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It’s hard to imagine a more pleasant state of affairs than admiring art, sipping coffee, and munching on a scrumptious pastry while basking in the spring blooms of an enchanting garden. Fortunately, we lucky Fresnans have a rare opportunity to do just that! This Sunday, March 11, from 10 a.m. until 2 in the afternoon, the echo gallery + studio will be hosting a Pottery & Pastry Pop-up along with Cerise de Terre Ceramics and Ooh De Lolli.
This extravaganza of earthenware will feature the works of proprietor Steve Ehlers, as well as those of Kathy Lustig and Lisa Van de Water, Laura Fraedrich, and Heather Garvey. Ooh De Lolli will be on hand with both sweet and savory pastries, and Hi-Top Coffee will be pouring the joe.
Sunday’s pop-up will present Fresnans with a rare opportunity to tarry in the delightful and meditative Ehlers-Walton Garden while discovering compelling new ceramic works, all available for purchase (including odd pieces and misfits at reduced prices!). It’s also a great opportunity to discover the echo gallery + studio, which Steve Ehlers opened just about a year ago after a whirlwind immersion in the ceramic arts.
“I retired from school teaching five years ago, and my husband said, ‘You’re not gonna sit around and do nothing,’ so he signed me up for some classes at Clay-Mix,” Steve explains. For two years, Steve plunged into the world of ceramics, practically living at Ritsuko Miyazaki’s Abby Street studio and gallery, working with clay for eight hours a day.
Wishing to share the joy of the creative process, Steve set about creating a co-op of artists, which led to his decision to open his own space. The building, which comprises the gallery and studio, was constructed in 2000, in the heart of the Ehlers-Walton Garden, which Steve has stewarded now for 21 years.
At Clay-Mix, Steve met Lisa Van de Water, who now shares the studio space full-time. “I had been taking lessons and working at Clay-Mix and wanted to explore some different things, and I needed more time to do that,” Lisa explains. “I acquired a kiln. Steve already had a kiln and asked if I could join up here, and I’ve been here ever since, almost every day.”
Each of the artists in Sunday’s show has a unique style and vision that they bring to the table. “My work is kind of eclectic right now. I seem to be channeling an ancient Japanese man who wants to make tea cups,” Steve says with a giggle. “In the past I was exploring no-till farming and trying to make a political statement about how the use of chemicals and tilling is destroying the soil and really poisoning the soil and water in the valley. And so I was putting on mushrooms and fungi on the pottery. So I’m just really trying to find a voice in clay.”
Kathy Lustig specializes in what are affectionately known as “story cups.” When you look closely at her cups, you can see that each one has a narrative to it. “These just come out of her brain as she’s throwing on these, and they’re completely random, but each one is a story of sorts. I just love ‘em,” Lisa says. Steve points out one of his favorite story cups. “This one I like to call ‘Vacations Gone Wrong,’ because you’ve got two hearses leaving the airport,” he quips.
Describing her own work, Lisa says, “I’m not as free-spirited as Steve; I’m more of a perfectionist, and I’m really into the process and function of pottery. And so my forms are pretty simple, but where I take off on that is different surface applications. I’m kind of schizophrenic in what I do, and I’ll explore a different technique and kind of go gonzo with it for a little while.” One such technique is sgraffito. “It starts off solid black, so I put an underglaze on it, and then I carve back to the white porcelain. So you can see it’s a lot like a woodcut print.”
In all of these works, practicality is a common thread. “Most of my work is in porcelain, and most of them are functional,” Lisa explains. “So I do plates and bowls and a lot of coffee mugs, but each piece I see as a fine piece of art that somebody should be using everyday.” In other words, she’s “bringing a little bit of art into everyday living.”
That seems to be right in line with the philosophy of the echo gallery + studio, which challenges the notion of art being just an object that we look at; instead, the gallery puts forward the idea that art is a lived experience. It aims to celebrate the experience of creating, and in doing so, it places emphasis on the act of creation itself, not merely focusing on the final product.
“What I’m really interested in is providing a space for other people to come and explore ceramics and art,” Steve says, “and if you look at the website, the motto or mission statement is really creativity through art, and really not what you make—it’s the process of making it.”
As for Sunday’s Pottery & Pastry Pop-up, Steve says,“We’re hoping people will just come down, look at the artwork, sit in the garden, have a cup of coffee, and enjoy a nice pastry.” And frankly, I can’t imagine any nicer way to bring a little art into a Sunday morning.
The echo gallery + studio is located at 1105 N. Echo Avenue, just off of Olive in the Tower District. Find more information on Facebook.