Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - July 6, 2012

Love at first touch

Artisans share passion for clay, glass and the environment

by Lauren-Marie Sliter

Jan Schachter is "a functional person" and her ceramics reflect her personality: practical, but full of life.

Twenty years ago, it was her practicality that helped to create the Palo Alto Clay & Glass Festival, this year slated for July 14 and 15.

Likewise, her practicality filtered into her ceramic firing process when she installed solar panels at her home studio in Portola Valley two years ago. The panels have covered all of the electricity that her electric kiln uses.

"I was pretty excited about that," she said.

While attending the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, she and several other Peninsula artists began looking for a South Bay location to show off their work. And they found Palo Alto's Art Center.

"It's been incredibly successful," she said. The festival has grown since 1992, when it hosted 42 artists, now boasting 175 talents from around the Peninsula and beyond.

Even though the Clay & Glass Festival has been relocated to Rinconada Park due to renovations in the Art Center, Schachter said it is still a fantastic location.

"The venue is different, but we still have the spirit of the Art Center," she said.

Schachter said she mainly creates vessels: pots, casseroles, vases.

"I am inspired by traditional vessels in all cultures," she said, highlighting African and South American art as particular interests.

Schachter has been working with clay since she was 6, only taking a brief break from the medium to study microbiology in college.

While Schachter has tried other media, such as basket weaving, she has always come back to clay.

"I wish I knew why," she said. "I must be drawn to it in some way."

Part of what is exciting about working with clay for Schachter is its unpredictability. While a piece may look one way before entering the kiln, she said, it can come out the other side looking completely different.

"With clay there's always the final step of the firing," she said. "That leaves a question mark."

The festival's location beneath the park's trees, its community of skilled artists, art lovers and first-time attendees, and its atmosphere filled with chatter among the artists and admirers have made it a must-see event, Schachter said.

"It's in the heart of the Peninsula, which is a great demographic," she said. "It's become a destination."

The festival is not only a destination for attendees, but for many of the artists as well.

Beverly Crist, from Los Angeles, has been showing her ceramics at the festival for five years now.

Crist said she is amazed and inspired by the diversity of styles and crafts as well as the high quality and skill that the artists there share.

"I find the creativity and incredible assortment of styles and working methods on display to be inspirational," she stated. "Especially considering that the show is only clay and glass."

Crist uses native California plants not only as inspirations to her work, but as implements of texture for many of her pieces. She uses the leaves, flowers and other plants from her water-conserving garden to make stamps, which she impresses into her clay before firing.

"My garden is full of flowers, nesting birds and native insects," Crist stated in an email. "It inspires my artwork everyday."

Though her interest in California natives sprung up in the last decade, she has been creating works of art since she was a little girl.

"One of my grandmothers was an artist and she gave me art lessons and encouragement from a very young age. I loved drawing and making things from the start and still do," she stated.

Though she worked in other media, such as papier-mâché and printmaking, Crist has been working with clay for 20 years.

"Once I discovered clay it was love at first touch," she stated. "It is such a diverse media that it continues to excite me."

Though appreciating the environment is a constant source of inspiration for many artists, joy is what ultimately drives them to create.

Fred Yokel, who lives in Campbell, has been showing his ceramic work for 12 years at the Clay & Glass Festival. He first fell in love with the medium in high school.

"I took the pottery class and started throwing pots and I never looked back," Yokel said.

Yokel attended Sunnyvale High School and remained a Bay Area local and a clay enthusiast throughout college, where he studied ceramics, and his graduate studies in graphic design.

Much of his work depicts themes from nature, particularly images from the ocean and rock formations.

Recently, he has delved into creating human figures. Each piece is posed, depicting a brief moment in time, paused for all eternity.

"I try to reduce it to a moment," he said of his human figures.

For inspiration, Yokel people-watches, usually in San Francisco, Los Gatos or Campbell.

"I like street scenes," he said.

His figures are created from the feet up with what he calls clay "sloils," a combination between slabs and coils, molded together to create one uniform piece. He often uses a special firing process called raku, which involves placing each piece in a kiln until it is red hot, removing it and placing it on something combustible. Once the piece is on fire, he contains it, encasing it in smoke, giving each piece its own, slightly different texture.

"It's dangerous kind of, but very fun," Yokel said.

While a great deal of craft and technique go into his pieces, fun is one of Yokel's main motivations.

"It might be a cliché or not high on people's priority list, but I have fun doing this stuff," he said. "This is my bliss and I get lost in it."

What: Palo Alto Clay & Glass Festival

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, July 14, and Sunday, July 15

Where: Rinconada Park, 777 Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto

Cost: Free

Info: www.clayglassfestival.com, www.acga.net

Editorial Intern Lauren-Marie Sliter can be reached at lsliter@paweekly.com.

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