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About the cover

Arts Exposure

Down-to-Earth Artistry

Silver City's second annual clay festival, July 27-August 4, celebrates artists through the ages who aren't afraid to get their hands dirty.

by Richard Mahler



"The work of the world," poet Marge Piercy wrote, "is common as mud. Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust. But the thing worth doing well done has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident."

clay 1
Lee Gruber, founding director of the Silver City CLAY Festival.
(Photo by Jessie Thetford)

Certain basics, like air and water, are so ubiquitous as to become invisible. So it is with mud — and, to be more specific, the variety of dirt we call clay. Yet spend only a few minutes in New Mexico and you'll know we love this stuff. It affects every resident and visitor, from poor to rich and all those in-between. This is the state's iconic building material, whether dried adobe or fired red brick or even contoured tile. Clay comprises much of our modern-day pottery, terracotta facades, ceramic fixtures and decorative tile. It gives voice to the ancients through thousands of artifacts scattered across our landscape.

"There are so many different elements of our New Mexico culture that relate to clay, earth, dirt, and mud," observes Lee Gruber, co-founder and co-owner, with husband David del Junco, of Syzygy Tileworks in Silver City (see "Feats of Clay," July 2012). Clay, she says, "is the perfect vehicle for building a collaborative effort to put this region on the map in many ways."

"Get Down to Earth: The Silver City CLAY Festival" is the second appearance of the annual midsummer event. As the name implies, Gruber's brainchild is a community-wide celebration of virtually all things earthen, with a packed nine-day schedule unfolding in various Grant and Catron County locations between July 27-August 4. This is an increase in length of several days over the August 2012 premiere.

"We are hosting workshops by some of the most talented and nationally recognized clay artists in their fields," Gruber proudly points out. "Local artists, museums and businesses are collaborating to make this year's event better than ever. Anyone interested can participate in a weeklong series of workshops, tours, exhibitions, lectures, gallery openings, demonstrations and films. Visitors and locals can enjoy the bounty of activities for all age groups and still find time to visit the great Gila Wilderness as well as area restaurants, and shops, or to relax at our hotels."


According to retired WNMU ceramic arts professor Claude Smith III, "no other place in the country is doing a festival like this. I think that's great, because no other state has the kind of historic traditions involving clay that New Mexico has, going all the way back to the Pueblo people and other indigenous cultures. No other event in the US is trying to raise awareness (of such traditions) the way this one is."

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Potter Jared Carpenter. (Photo by Jessie Thetford)

A leading area clay artist himself, Smith also is a juror for one of this year's festival exhibitions and is making a set of custom tumblers for the opening-night gala. "When it comes to the overarching theme of clay," Smith says, he is pleased to see the 2013 schedule address "what has been, what is here now, and what will be in the future. We are a strong arts community and this celebration gives us a real shot in the arm."

Lee Gruber sees the clay festival as a way to boost local economic activity "from the ground up," so to speak, by involving a diversity of businesses, museums, non-profit groups, schools, government agencies and individuals. This year, for example, Silver City's Leyba & Ingalls Arts offers a wheel-throwing demonstration by Sara Pineda and Yada Yada Yarn presents ClayGround with Jared Carpenter, while Alotta Gelato will again offer its "mud pie" gelato. The Manzanita Ridge vintage furniture store, several downtown restaurants, and various area galleries also will have special tie-ins to the festival.



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