Lumps of Clay

Similar to Jernegan's spikes are the large sculpture piles by Cameron Crawford, who teaches at California State University at Chico. Whereas Jernegan uses simple abstract shapes, Crawford's works are clearly representational, conjuring up various building materials such as bricks and, more prominently, columns. In 1995's "Broken Promises," Crawford assembles a group of ruined columns, precariously stacking them and mounting them on a crumbling brick pedestal.

The last group of artists in the show has broken away completely from the forms typically associated with the ceramic medium. Aurore Chabot, who received her MFA at CU-Boulder and now teaches at the University of Arizona, creates magnificent, oddball surface detailing via an elaborate technique that includes slab-building and press-molding. Leah Hardy, who works in Laramie, Wyoming, and Linda McRae, from the University of South Florida, both look to two-dimensional work for their inspiration. Hardy's brightly colored wall niches resemble paintings, while McRae's mixed-media assemblages refer to and incorporate photography.

Other artists settle for creating recognizable objects with near-photographic accuracy. Phyllis Kloda, who teaches at the University of Wyoming, makes still-life views of vegetables that are evocative of the paintings of the old masters. In the 1996 sculpture "...Ooh La! Vegetable Hot Dish," a cabbage, a radish and other vegetables have been arranged on a plate. Kloda's attention to detail makes for an exceptional Bird's Eye view.

The University of Denver's highly regarded Maynard Tischler also has a careful eye for detail. In a small 1996 stoneware clay installation titled "Woody Wagon," the antique car of the title has been charmingly rendered in blue, silver and wood tones and has been paired with an old-fashioned gas pump overseen by two attendants--one a rhinoceros, the other an alligator. In "350 MPH," a tiny red race car produces a huge cloud of dust, which Tischler kicks up with a huge, heavily worked glob of clay. Philadelphia's Syd Carpenter also employs recognizable objects in her sculptures, but unlike the whimsical Tischler, she puts them in abstract combinations. In "Cure in a Bottle," a painted clay sculpture from 1994, a large bottle lies on its side and spills out a star-shaped "cure."

Viewers may be surprised to find nationally respected Metro State professor Rodger Lang treading somewhat common ground with "Nake #2" and "Nake #3," a pair of conventionalized and oversized rattlesnakes. More expected from Lang is the signature 1994 sculpture "Cryptic Vestige #4: White Draped," part of a series he has worked on since 1986. There the snake form appears again, but this time in a more Lang-like abstracted shape.

Altered States succeeds as a survey of a wide variety of techniques and as a guide to some of the best ceramic artists in the country. And exhibition organizer Perisho says she's thrilled with the response to the show, even if many viewers--perhaps still grappling with the art-versus-craft question--have come expecting to find holiday gift ideas of mugs and bowls. They may not have found Christmas presents, but they surely could not have gone away disappointed.

Altered States: Contemporary American Ceramics, through December 18 at the MSCD Center for the Visual Arts, 1701 Wazee Street, 294-5207.

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