A "Potsketch" can be anything the artist wants.
The term, invented for the Clay Studio of Missoula's annual fundraiser auction, remains the same as it was in 2004. Artists are mailed a piece of paper, 5 inches by 5 inches, that they can fill however they like. Over time, the sketches get "more elaborate, and people tend to try to outdo themselves," said Shalene Valenzuela, the nonprofit's executive director.
Some 70 artists are participating in this year's event, which also features ceramic pieces by well-known artists from Missoula and around the country.
The price point of the sketches has a democratic air to it. Regardless of the artist's name recognition, Valenzuela said, the prices start at $50 and reach a peak "assured bid" of $250.
"An emerging artist might make something elaborate and beautiful and have it sell for the maximum price," she said.
Many of the artists who donated are professionals or professors. Others like, Kelly Seitz, fall into the emerging artist category. The University of Montana art student and Clay Studio intern's "sketch" is really a functioning circuitboard with LED light displays and a clever sculpture of an insect. The lights work, and you can toggle between relaxed and frenetic patterns with a small remote control.
On the established artists' side, there are works by well-known names like Steve Glueckert, Adrian Arleo, Stephanie Frostad, M. Scott Miller and more.
Beth Lo, a ceramic artist who's shown her work around the country, contributed a special piece. Her mother, Kiahsuang Lo, was a traditional Chinese brush painter — her work is on label of Ten Spoon Winery's Cherry Blossom Wine — and the two frequently collaborated on art projects together. Kiahsuang died in February, almost 100 years old, and Beth took a small painting of a tree branches and added a drawing of a small child, a recurring motif of hers.
By giving artists free rein, the studio isn't limited to ceramicists. Steve Krutek, who teaches art at the University of Montana, has donated to Potsketch since the event was started in 2004.
In an email, Krutek said he donates because the studio, "carries forth the rich tradition of ceramics in Montana, which really has roots in the Bauhaus moment from early 20th century Europe."
"The Clay Studio propels this tradition through clay class offerings for students of all ages that are often taught by talented and renowned artists in the field of ceramics. I, for one, took a class at the Clay Studio over a decade ago with an artist-in-residence from Minnesota. I took this class in an effort to improve my self-taught wheel-throwing skills so that I could better meet the needs of the elementary and middle school students I was teaching art to at the time. I couldn't have been happier with the experience," he wrote in an email.
Julia Galloway, a ceramic artist and professor at the University of Montana, said she appreciates the simplicity of the sketch from a work-time standpoint, since artists can be flooded with requests to donate work to auctions.
New kiln needed
The studio, now located on the Westside of Missoula, marked its 20th anniversary last year. Its current space has an exhibition gallery and a sales gallery, plus kilns, studio rental space, and a classroom. The nonprofit hosts artists from Missoula and around the country for residencies, both for one- to two-year stints or shorter-term stints. While here, they teach classes and have the space and time to develop their art.
Last year, the auction raised about $42,500 in total income. This year, the "special ask" is to help replace their aging soda-fired kiln. The one they have now was built with donated and recycled parts. During firings, the brick walls are "constantly expanding and contracting." Not only does it become inefficient and unreliable, parts of the brick begin shedding and land on the pots and other art inside the kiln and damaging them. The studio plans on building a brand-new one on the same site.
More than sketches
Besides the 70-odd potsketches, the live auction has 26 pieces, and tables will have centerpieces up for grabs, too.
Among the notable pieces in the live auction is a large platter made by Warren MacKenzie that was donated by Galloway, the UM professor.
Mackenzie, who died on New Year's Eve at age 94, held a larger influence over contemporary ceramics in the 1970s and 1980s than anyone else, she said. He popularized to the United States a Japanese style and philosophy called mingei, in which artists accentuate the handmade qualities of their work.
She said the platter, about 18 inches across, is "a perfect representation of him as a potter and of the mingei style."
A proponent of the philosophy of the "unknown craftsman, and the value of the crafts and the handmade rather than the ego," she said MacKenzie stopped stamping his initial on his work, because people were buying it for the name rather than the object itself. (He reluctantly began stamping it again, since his idea only increased the prices for the signed pots.)
She also said it's difficult to find his work. He would leave his art in a basket outside his home in Stillwater, Minnesota, and people could pick things out and leave money.
He did show in a few galleries, including one in Berkeley, California. Galloway once had a show at the same space immediately after MacKenzie did, and was so proud that she bought a platter.
Since MacKenzie's is the subject of so much attention right now, she felt it was the best time to make a donation to the Clay Studio.
Some of the other artists who donated are Richard Notkin, whose work is on display right now at the Missoula Art Museum.
The studio's current residents donated art, such as a large wood-fired platter (Scott McClellan), a decorated serving pot (Andrew Rivera), an expressionistic figuartive sculpture (Elisha Harteis), and more.