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It's difficult to discuss Cori Crumrine's ceramics without talking about food.

The University of Montana graduate student has been told that her thesis exhibition, "Strange Rarities," reminds people of a pop-up shop or a candy store.

On a long, narrow pink table in the center of the gallery, she's arranged at least a hundred small circular forms of clay, each a pleasing and slightly different color or combination of colors. She likes the way it calls to mind a cafeteria line. Another 85 pieces line the walls in a staggered alternating rows, each piece resting on a tiny, individual wall pedestal.

"I use a lot of food terms for my pieces, like if I'm trying to figure out what else to add," she said. It might need a spread, or a spoonful of something. Some indeed looks like they've been dipped in a topping. Not that you should touch them, but they'd fit comfortably in your palm, just like a piece of fruit.

She's nicknamed her basic forms "lumpies," and she made about 400 in total for the show, although not all them fit into the gallery.

"My goal was to have so many pieces that there was an overwhelming amount of choice, but not so much that you were claustrophobic," she said.

She starts with a small handful of clay, and then wedges and shapes them by hand until they appear organic and familiar, somewhat like fruit or a confectionery form but not too close. "They don't mimic it enough that you would go, 'Oh, that's a peach,' " she said. Some have compressed, tube-like forms. Others have been wrapped in a thin sheet of clay in a different color, which she compared to fondue.

She likes how they all work together in the gallery, with the myriad variations in shape and color. Like she intended, they seem to have individual characters but as a group "there's not a clash of personalities going on."

Crumrine earned her BFA at Bowling Green State University in Ohio five years ago. Her work used to be white porcelain with small accents of color, but she felt they got lost when displayed in a white-walled gallery. In contrast, the palette in "Strange Rarities" ensures that nothing goes unnoticed.

Since she was a child, Crumrine has had a neurological condition called synaesthesia, in which some of the senses are crossed. In her case, she associates colors and sounds. She has a preference for jewel tones and pastels that she had to fight somewhat, forcing herself to tinker with colors that don't appeal to her.

"For me, orange has never been a color that has a nice sound associated with it," she said.

She found that if she diluted orange with some red to make a mango-like tone, it worked out fine.

During the three full weeks of glazing, she experimented with different effects. For some pieces, she lightly sprayed a glaze on top of another color to create a shimmery effect. She mixed some colored clay for a marbled effect that she'd like to explore in the future.

Crumrine, whose hair and winter hat match the mint-green color that she painted the gallery walls, has been told more than once that her art looks like her.

"I think that's great because there's nothing being lost in translation, apparently, between me and my hands when I'm making stuff," she said.

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Arts & Entertainment Reporter

Entertainment editor for the Missoulian.