Artist Showcase: “Shifts and Changes in Clay” by Darlene Patterson and Kris Gruppe

Artist Showcase: “Shifts and Changes in Clay” by Darlene Patterson and Kris Gruppe

This September, local craftswomen and veteran Showcase Artists Kris Gruppe and Darlene Patterson will return to our Stephenson House gallery for their second joint exhibit with us. “Shifts and Changes in Clay” will feature work from both women representing the explorations each has faced in their craft. After meeting in the ceramics studio at Ball State University, the two found a mutual love of working with clay and a shared passion for nature. While Kris has worked traditionally in ceramics, she recently became interested in working with glass and metal and has played with new forms like beads and white clay mishima. As both a local art teacher and lifelong learner, Darlene’s newest work includes a selection of soda-fired pieces created at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. “Shifts and Changes in Clay” will be an exciting opportunity for both women to present the products of these new processes.

The staff of Nickel Plate Arts have enjoyed getting to know Kris and Darlene better in the past year, and we recently had the chance to catch up with them and learn more about the inspiration behind their upcoming exhibit. Read on to discover the similarities and differences between these two women artists.

What do you enjoy about making pottery?

Darlene: When I am working in the studio I am usually alone with some good music playing. It is my time to slow down and get centered. I tend to be more in the moment and focused on what I am doing instead of on everything going on around me. After a day in the studio I often think, “Wow! I made all that.”

What new projects are you working on right now? Any new techniques or challenges that you are exploring?

Darlene: The biggest “new thing” right now is the old electric kiln that a friend gave me. I am converting it into a soda/wood kiln. The beauty of it being so small is that I can fire it more quickly, seeing the results faster. Seeing the results, I can tweak the process and repeat. If I have a bad result, I have not lost a ton of work like I would in a Train kiln or a larger unit.

Kris: I am taking off in a different direction right now. I am playing with color and mixing glass and clay. My work had been fairly monochromatic but putting glass and ceramics together has changed my color palette.

How do glasswork and ceramics differ?

Kris: Glass is a rigid material, so you cut the glass and layer it. That creates your color scheme and the artist chooses the translucency or opacity with the glass type. Heating the glass into molds is one way of getting the material into a preferred shape. Temperature is varied for different looks. Clay, however, is a pliable material. The shape is determined by many factors. Hand building, throwing on the potters’ wheel, and slip casting are a few ways to shape clay. Color is produced by using various glazes, including both opaque and translucent colors. Clay body also effects glaze coloring as does the firing environment, whether that be in a pit, home kiln, or gas kiln, etc. – all create different glaze effects.

What do you like about working with these art forms?

Kris: I enjoy glass and clay both because to me the process is similar and challenging. I enjoy-two dimensional work. I like to hold it. Glazes are simply glass on a clay surface and glass is simply glass. What I enjoy about both are the fluidity of the material and the changes I can create with my hands and heat. We can take simple materials and add our voice. Everyone has a voice.

What is your experience in balancing a teacher’s schedule and making pottery?

Darlene: I find that when I am teaching, it is hard to go home and spend time in the studio. I am tired!!  It is easier to chill out with a good book or take a walk in my gardens. So, by scheduling gallery shows and art fairs, it gives me a real reason to get busy and get productive.

In what ways does your artwork represent you?

Darlene: I would probably say that my work that is most like me is the Wabi-sabi (the Japanese art of appreciating the beauty in the naturally imperfect world).  At times, I am a little wobbly and warped but artful just the same.

Kris: The first day I threw on the wheel I dreamt about the experience. I could feel it in my hands.

I am a quiet person and for me it is a quiet pursuit. I enjoy creating utilitarian items but not necessarily for use.  I create highly textured sculptural vessels, and I do love trays. They are like little canvases. Glass is a little flashier and I enjoy the pop of color. I find it more challenging because the material is a rigid and less forgiving. The color possibilities are endless, and I feel I’m still learning so much.

What has changed since last year’s showcase?

Darlene: I am excited about getting a soda/wood-fired kiln set up in my back yard and am working towards showing off the results of this new project.

Kris: I have added color to my pallet and have begun to look at glass as a compliment to my work.

“Shifts and Changes in Clay” will display in our Stephenson House gallery from September 1-29, including a special First Friday reception from 6-9pm on September 7. Many of the works will be for sale. Guests, patrons, and art aficionados are invited to attend the exhibit’s closing ceremony to meet the artists and enjoy refreshments on Saturday, September 29 from 11:30am – 4:30pm. Prior to the reception, visitors are welcome to view the exhibit during our gallery hours: Wednesday – Friday from noon-5pm and Saturday from 10am-5pm.

Casey Kenley
casey@caseykenley.com