The Clay Studio of Missoula’s now-virtual Potsketch auction, featuring more than 170 works by artists near and far, aims to extend its reach using an online format where people can bid from anywhere in the world.
The yearly fundraiser accounts for around a sixth of the nonprofit’s annual budget and organizers hope to match last year’s dollar amount despite having to cancel their in-person event.
“Last year we brought in about $50,000 and it would be great if we could meet that goal again this year,” said executive director Shalene Valenzuela. Bidding opened Thursday and a live virtual closing event is set for May 23 (see box for details).
While all of the artists in the show have some connection to the Clay Studio, many of them don’t live here. Valenzuela said one of the silver linings of holding a virtual event is it allows the artists not in Missoula to participate more actively. In the weeks leading up to the auction opening, the nonprofit has been interviewing Potsketch artists and posting the videos to social media.
“It’s been really nice to be able to work closely, connect and really feature and discuss the artists that make this event possible,” she said.
And because you don’t have to physically be in Missoula to bid on an auction piece, Valenzuela hopes they can reach more people, as the artists themselves share the auction link in their own communities.
“This kind of gives us a test run to see, how is this giving us a chance to engage beyond the region?” she said, adding she sought advice from Laura Millin at the Missoula Art Museum and Kia Liszak at the Zootown Arts Community Center, as both organizations recently held their own virtual auctions.
Started in 2004 by former director Jayson Lawfer, the Clay Studio sent out small 5-by-5-inch pieces of paper and a pencil to a set of artists and asked them to create a “potsketch,” or quite literally, a sketch of a pot. As the years have gone on, the show and artists involved have wonderfully blurred the lines between what is and is not a potsketch to include paintings, woven pieces, sculpture and more.
“It does stay in a small-scale format, and we do have a lot of people draw pictures of pots, but many create small-scale works not using paper,” Valenzuela said.
Monica Thompson and Maggy Rozycki Hiltner both used fabric to create their potsketches, with Hiltner sticking somewhat to tradition and depicting a tea set with the words “HOT POTS.”
Trey Hill’s ceramic antler piece and David Scott Smith’s mug featuring a corn cob face bring a three-dimensional element to the selections.
Others, like M. Scott Miller and Bob Phinney, harkened back to the early Potsketch days, both painting pots using watercolor.
Cathryn Mallory, whose potsketch is titled “Covid-19,” used copper wire and paper pulp to create a sculpture of the virus.
The Missoula artist and University of Montana professor was inspired back in February after seeing an infrared image of the virus and noticing the eerie dichotomy of its beauty masking its underlying deadliness.
“I really find those kinds of structures, cellular structures, so beautiful,” she said, adding the process for making the piece also symbolizes the spread of the disease.
Creating the sculpture involved a repetitive process of building layers and layers of wire to create a messy, entangled orb. If you look closely, you can see the paper used has words on it, although you can’t quite make out what anything says.
“The paper pulp was actually made from a Britannica encyclopedia and the section was on the human body and I shredded all that up and then, of course, soaked it and made the paper pulp out of it,” she said.
Water tinted rust colored with iron was used to give the pulp its creamy, orange tone. Whoever scoops up Mallory’s piece in the auction will have an artistic documentation of history.
All of the potsketches start at $50, which is meant to open the auction to a wider range of buyers.
“It makes the work a lot more affordable and accessible to a variety of people,” Valenzuela said, adding buyers who might not normally be able to afford a piece of fine art from their favorite artist because the works cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, can often nab one of their potsketches for much less.
There are also several ceramic pieces up for a formerly “Live,” now “Super Silent” auction, with bids starting at half the estimated retail value.
Adrian Arleo has a stoneware “Head Vase” in the show and Cathy Weber donated one of her bird sculptures titled “Three Red Wing Black Birds on a Branch.”
And if you’ve been on a quarantine sourdough kick along with the rest of the world, Joshua Kuensting crafted a sleek, earthy “Dough Bowl.”
During their live closing event on May 23, the Clay Studio artists in residence will talk about their favorite potsketches and show some of the pieces they’re currently working on in the studio. They’ll also hold a paddle raise with a goal of $15,000, which they hope to surpass.
While the studio is not sure when it will open back up to the public, Valenzuela said they’ve so far been able to keep staff on payroll and have been making plans for what reopening might look like while developing new online content in the meantime.
“We were optimistically looking at a really great year,” she said. “This is a huge blow, but we’re trying to roll with the punches.”
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