Category Archives: Ceramics

Playing with Clay Becomes an Art in the Hands of Kristin Gruenberger

In the playful spirit of today’s subject, let’s start with a riddle: When is a pot not a pot?

Ceramic vessels become playful creations by Kristin Gruenberger

Kristin Gruenberger’s playful ceramic creations begin with wheel-thrown pots like these.

Answer: When it’s joined with other pots to become something else. In the picture below, ceramic artist Kristin Gruenberger holds some of the pieces pictured above. When she holds them in this order, do they remind you of anything? Think transportation and 1800’s. Continue reading


Crystalline Glaze on Porcelain: Signature Look of Pine Pottery

This month Handmade on the Front Range celebrates its first anniversary. In August of 2014, it launched with a four-part series on artisans who had participated in the Fort Collins Studio Tour earlier in the summer. The first of the series featured potter Susan Sternlieb, who showed me how she slumps ceramic bowls and platters. The last of the series featured Heather Bartmann and Cindy O’Neill, who introduced me to the potter’s wheel, along with Chris Wolff, a master of raku firing.

Crystal detail on pottery by Diana Begner

Diana Begner uses self-formulated crystalline glazes for a unique look on her Pine Pottery. This crystal is a small detail on a platter she displayed at Evergreen’s Summerfest.

Since last year’s studio tour, I’ve seen many displays of beautiful ceramics as I wander art festivals along the Front Range in search of intriguing handmade items and their creators. Always I’ve wondered what new information I might be able to share about the ceramic artists’ process. When I came to the Pine Pottery booth last month at Evergreen’s Summerfest, the possibilities became clear – crystal clear, I might say.

Crystals on porcelain or porcelain-like clay give Pine Pottery by Diana Begner its signature look. Glistening randomly on numerous pieces of functional ware, they reminded me of flowers or stars or ice on my window on a wintry morning.

How did Diana achieve that look? That was my first question — but that was just the beginning of what she would share with me at her studio two weeks later.

Crystalline glazes on functional ware by Diana Begner

Pottery of porcelain-like clay with crystalline glazes were on display at the Pine Pottery booth during Summerfest in Evergreen, Colorado.

Continue reading


Springtime in Kansas Means Redbud Trees, Tulips, and Elk Falls Pottery

Redbud tree in bloom south of Wichita, Kansas

Redbud trees bloom in Kansas early in April in the wild and in towns. This photo was taken in a suburb of Wichita.

Even bloggers have to go on vacation sometime. Last week my husband and I traveled to Kansas to visit family and to enjoy southeastern Kansas in its springtime glory. The tulip displays at Wichita’s Bontanica are phenomenal, and redbud trees – a favorite of mine – bloom in the wild and in towns early in April.

In the midst of roaming country roads to view redbud trees growing wild, we dropped by Elk Falls. This quiet town of about 100 residents, almost 70 miles southeast of Wichita, has been the home of Elk Falls Pottery for 39 years. Founders Steve and Jane Fry turn out thousands of mugs and other pottery items every year from high-quality clay Steve digs out of Kansas earth.

I had seen pictures of their work on Facebook and wondered how they produce mugs with all types of logos and letters. Steve and Jane showed me not only how they make them but also how Steve makes the clay from which they are thrown. Continue reading


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


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 Check out more of Susan’s work in her album on Facebook.