Interview by Juanita Canzoneri
Deb Hager joined Commonwheel about the same time as the floods hit Manitou Springs in 2013. She had been in Green Horse Gallery in Manitou Springs prior to applying to the co-op.
As a child Deb was always playing in the dirt around her home. The neighborhood of Penn Hills outside Pittsburgh, PA was under construction so there were dirt piles everywhere. “I had the most gracious mom. I’d be out playing in the dirt, making swimming pools for my Barbies. And when it was time to come in for lunch, she’d just hose us off, we’d eat lunch, and then we’d go back out to the dirt piles.”
Deb attended Indiana University in Pennsylvania as an art major. Her passions were for drawing and painting. When she had to take a 3-D class she took a clay class and wasn’t very happy about it. “I kept practicing and practicing, and I was the worst one in my class,” Deb says. “Everyone else was centering (their wheel-thrown pots), but me.”
One day she was so frustrated with her progress the professor found her crying in her clay. He was able to show her where she had been getting stuck and, with that guidance, she just took off. “Because it didn’t come easy to me, because I had to work so hard at it” she says, “I kind of fell in love with it.” Once she learned wheel throwing, she became mesmerized by the whole process. “You have this nothing lump and then you make this something that people are using.”
Deb’s husband, Denver, was in the military and wherever they were stationed she would teach classes in ceramic shops and teach art lessons just to keep her hand in it. When they moved to Colorado in 1995, she became a wheel-throwing potter at Van Briggle. That’s where she began developing her own style of work. Until then her pots were plain and undecorated.
In 2007 their youngest child was a senior in high school. Denver mentioned to Deb that she had money from the military to use to go back to school herself. While looking for schools she attended the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) convention for the first time. At that convention she fell in love with soda firing and knew at that point she needed leave Van Briggle and go back to school.
While she was training her replacement at Van Briggle, she learned about the ceramic program at Colorado State University in Pueblo. One of the courses of study they teach is soda fired ceramics. So that was where she decided to go.
But her fear of the computer hindered her from enrolling. So, Denver called the college and had one of the professors talk her through the enrollment process. Denver then helped her with her military paperwork and financial forms while her children taught Deb basic computer skills. So just getting her into college was a family affair. And they did it all in less than 6 months. “It was one of the greatest gifts of my life. It did things for me that I would never have believed It could do for me.”
While working with the other students she realized what she wanted to do was draw and paint on her pots. She enjoyed drawing and painting for years and wanted to add that to her pottery. And she noticed another student scratching into his pots, and she added sgrafitto (incised or scratched lines) to her designs.
One of Deb’s long-standing designs is her dragonfly pottery. She adds the dragonflies, always in pairs, to the raw pottery pieces before they are bisque fired using black underglaze and a bamboo brush. She has the design down to 7 strokes per dragonfly—the 4 wings, the body, and the 2 eyes. She hasn’t varied her technique because it takes her back to her early love of calligraphy.
Once the piece is bisque fired, she puts a wax resist on the dragonflies and glazes the piece. In the final firing the wax resist burns off and the dragonfly texture stands in contrast to the gloss of the glazed surface.
Deb makes her own glazes and enjoys the excitement and mystery of mixing the tactile ingredients that will become colors and textures on her finished work. “There are so many talented potters in this area. I realized I needed to make glazes that are different from everyone else’s.” She’s worked hard to steer her color palette so that it is unique to her work.
How long have you been part of Commonwheel?
I have been a member of Commonwheel for just over a year.
What does making art mean to you?
Making art is a way to take the creative ideas that are inside my head and give them physical form. There is great satisfaction in using a simple ubiquitous material—clay—to create something useful, sculptural or thought provoking.
What are you currently working on?
I recently built a soda kiln and this type of firing process is my current obsession. I have fired my kiln 10 times and I feel I am just starting to scratch the surface on getting my work to a place where I can expect some reliably, consistent results. This is all part of the intrigue and excitement of starting a new process.
Tell us about your process. Walk us through the steps of your flowing creativity to achieve one of your works.
In a soda kiln, you spray a mixture of soda ash (sodium carbonate) dissolved in hot water into the kiln at high temperature (2300). This is carried through the kiln and onto the surface of the clay pieces reacting to the silica and alumina in the clay body creating a glazed surface and reacting with other surface decorations.
What emotions/reactions/thoughts do you want to cause/explore/achieve on the public looking at your artwork?
When people look at my work, I hope they try to discover the nuances of the making process and the surface decorations that are transformed through the soda firing that is both science and magic. Perhaps they will pick up a piece to see that the foot has been cut in a subtle but particular way or that a carved line has picked up the soda from the kiln to cause a slight variation in color and see that the small blue dot of glaze has even smaller crystal formations within.
What is your favorite piece recent work? And why?
This little piece is one of my favorites. It was from my very first firing of the soda kiln. It captures the movement of the flame and bleaching action of the soda and erases some of the surface slip letting you know that something was once there while revealing what it could have been through what you can see.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself?
