Finding joy in clay
If youﾒve been to a recent festival, farmers market or craft show in Pocahontas County, chances are, youﾒve seen the clay creations of Cynthia Gurreri. Or perhaps you or someone in your householdﾗyoung or oldﾗhas participated in one of her art classes.
Prolific as an individual artist, Gurreri is also eager to share what she has learned. She teaches regular classes at the Pocahontas County Arts Councilﾒs Little Yellow House in Dunmore, at Pocahontas County Parks and Recreation in Marlinton and in after-school programs throughout Pocahontas County. Memorial Day of this year, she also launched an annual art event, dubbed ﾓArtapalooza,ﾔ at the Opera House, offering family-friendly instruction, demonstrations and art-based fun.
While most of her current work is throwing pots and creating sculpture, Gurreri has been on a life-long artistic journey. As far back as she can remember, Gurreri says she has always had a paintbrush or pencil in her hand. She took her first oil painting lessons when she was 12 years old and later took as many art classes as she could in high school.
ﾓIﾒm an art person,ﾔ she says. ﾓEven my physical activities are art. My idea of physical activity is dancing.ﾔ
ﾓItﾒs always about creating,ﾔ says Gurreri. ﾓItﾒs always about putting things together. Thereﾒs always a need, for me, to make two different things go together.ﾔ
For her, this can mean combining painting with pottery, or combining scraps from past pottery projects into new, multidimensional creations.
Gurreri says that it has only been relatively recently that she expanded her palette of materials, pursuing clay and sculpture with a passion.
ﾓI actually went around a circle to start making pottery,ﾔ she says.ﾠ
Living in Virginia Beach in the early 1980s, Gurreri began making figures out of salt, flour and water, a mixture known as ﾓbakerﾒs clay.ﾔ But she says it was a too much work to put into a piece that might only last a year. The humidity of the coastal climate took its toll on those early works.
With an interest in making more durable sculpture, she turned to a pottery instructor at the local community college.
ﾓBy the time I got around to mould-making, I was completely addicted,ﾔ she says. ﾓFor about eight years, it was nothing but pottery.ﾔ
Later, between 1994 and 1998, Gurreri worked as a lab assistant at the Virginia Beach Center for the Arts, where she gained more experience throwing pots.
Gurreri says those two experiences, gave her the basic skill set she needed as a potter and the confidence to make the artform her own.
ﾓBetween the college course and being the lab assistant was how I got the knowledge of how to mix my own glazes and the actual workings of how to put a studio together,ﾔ she says.
The multi-hued glazes on her pieces show off Gurreriﾒs flair for experimentation.
While Gurreri appreciates the control offered by off-the shelf glazes, she says she likes the adventure and unexpected results that comes with creating her own.
ﾓMy glazes are surprising,ﾔ she says with a laugh.
Among the distinguishing features of Gurreriﾒs sculpture are the textures that make you want to reach out and feel the piece in your hands. The secret to these textures is simple: doilies. She presses them into the surface of the soft clay. Thanks to her sister, Gurreri has a box overflowing with doilies, stained red-orange from the clay.
The glazes and textures are only one part of the equation. The heat of the kiln and ambient humidity add more variables to the creative mix of a potterﾒs life.
ﾓItﾒs always a surprise,ﾔ she says. ﾓThere are so many variables, and there are so many things that can go wrong. It is a very challenging mediumﾗmuch more challenging than painting.ﾔ
But the rewards, she says, are worth it.
ﾓItﾒs like Christmas every time you open the kiln,ﾔ Gurreri says. ﾓAsk any potter; itﾒs all about opening the kiln. You just never know whatﾒs going to come out.ﾔ
ﾓWhen it turns out right and it all comes together, itﾒs a wonderful thing,ﾔ she adds.
While her artistic roots go back to painting and drawing, Gurreri is happiest when her hands are wet with clay and a new piece is taking shape on the table or potterﾒs wheel in front of her.
ﾓFor me, itﾒs a physical expression of my artistic nature,ﾔ she says. ﾓPainting is wonderful. I still like to paint. I like to do painting classes, but this sort of stuffﾗthe dimensionality of itﾗis just a little bit more fulfilling, because you can really hold it and touch it.ﾔ