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Guest potters break mold

Japanese artists join Mt. Hood college instructors at annual pottery show
by: John Klicker, Nobu Kosai, renowned potter from Sapporo, Japan, demonstrates his style of throwing pots Wednesday, April 16, to Mt. Hood Community College ceramics students Cody Taylor, center, and Sam Morise, right, two of 20 students gathered at the college ceramics studio. Kosai will be showing his work with 24 members of the Hokkaido Pottery Society at the Ceramic Showcase to be held at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland from April 25-27.

When Stephen Mickey first came upon the Oregon Ceramic Showcase, he knew leaving the Midwest for Mt. Hood Community College would reap artistic benefits.

'There's nothing like this in Illinois,' said Mickey of the annual show sponsored by the Oregon Potters Association (OPA). 'When I got here, I thought, 'Gosh, is this ever cool.' It's probably the best-organized guild show in America.'

Ceramic Showcase 2008 will be held Friday through Sunday, April 25 to 27, at the Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. MLK Jr. Blvd, Portland. The 26th annual event will feature more than 200 artists from Oregon and Southwest Washington showing their pottery, sculpture and other works of clay.

Several participating artists are students and instructors at Mt. Hood, where Mickey is department chair of the Visual Arts Department. The 15-year college veteran said the event is a full-blown celebration of pottery.

'For people interested in pots, it's really a highlight for the year,' he said. 'There's really a variety of work, from conventional pottery to sculptural ceramics.'

The free event features hands-on demonstrations and the sale of pottery and artworks in 152 booths. Other features include: a high school ceramics show with juried work of students from 15 area schools; flower arranging using vessels made by OPA members; schools presenting information about ceramics programs; garden spheres created and donated by potters to raise funds for art education and scholarships; hands-on clay areas for those who want to experiment; a sculptural garden; and a Japanese tea ceremony.

The latter feature is a nod to this year's special treat: a group of 15 potters visiting from Sapporo, Japan, Portland's sister city. Three members of the Hokkaido Pottery Society visited in 2005 after Mt. Hood ceramics student Blaine Dixon of the OPA took a trip to Japan and liked what he saw.

Mt. Hood instructors are making sure their students get plenty of interaction with the Japanese artists. Three of them are returning from the 2005 visit. One, Nobu Yoku Kosai, has been working on his wood-fired sculptures for the past several days at Mt. Hood - much to the delight of students and instructors.

'We were fortunate to have Nobu,' Mickey said. 'He's been demonstrating and helping students, doing great hands-on stuff students don't ordinarily get a taste of.'

Kosai specializes in traditional unglazed ceramics using the 'river of flame' of a wood kiln and its resulting fly ash that creates arresting patterns and textures on pots and sculptures.

'He's satisfied to explore the tradition fully without feeling he has to modernize,' Mickey said. 'He makes really remarkable pieces.'

Natalie Warrens, adjunct faculty member at Mt. Hood, said guest artists such as Kosai represent the freedom of the yearly Ceramic Showcase. And the fact that it's a non-juried show adds to the event's eclectic spirit.

'What makes it special is that we are free to show a variety of works made of clay,' she said. 'It leaves the door wide open for interpretation and experimentation. At lots of other juried shows, you really have to stay within the parameters of the applications and styles of work.'

Warrens, a former OPA president, will be involved in an art exchange program next year in Sapporo, Japan. She will help curate Oregon-based work for the September 2009 show that will highlight Oregon and other American artists' works.

Gresham resident Dorothy Steele, who operates the Ross Island Pottery studio at 100 S.E. Woodward St. in Portland, said she looks forward to the camaraderie of the showcase every year.

'It's just a wonderful collaboration and celebration of clay,' she said. 'You get together with your peers working in the same area and see what they're doing.'

Having high school students participating is another highlight.

'We really promote the education of clay at the shows. It gives kids an opportunity to show off their works,' Steele said.

As he helps students get their works ready for the weekend show, Stephen Mickey marvels at Kosai, whose skills easily overcome any of his shortcomings with the English language.

'There doesn't seem to be a language barrier between his hands and the students' minds,' Mickey said. 'If we can't understand each other, we just start doing. Then we understand.'

Showcase info

What: Ceramic Showcase 2008, the Oregon Potters Association's 26th annual show and sale featuring more than 300 artists, displays, workshops, shows and ceremonies.

When: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday through Saturday, April 25 through 26; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 27; awards and music 6:30 to 9 p.m. Friday, April 25.

Where: Oregon Convention Center, 777 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Portland.

How much: Free.

Information: www.ceramicshowcase.com