pottery and buttons can be viewed by appointment. Email Susan at susans@frii.com. Check out more of Susan’s work in her album on Facebook.

 

 

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