Creating a masterpiece

June 05, 2000|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Artist Cookie Redding was in second grade when she had her first showing.

The Chambersburg, Pa., native, now 22, remembers giving her teacher at Hamilton Heights Elementary School drawing after drawing for the little exhibit, displayed along a coat rack.

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"It's corny now, but it meant a lot then," said Redding, who said the one-girl show hooked her on sharing her art.

She has exhibited it whenever she's had the opportunity.

Redding's latest exhibition is at the Contemporary Gallery at Marywood University in Scranton, Pa.

Running through June 30, the group exhibit with two other graduate students at the school includes a body of work Redding produced during her final semester as a candidate for a master of fine arts degree in ceramics.


She received the degree in May.

Ceramics is a relatively new art form for Redding, who has been drawing and painting most of her life.

"Basically, since I could hold a pencil is when I've been working," she said. "I just always said, 'I'm an artist.' Even then, I knew it was art or nothing."

Redding said she was fortunate to have full support from her parents, Tim and Nancy Redding, who fostered her experimentation with various art mediums and techniques, took her to museums and funded her education.

Over the years, Redding, a 1995 graduate of Chambersburg Area Senior High School, dabbled in many art forms.

As a junior high student, she took a ceramics course at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pa. At Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pa., she concentrated on computer graphics and printmaking, along with painting and ceramics.

It was a professor at Shippensburg, William Q. Hynes, who ignited her passion for the art form by exposing her to the raku firing technique, a very fast Japanese method using temperatures of around 1,850 degrees.

The pottery is taken out of the kiln and thrown in sawdust, which catches on fire and coats the piece with smoke, Redding said.

"When I saw that, it was almost seductive, the process," she said.

Redding made a strong impression on Hynes, who is chair of the art department at Shippensburg, as well as a ceramics professor.

"Cookie's a very high-energy, very intense, talented person," Hynes said.

He said he can count on one hand the students who, over the past 30 years, have wanted to learn how to fire the big gas kiln. Redding was one of them.

"She's capable of moving mountains. She gets things done. She gets involved. She's not afraid to get involved," he said.

Redding says she loves the crackled look of the raku glaze and how its color varies depending on environmental factors, like air quality, humidity and temperature.

"It shows the flux inherent in everything," she said.

Pottery fired with the raku technique isn't functional, said Redding, who likes the contrast created by using the technique on a favorite subject, bowls, a traditionally functional ceramic art subject.

She used the technique for some pieces in her graduate exhibit.

Those pieces feature bowls placed on pedestals, which elevate the everyday objects to a ceremonial level, she explained.

The influence of Redding's long-time interest in art history shows in those and other themes, like art versus artifact, that she likes to explore with her art.

Redding plans to teach art, do museum work, keep learning about art and other artists and continue to work in various mediums.

"I do a little bit of all of them because I think all the art forms relate to each other," she said.

Being an artist isn't easy, Redding said. For example, it took a lot of hard work and persistence to master the various elements of ceramics, like throwing and firing.

She thinks the value of working - which, over time, refines technique and develops personal style - needs to be stressed in art more than any other field.

Redding's advice to budding artists: "Work and learn and never stop doing either."



Raku - pronounced "rah-coo" - has its roots in Zen Buddhism as part of the tea ceremony, according to William Q. Hynes, chair of the art department and professor of ceramics at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pa.

Families would congregate and make a crude tea bowl from mud. They would drink tea from the bowl that same afternoon, Hynes said.

Westerners "beefed up" the technique by putting the very hot clay body into a combustible material, like shredded paper, wood shavings or straw. Then it's starved of oxygen, he said.

The technique causes the oxides to come out of the clay body or glaze, resulting in nice metallic effects.

When the pot is pulled out of the kiln and exposed to air, the glaze contracts faster than the clay body and results in a spiderweb-like crackling of the glaze, called crazing.

The raku process takes about 45 minutes and doesn't require the days of kiln preparation needed for firing stoneware, said Hynes, who said he jokes with his students that the quick turnaround of the technique appeals to the microwave generation.

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