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Tigard artist infuses functional objects with breath, grace

Deborah Shapiro will open her studio to share ceramic creations


by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ -  Deborah Shapiro holds a plate she made at her studio in Tigard. Her work is both beautiful and functional. Shapiro is participating in the annual Portland Open Studios and in the Washington County Open Studios.  TIMES PHOTO:  JAIME VALDEZWhen Deborah Shapiro sits down to throw a pot in her Tigard studio, she often has company at the wheel next to hers: her husband André.

“He quit his high-tech job to work with me,” Deborah said. “He took beginning ceramics about six times when we lived in Santa Barbara, and he says I’m the artist, and he’s the con artist.

“He works in my style. Most people say they can’t tell his work from mine. We use original glazes and forms, and the choice of the porcelain clay is mine. Most people think my work has an Asian flair.”

Deborah is among the 104 artists participating in the upcoming Portland Open Studios set for Oct. 13-14 and 20-21, when people can drive around to studios all across the region to meet artists, watch them at work and purchase their pieces. Deborah is also participating in the Washington County Artists Open Studios set for Oct. 20-21.

In addition to creating beautiful pieces, Deborah and André make them useful and practical. That is what people today want, she said.

“Most of what we make is functional and useful,” Deborah said. “It is not meant to be put on a shelf. Anything meant to hold food is microwavable and dishwasher-safe.

“The porcelain is fired to a higher temperature because it is made to be used in the kitchen, and it won’t chip.”

The couple was renting part of a beautiful 2 1/2-acre estate in Santa Barbara in the 1980s but felt like birds in a gilded cage and decided they wanted their own place. They looked at several cities in the Northwest before settling in Tigard.

“This was perfect,” Deborah said. “If you work hard enough, you find good luck.”

The couple moved to Tigard in 1991 into an old house on Southwest McDonald Street with a huge detached garage they thought would be perfect for a studio.

“We bought this house because of the outbuilding,” Deborah said. “The house was a total wreck inside, but we thought we could deal with it later. We say it’s our 20-foot commute.”

They set up two wheels plus three electric kilns inside the garage, and outside there also is a gas kiln.

“When we’re getting ready for a show, we have them all fired up,” Deborah said.

She grew up in Culver City, Calif., and while in high school took an elective class at a ceramics studio in West Los Angeles.

“Those were the cool kids who did that,” she said. “It was very appealing. But in college the art majors got all the art classes, and I was majoring in modern dance. I later realized that you can do pottery a lot longer than you can dance, but I wasn’t thinking of that then.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Artist Deborah Shapiro shapes a spoon holder at her studio in Tigard. Deborah, who earned a bachelor of art degree in modern dance, said, “I loved it and still do, but I couldn’t keep doing it with my bad knees. Potting was a hobby for a long time.”

Her hobby led her to take a class on the Greek island of Samos in 1981, and in 1987, she became a potter full time, naming the business Shapiro Porcelain.

Deborah and André now have a permanent space at Portland’s Saturday Market, plus they do seven or eight outside shows a year, which frees up their space at the market for those on the long waiting list.

Sometimes, as in the case of the Portland Open Studios, Deborah will hold down the fort at their home studio while André runs their space at the Saturday Market.

“We’ve done shows in Salt Lake City and Boise, and we go to Washington,” Deborah said. “Saturday Market is open Thanksgiving through Christmas, so if the market is open and we’re not on our deathbed, we are there.”

Deborah and André are constantly building up their stock, which includes many steps in the creative process before putting price tags on the pieces and loading up their van.

“Some days before a show, we are here in the studio from morning until five minutes before we brush our teeth at night,” she said. “You bring more stuff to a show than just the pottery. There are tables, table covers, wrapping materials, sacks, Visa equipment. It’s like setting up a store for a weekend. The list is long.

“When we went to Salt Lake City, we forgot the table covers and spent hours looking for black stretchy fabric at fabric stores.”

How many pieces do they take to a show?

“We take at least two to three times what we think we can sell, so that at the last minute of the last day, the tables look like they were just set up,” Deborah said. “We always bring stuff home. You get to know what to expect at each show.

“We don’t make anything from molds. I’m kind of a perfectionist, but I don’t take each piece so seriously that I don’t still have fun doing it. I’ve been throwing pots for 40 years, and if you make a mistake, you just go on.”

The Shapiros’ annual goal is to get all their pieces done by the end of October so they can take some time off in November before the Saturday Market heats up for the holiday season.

“Twenty percent of our annual income comes in during that time thanks to Christmas,” Deborah said. “People purchase some pieces to give as gifts, and others are collectors and want to add to their collection.

“We try to add new pieces each year, and it’s fun to do. We also get free advice from people as to what we should do.”

Her newest line features drawings of nude figures on platters.

“I started a drawing group, and we pay professional models to pose,” Deborah said. “I find it hard to paint from a photo — I much prefer drawing a live person. I’m doing a series of platters — they are more decorative. I knew I could pot, but I didn’t know I could draw. I have found I love drawing.

“I started selling them 1 1/2 years ago. I think I’ve sold 28. I sketch with a graphite stick and go over it with a black underglaze crayon.”

Deborah said they keep their prices reasonable. “We try to keep our prices pretty low.”

In the Washington County Artists Open Studios’ brochure, Deborah explains what drives her creativity:

“The gestural designs in the glazes add an accent to the abstract dance. While my goal remains to infuse functional objects with breath and grace, the work itself is suddenly changing. I want energy, excitement, movement and surprise. These qualities used to be found mostly in the gestural glaze designs but have evolved into the clay contours themselves with spirals creating the undercurrent for motion in the forms.”

For more information on Shapiro Porcelain, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 503-624-5780.



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