I live in La Veta, Colorado with my sweet husband and two cats and have a compact bright ceramics studio. For a decade we owned and operating an art gallery in La Veta. The gallery continues to this day celebrating many local and regional artists.
I have been an adjunct art instructor since 2006 at Colorado State University in Pueblo and have instructed ceramics students from beginners to graduate students. I also teache kid’s classes, workshops and private lessons.
One of my most rewarding experiences has been that for three consecutive years I traveled with a team of ceramic artists to Port-au-Prince, Haiti to teach pottery making skills to employees of an art-based, socially conscious business called Papillion Enterpises. These women have become extremely skilled potters and sell their work to support their families.
Where can we find your work: website, social media, local stores.
Gallery 113, Colorado Springs, Colorado
La Veta Gallery on Main, La Veta, Colorado
and of course, Commonwheel!
We set out to surround Valentines Day and the idea of “love” with a show that will encompass the whole month of February. We put out an open call to artists to submit images of their art that finished the phrase “Love and . . .” and had over a dozen artists respond. Their work is as varied as their answers to the 3 questions we recently posed to them:
1. What prompted the art you submitted for this gallery show? What was your inspiration?
2. How long have you been working with the type of art you submitted?
3. Tell us a little about yourself.
1. What prompted the art you submitted for this gallery show? What was your inspiration?
“Love and finding the perfect partner” is my painting of two sea otters from the Carmel area of California.
I also submitted a painting of owls. They are all babies and best friends. “Love and your best friends.” This was painted with a batik method of watercolor on rice paper.
2. How long have you been working with the type of art you submitted? 10 years
3. Tell us a little about yourself. I'm a retired from 20 plus years in Newspaper Marketing in three newspapers all over the West. I started in sculpture but turned to watercolor. I love the medium.
1. The inspiration for my painting was a photo I took of my 5-year-old grandson and his best friends at his birthday party.
2. I have been doing pastels for many years but seldom do people.
3. I am an 82-year-old artist that works in pastel and oil primarily. I also do some tapestry weaving.
1. My inspiration was a long-term love interest and the understanding of myself and others that I have derived/am deriving from the experience.
2. I have been making oil paintings on wood panels for about ten years, and I have been making drawings on antique music paper for about 7 years.
3. I am a self-taught artist, native to Colorado Springs. I love exploring different artistic styles and different mediums, which seem non-cohesive at the outset, but will eventually coalesce into a cohesive body of work. Sometimes it takes years for the pieces to fit themselves into place.
hear we go, from out of the blue, as deep as a metaphorical mirror, hello to you
...scents of inspiration, vintage two 'n' too!
paint with words, left to right, love of 'rite, soft and tight, 'rythmatic of script sculpture
the big picture plus...
in the oddest place, in the artist place
tonight, turning 'rite up yore alley in left field, oceanic mountainous clouds
the roof of you're cellar
from thirty-four into approximately seventy... thirty six years in a wilderness of golden would essence 'n' petrified woulds,
pondering the deeper significance of invisible by day in sight of night...
...retired after 19 years at CMHS, 2005
taught seniors psychology, sociology, gradually becoming psychosocial movement of hearty heady
grew up in NYC, came thru Ellis Island at the age of one, 1949
MA applied Economics, QC ... finished doctorate course work at SUNY at Stony Brook in theoretical Economics
hitched from London to Jerusalem, nine weeks
receiving teaching assistantships at both institutions
ten years of in tense karate training, 3 national team kata awards, junior instructor
invited to train in Japan, JKA for a summer
Columbia University for graduate work, a year of Sports Psychology, NLP
taught at NY Institute of Technology, Queensboro CC, George Washington HS (math)
thank you, dream well
Suzi’s work is described as “Love and Health and Beauty”
1. I was prompted to enter this gallery show because I create porcelain essential oil necklaces, which celebrate the heart and love. They are worn with love of self because they have a purpose. The necklaces are infused with thieves oil to promote good health, well-being and self-care. The necklaces are given with love to show affection for the recipient. They are beautiful and have the bonus of keeping the wearer feeling well. Whether giving the essential oil necklace as a gift or gifting it to yourself, you are showing love and joy.
2. I have been a ceramic artist since my first pottery class in 1973. Clay hooked me and I won’t let go. It is a sensuous media and brings me joy to work with it. I create my pieces by hand, fire it in a kiln then decorate each piece, making each ceramic creation a work of love.
3. I studied ceramics the first time I went to college in the 70’s. I had a minor degree in art and have always worked in it. I married, had a family and needed something to give us health insurance and to work towards a retirement so I joined the U.S. Navy in 1990. Fast forward twenty-three years and I had earned a retirement. My family was grown and I was a disabled veteran, though not enough to keep me from doing art. I took my G.I. Bill and went back to college, this time earning my Bachelor of Fine Arts with an emphasis in ceramics. I have been happily creating with clay since.
