Primitive pottery produces archeological aesthetic

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Although potter Barb Gregoire has shown her work in several exhibits and sales, there is a part of her that considers this weekend's Steamboat Clay Artisans Holiday Pottery Sale her debut.

On Tuesday, Gregoire had just pulled several bowls from a kiln in the back room of her house. The bowls were crackling and audibly condensing as they cooled, and the sound could be heard throughout the house.

What: Steamboat Clay Artisans Holiday Pottery Sale When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday Where: Depot Art Center, 1001 13th St. Call: 846-3937

Gregoire is a fifth-grade teacher at Strawberry Park Elementary School. Her summer was free, and her daughters are grown. She spent the entire time working at her potter's wheel and growing her gardens. During the three months of shaping clay, something changed in Gregoire and in her work.

"I feel that I've grown so much from the first time I showed my work," she said. "I have so much more confidence at the wheel. I can have a vision of what I want and make it happen."

Gregoire was introduced to pottery as a school teacher in Laramie, Wyo., more than 15 years ago when a parent brought in a small potter's wheel.

"I started playing with that clay, and I was addicted," she said. "I close my eyes sometimes just to feel the clay. It's so amazing to see a lump of clay and see it become something."

Gregoire's work is a diverse mix of functional and decorative as she moves between firing techniques and experiments with her glazes. She hasn't found one thing to focus on yet, she said. But her signature work tends to be raku-fired jars that remind the viewer of water vessels one might find on an archeological site.

The jars have slight, purposeful imperfections that give them a rustic quality.

"It's important to me to throw properly," she said. "It took me a long time to be able to get my pieces symmetrical. Now, if a plate is uneven, it's because I want it to be. I can say I did it on purpose."

She fires them in pits in her back yard in Milner, enjoying the black carbon marks that climb up the sides of the pieces.

Gregoire's favorite firing technique is called Sagger (or Saggar) firing. She fires the jars in pits she digs in her garden. Salt, moss, seaweed and baking powder leave their mark on the vessels. She sprays the jars with rubbing alcohol in a process called fuming and puts them in the pit. The alcohol burns away, leaving an unpredictable design.

She lays horsehair on the side of a jar and watches the carbon mark it leaves as it burns away.

"It's fun to experiment," she said. During the summer, Gregoire took a workshop from Matt Long at Laloba Ranch. He showed her how to use a covering of slip (liquid clay) on her more rigid pieces to add movement.

When the school year began again, Gregoire returned to work and pottery returned to its place as a hobby she turns to in the evenings.

"I'm glad I love teaching," she said. "It makes it easy to go to work when I could just play in the clay all day."

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