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Showcasing an ancient art

Local potter Bev Curtis co-chairs annual Ceramic Showcase at convention center
by: Carole Archer, Bev Curtis of Gresham throws a pot on Thursday, April 19, at her home studio. She is preparing for her fourth year selling pottery at the Oregon Potters Association’s Ceramic Showcase, May 4-6, at the Oregon Convention Center.

Gresham potter Bev Curtis remembers the first time she sunk her hands into clay. She was 6 years old, forming little animals with her grandmother in the Rocky Mountains.

'I can remember the squishy feeling,' Curtis says. 'I just love that. I still love it.'

Clay spoke to her and would be a theme throughout her life. Now 56, Curtis is gearing up for the biggest pottery show in Oregon and one of the biggest in the Northwest. She joined the Oregon Potters Association five years ago and this year is co-chairing the show.

'It's hard to believe,' she says. 'Five years ago, I was attending meetings, feeling humbled to be in the same company as all these amazing potters, and now I'm co-chairing the show.'

A warm, earthy round vase made by Curtis graces the postcard for this year's show, which runs Friday through Sunday, May 4-6, at the Oregon Convention Center.

Two weeks before the show, Curtis is remarkably organized and prepared with plastic tubs lining her garage filled with bubble-wrapped vessels, vases, casserole dishes, plates, bowls and cups. This year, Curtis will add jewelry to her repertoire.

'We'll see how that goes,' she says, laughing. 'My friends seem to like them.'

Curtis is a generalist in her pottery, trying her hand at everything from wood fire to raku to soda fire. A bit of a Renaissance woman, she's an 'old hippie,' with a bumper sticker on her fridge proclaiming, 'Tree-hugging dirt worshipper.'

Pottery, one of Earth's oldest art forms, resonates with Curtis in an ancient, timeless way.

She describes a trip to Belize when she persuaded a taxi driver to take her to some Mayan ruins archaeologists were just unearthing. When she arrived, the bumpy long trip was worth it, she says.

'I actually saw these workers pulling out pots that were between 500 and 600 years old,' she says. 'It almost made me weep to see them.'

The functionality of pottery is a big draw for Curtis.

'I like to make pottery that people will use in their lives,' she says. 'That is something that has been going on for centuries, eons, for millennia. That's what pottery has been to people. It's for food, for storage and also for beauty.'

Curtis was an art major at Portland State University before transferring to Oregon State University to graduate with a master's in environmental engineering. She worked as a mechanical engineer for many years before tiring of 'the rat race' and becoming a full-time potter about five years ago.

Curtis and more than 250 potters from around the state will be exhibiting their work in booths or the gallery at this year's ceramic showcase.

Many collectors make a pilgrimage to the annual show, making a beeline for their favorite potters' booths.

This year's event will feature a series of birdhouses in the lobby, a benefit for Habitat for Humanity and the Audubon Society.

A children's booth will let the young people get their hands in the squishy stuff, and a potter's wheel will be available for adults who want to brave throwing a pot.

A highlight this year will be four renowned Mexican potters demonstrating and displaying their work, ranging from Zapotec to Tonala styles.

'I look forward to this every year,' Curtis says. 'I just wish we could slow down time because it's so fun. There's such a sense of community among the potters. It all goes by in such a whirlwind.'

Oregon Potters Association Ceramic Showcase

What: The Oregon Potters Association presents the 2007 Ceramic Showcase, featuring more than 250 potters from around the state in booths and in a gallery section.

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

When: From 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, May 4, and Saturday, May 5, and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, May 6.

Look for: East County artists Bev Curtis, in booth I-02, and Bob McIlhattan, who will have a piece in the gallery.

Kid-friendly: The show will feature a children's clay play area, staffed by OPA volunteers.

Notable: Four renowned potters from Mexico will display their work and demonstrate their skills at the showcase. Aunt and niece Alberta Sanchez Mateo and Macrina Mateo Martinez, both Zapotec potters, will show how they form and burnish red vessels. Angelica Vazquez Cruz, from Oaxaca's largest pottery village Santa Maria Atzompa, will demonstrate her ornate work, which includes mythic figures that tell the stories of the area. Finally, Angel Santos Juarez, of the legendary pottery town Tonala, Jalisco, will demonstrate the Tonala style of pottery, which uses an ancient polychrome burnished finish that is stone-polished before being fired.

For more information: Call Michael Moullet at 503-657-2783.