1. My Love of Nature and seeing how disrespectful people have become when caring for the environment in recent years, the quote about who this planet belongs to has been posted around my home for a long time. The photograph I took of a man holding his child pointing off into the distance/future sitting on the grass became something to play with digitally and place them in a more nature filled setting. This image then seemed to be the perfect illustration for that quote.
The other images were inspired by Shawn Gallaway's song "I Choose Love" that I have listened to for many years. The idea of the choice between Love or Fear; or Peace and War; Sunshine or a Storm; Laughter or Tears . . . the answer to all those questions is "I Choose Love." The pairing of dragonflies or black swans or a Squirrel with its hand on its heart inside a heart illustrates that choice for me.
2. I have been taking photos on my hikes or in gardens for most of my adult life. Started using them in wall art about 2 years ago and in my books for about 5 years. Sometimes I use them as they naturally appear, other times I play with them more in Photoshop to give them a more abstract or painted look.
3. I have had a respect and love of the natural world all of my life and became involved in the arts when I worked behind the scenes in theater in High School. In College I started working with fibers and going to art festivals and selling in galleries. I am mostly known for my feather masks and jewelry pieces. I began writing books about 5 years ago and they needed illustrations. Most of them are illustrated with my photographs, some I do find elsewhere. The photographic digital art was an easy progression to another level of art to play in with my Nature photos. Using them as they appear naturally works sometimes, but I "fell down a rabbit hole of creativity" and began to manipulate them in a graphic program in ways to add interest. Some feel like you are looking through a kaleidoscope or at a mandala, others are purely abstractions and all invite you to look deeper to find fantastic forms or creatures within each picture. The ones in this show have some manipulation to gain the effect of the focus creature offering love in some form or another to each other or the viewer.
For me, the theme “Love and…” immediately brought to mind—fabric! Fabric presents endless possibilities of color, pattern, texture, as well as cultural connections and family, personal and emotional ties. Fabric communicates, even without words.
I have been sewing for nearly 50 years, beginning with outdoor equipment kits and homemaking items. I am a past president of Piecing Partners Quilt Guild in Colorado Springs, and have participated in a number of shows through the years. I gravitate toward simple fabric combinations, in hopes of taking advantage of the materials to create something both pleasing and useful.
I grew up in Boulder, and graduated from Colorado College (1972). I worked in a clinical psychology office for many years, while my husband owned a construction company. We have two grown daughters and two grandsons, and have lived on Colorado Springs’ west side for over four decades.
I find the activity of designing and creating sewn items to be stimulating and calming at the same time – also addictive! Thanks for the opportunity to share some of my creations with you.
1. Being new to Colorado, I wanted to show my gratitude for our surrounding scenery here at the Front Range. Taking walks through these open spaces in nature is my inspiration. I fell in love with the contrast between the bold colors of the red rocks clashing against Colorado’s blue skies.
2. Within the last year, I have found an appreciation for the versatility of acrylics.
I began painting with oils almost a decade ago and for many years, I used watercolors to capture my traveling experiences into landscape paintings. This approach involves a gel medium retarder that slows down the drying process allowing me to treat parts of the painting like oils.
3. I grew up in a small town in Western Pennsylvania and spent most of my childhood exploring the outdoors. I attended Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania and graduated with a BFA in 2014. Three years prior, while in college, a collaborative camping trip with the Art and Geology Departments changed everything for me when we drove across the country in a van to South Dakota’s Badlands National Park. Traveling out West a total of four times since visiting the Badlands convinced me to move before my roots became too deep. During the summer of 2016, halfway in my twenties, I left home with my other half, Liv, and moved to Colorado Springs. After the first month of getting settled, we found our first dog to adopt, Fin. They make my life a whole lot better. I enjoy listening to music with a good beer and great company. You might see me at the dog park or at a local pub.
1. The photographs that I entered were part of the final project in the Photography II course at CSU-Pueblo. Students were required to enter 3 juried exhibitions, so when I found the information on "Love and....", I thought it would be a great way to show individual work. Art is all around us, but we pass by it every day without noticing because we don't stop, look up, look around, or take the time to appreciate the details and creations around us.
2. This is my second semester college course in photography, so I am new to this art form.
3. I was born in San Diego, California, and moved to Pueblo in 2000 at the age of five. I live with my parents and two dogs, and family is very important to me. I have always enjoyed drawing and have the dream to work in the animation industry. I am pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from CSU-Pueblo and enjoy learning and experiencing the various art forms. My favorite art form is drawing, but I have also enjoyed the courses in painting and ceramics. I also enjoy movies, Gundam models, Anime, and Marvel comics.
Laura Miller Maddox
Love and Reflection (digital photography on canvas)
My are is a meditation presented within a 2-dimensional space. Each digital image I create embodies a unique energy guided through the camera’s lens. “Love and Reflection” evokes memories of a lived past transcending time and space. I believe such memories become treasures of the heart.