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Gathering of the Guilds: Synan-Russell is all about faces

by: Jennifer Hardin Margaret Synan-Russell, former president of Oregon Potters Association, is a featured ceramics artist in the Gathering of the Guilds April 29, 30 and May 1.

When Margaret Synan-Russell sits at a bus stop or any place else in public, she watches faces and does quick sketches.

"I've always been intrigued by watching people, their different faces and expressions," says Synan-Russell, a featured artist in the Gathering of the Guilds this weekend at the Oregon Convention Center. "Even though you think you know people well, you never know what's really going on with them.

"I could be looking at somebody, and I don't know what's going on in their brain. They have a smile on their face, but they might not have a smile in their heart. They might be thinking mean thoughts."

Synan-Russell's sketches turn into baked-and-glazed clay wall relief pitches, where "the expression of the person is slowing leaking out, coming out of the wall."

She also attends Oregon Ballet Theatre and other events, sketches and transfers them into works of art.

Interestingly, some of her most recent pieces have no faces. She calls them "winged spirits," and their shape and color tell the story more than faces would.

Synan-Russell, a past president of Oregon Potters Association who lives in Southeast Portland, has been working with ceramics since high school. She grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and spent years in early adulthood traveling extensively throughout the country. She has visited every U.S. capital and every U.S. national park.

Juneau, Alaska is her favorite capital, in the Southeast part of the state. "I love that it's so far away from the rest of Alaska, and it's tucked away against the mountains," she says. Bryce and Zion national parks in Utah are her favorites, because they are also in the mountains.

Her travels helped inspire her art. "Working with clay, and having that connection to the Earth," says Synan-Russell, whose love of the wilderness has also led her to helping build two cabins in the woods.

The Gathering of the Guilds will be held from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 29 and 30, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 1, at the Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Admission is free.

Gathering of the Guilds brings together artists from several different genres, including ceramics, woodworking and glassmaking.

Among the other artists to be featured at the Gathering of the Guilds:

• Ed Kornbrath takes making memorials to another level, transferring photos on to clay and stone.

• Konky Forster, a ceramicist, combines clay with collage.

• Adrienne Stacy uses backyard debris such as leaves and moss in her art.

• Natalie Warrens uses a signature crow in her pottery, and she has helped organize an Oregon Potters Association exchange program with Japan.

• Stephanie Schultz makes glazed porcelain from Mt. St. Helens ash, which her father collected after the 1980 eruption.

• Jeanne Henry makes photo-realistic bas relief, exploring two- and three-dimension.

• Anya Jackson draws inspiration from Moorish design and patterns in small bowls, her father being from Egypt.

• Elisabeth Cook Sullivan, who has lived in 11 states and attended 13 schools as part of a military family, makes portrait sculpture, political art, primitive bird houses and ceramic Tibetan prayer flags.