Pottery beginner transforms into artisan founder

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Just two years after taking her first pottery lesson, Deb Babcock is a founder of the Steamboat Clay Artisans, a guild of 40 local potters, and she has opened Blue Sky Pottery, a working studio and gallery, with potters Lance Whitner and Trigg Gerber.

From the moment she sat down at a potter's wheel, she was intent on mastering the art. She would sit for hours in Jonathan Kaplan's Ceramic Design Group studio, lifting and forming piles of clay.

Babcock was introduced to pottery through the Steamboat Springs Arts Council Docent Program. The Arts Council offered to volunteers a 15-part class that introduced them to all media from painting to textiles to ceramics.

"They showed you just enough to get your hands wet," she said. Though Babcock has been a painter for years, ceramics attracted her because of its usefulness.

"I like to paint. You can put it on the wall, but most of mine just ended up in the basement getting moldy."

The Docent class took her to the studio of potter Gail Holthausen and to Judy Day's and Biz Littell's Laloba Ranch Clay Center. She followed up her first experience with a class from Colorado Mountain College.

"My first pieces were so funny," Babcock said. "I would show my husband, and he would say, 'This will prop the door open nicely.' They were so heavy.

"I made him a cup, and he had to tip his head all the way back in order to drink out of it."

Learning to work with clay is a never-ending process, she said.

"There are so many kinds of clay and so many things you can do with it. Then you can add spouts and legs and animate your pieces," Babcock said. "I tend to get obsessive about things so I spent a lot of time at it. Since I retired, this (and the Master Gardening program) has been a nice outlet for me."

Blue Sky Pottery opened in May, but this weekend's sale and open house is the first time the partners officially have opened their door to the public.

Babcock, Gerber and Whitner met at Kaplan's studio. They were renting space from him. Friendships formed, and the three women would schedule their studio time so they would be there at the same time.

As their skills improved, the three women talked about opening a pottery business.

"But Ceramic Design Group is not set up to run a business out of there," Babcock said. "We decided to find a space and share the costs."

They found a two-room studio on Copper Ridge Drive and invested in an electric kiln. They lined the walls with wooden shelves to hold their latest work and took turns at the wheel.

Gerber's latest work is hand-built rather than wheel-thrown, which gives it a primitive feel.

Whitner is working on a series of colanders and berry bowls painted with bright colors.

Blue Sky Pottery is open to the public but is not a retail store.

"We didn't want to be tied to set hours, but anyone can call for an appointment," Babcock said.

Babcock hopes that this weekend's open house will make people feel more comfortable to come by the studio at other times.

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