In a world of potters and a sea of ceramics it's hard to stand out in the crowd. But one look at local potter Mary Jursinovic's landscape pottery and it's instantly recognizable.
"Most people say, 'I've never seen anything like that,'" said Jursinovic, who happened upon her original "landscape pottery" idea while living in Crested Butte more than 30 years ago. In the years since she made her first piece, only one person claimed to have seen the same technique. She pried without success for details. Other than that, she knows of no imitations.
Jursinovic was raised in the Chicago suburbs and in the early 1970s was using her undergraduate and graduate degrees in education to teach junior high school social studies. People were flocking to the suburbs, and her classes grew to more than 40 students. It was overwhelming, she said, so she enrolled in an adult education hobby program to relieve job stress. She tried silversmithing, but that did not click. "Too precise," she said. So she tried a clay class.
"It was just one of these things that my hands seemed to be able to do," she said. She continued working with clay, and with the studio open 24 hours a day, she'd often throw pots until 2 o'clock in the morning.
After five years of teaching, and like so many professionals of the time, she quit her day job to become a ski bum. She followed a friend to Vail, but didn't like the area. Her friend's husband steered her toward Crested Butte, and it was perfect. She went home, sold everything and moved to western Colorado.
It was the 1976-77 drought year, before snowmaking, she recalled. After a season of lousy to no skiing, and despite being out of money, she decided to give it one more year. She found work cleaning for a property management company, then as a bank teller, and as a waitress at a high-end restaurant that offered great benefits that allowed her to ski and earn a living. But the restaurant changed hands and the benefits were gone, and she landed a job as an office manager for an architectural firm. The flexible schedule still allowed her to ski. Then the architect up and moved "and we were jobless," she said.
She had acquired a used potter's wheel and kiln, and after negotiating a lease deal, moved into the vacant office and opened her business, Creekside Pottery, after Coal Creek, which ran by the business.
"So that's my life story, and I've been doing it ever since," she said. With one adult-education hobby class to her credit, "I just started throwing pots."
The 1980s in Crested Butte were good for her because the town was still small and had few retail shops. There was one other gallery, and just about every visitor to the tiny resort town bought from her. And if the '80s were good, "The '90s were great. I couldn't keep pots on my shelves."
Her gallery had a straight shot of the mountains, and she took a lot of breaks. "I would stand with my coffee or tea, looking out my front door, looking at snow-capped Gothic Mountain," she recalled. "I wanted to depict the beauty of the local scenery."
With the help of another potter, she made her first landscape pieces using different glazes. But she wanted something more unique. She had always used multiple colors of clay in her pieces, "So I had all these clays lying around." She tried "just wedging them together and throwing them on the wheel, but that creates a marbleized look that isn't really exact," she said.
Through experimentation she eventually discovered a process that works. It's quite technical, she said, explaining it in terms of compatible clays, cone temperatures, shrinkage rate and vitrification. Some suggested her idea would never work. "It took me a while to figure it out," she said, recalling the kiln-loads of seconds she made.
But through trial and error she found the right combination, and began creating her landscape pottery. There is "a little bit of rhyme and reason" to her method, she says.
She starts with either a straight-sided or flared mold. Using about a half dozen compatible clays, she rolls the clay into uniform thickness sheets with a mechanical roller, then forms by hand the rocks, earth, sky and mountains. She builds each pot from the bottom up, alternating dark and light until landscape and sky become one. The mountains are formed of dark clay, and white clay is pressed into the peaks to create the effect of snow.
She then presses twigs from dried weeds collected locally into the clay, which burn off in the firing process.
As a necessity of design, no matter which direction her pots are viewed from, each of the elements — earth, sky, mountains, rocks, sun/moon — is visible.
She has to work quickly, particularly in warmer months, because heat dries the clay and prevents it from sticking.
Her bowls, which are "semi-functional," are glazed on the inside and are food-safe. They can't be put in the microwave and must be hand-washed.
Jursinovic also turns out functional pieces, such as table settings and coffee mugs. She also specializes in Raku-fired pieces and sparkly mica clay pots and accepts commission work. But her landscapes "are a true joy, because they're so much more creative."
In 2008 Mary and her husband moved to the Paonia area where they had previously purchased property, and she brought Creekside Pottery with her.
She now sells through galleries, including the Glennie Coombe Gallery and Blue Sage Art Center in Paonia, and the AppleShed Gallery in Cedaredge. She offers classes, workshops and studio tours, and is immersing herself in the local arts scene.
"There is an incredible arts community here in the North Fork Valley," she said, going through a list of well-known artists: Tara Miller and Sam Brown, Elizabethan owner Elizabeth Delehaunty, and Karen Good of Elsewhere Studio, which offers residency programs. Then there are the yet-to-be-discovered gems, she added, and there are many of them.
Letting go of the retail store allowed Mary to become active in the local art community. She helped create the North Fork Valley Creative Coalition in 2011, which obtained designation for the area as an "Emerging Creative District" by Colorado Creative Industries and Governor John Hickenlooper. This opened up opportunities for grants and has put the area on parallel with other well-known artistic communities such as Salida, Telluride and Ouray. The Creative Coalition produced the North Fork Valley Creative Directory, a free booklet which highlights almost 100 artists in the Paonia, Hotchkiss and Crawford areas and is active in promoting all creative endeavors in the North Fork Valley.
"The surrounding earthy, agricultural lands of this area and stunning views of mountains and mesas are such a source of creativity for all of us here in the North Fork Valley," states Mary.
Since moving to the North Fork Valley, Mary is spending nearly as much time with her hands in the dirt of her organic garden as she is in her studio.
Mary recently learned that the company where she purchased her colored clays for the past 30 years shut down. "I am back to testing," she said, "and re-testing to get the same look in the landscapes. I did it once, I can do it again."blog comments powered by Disqus