Clever Crafting

Other highlights of the auto show include two of the more than sixty 1937 Packard sculptures that Tischler made in 1986: "Towncar for Babe" and "Mae's Packard," both in stoneware finished with low-temperature glazes. One of the newest pieces in the show makes a reference to the well-known Packard series, 1997's "Do-It-Yourself '37 Packard Kit." Housed in a glass-and-plywood showcase, the tongue-in-cheek effort is made up of some of the components Tischler uses to make one of his Packard sculptures.

Tischler's sense of humor is also evident in "Timberline Express," a 1996 sculpture of a logging truck that's very accurate-looking--except for the gargoyles in the cab. Another offbeat piece in the first group is the life-sized caricature of the artist seen in "Self Portrait as a WW II Ace." Tischler does a notable job of capturing his own features, as well as conveying the leather of his jacket and the denim of his jeans in unglazed clay.

The next stage features Tischler's whimsical and fantastic animals, which, like his cars and trucks, were initially created to please his children. The animal and automotive themes collide in "Lunch Break," a 1972 stoneware sculpture in which a powdery green dinosaur munches on cars while crushing an ambulance under his feet. "Stegosaurus," a 1982 stoneware sculpture with low-fire glazes, is more naturalistic. It even has a romantic quality, as tiny dinosaurs climb the back of the stegosaurus to get at some dragonflies.

The third stage shows off Tischler's latest efforts. This self-described "pottery group" includes more than two dozen wood-fired pots the artist created last year at the University of Iowa. Tischler loves wood-firing, which creates a range of interesting surface effects in pottery even without the use of glazes. But he had to travel to Iowa to make this batch; DU doesn't have such a kiln because of pollution concerns.

"Building a kiln for wood-firing is easy, but putting on an afterburner to eliminate the wood smoke is a problem we're just beginning to work out," Tischler explains. "We've gotten a grant for a feasibility study that's just getting under way."

Having made the trip to Iowa, Tischler made sure to pay particular attention to the firing process on these works. "The firing was my constant concern from the time I started wedging the clay," he recalls. And that care has paid off in spades. These pots are tremendous--and nearly every one of them has been sold since the show opened.

After Tischler throws a vessel, he adjusts its shape twice--once with his fingers while it's soft and wet, and again after it has grown leather-hard (at which point he carves into it). But though his sculptures are time-consuming, sometimes taking months to complete, Tischler describes his pots as relatively spontaneous.

"I want my pitchers to pour; I want the cups to be comfortable in the hand and easy to drink from," he says. "But making them is contemplative and relies on my having the right state of mind at the wheel. I try to come to some sort of bonding between myself, the wheel and the clay."

Also displayed in this last group are two sculptures that mark a different style for Tischler--a contemporary take on the santos tradition of the American Southwest. "San Ysidro," an unglazed sculpture from 1989, is a collaboration between Tischler and New Mexico artist Ken McDonald. The sculpture, which recalls the simplified Hispanic art of the region, was a preparatory study for a bronze Tischler made on commission for DU chancellor Dan Ritchie.

At the same time that Tischler was making all these pots and sculptures, he was also creating wool tapestries. He says he first undertook hooking tapestries when he was searching for a non-toxic art form he could do at home--and ceramics wasn't it. Hooking, which involves pushing a needle back and forth through a backing material, is fairly fast, according to Tischler. The oldest tapestry here is "Hook Brothers Wrecker," from 1975, a piece that neatly sums up Tischler's unique combination of sources. Like his ceramics, "Hook Brothers Wrecker" relies heavily on age-old practices in the crafts. Yet his choice of subject--a tow truck--links this piece with the contemporary pop-art movement.

Tischler's unorthodox blend of styles can be surprising at times--but not as surprising as the fact that Maynard Tischler: Selected Works is his first solo exhibit in nearly fifteen years. It's equally startling to learn that such a revered fixture on the local scene hasn't yet been feted with a Close Range Show at the DAM. Based on this show, that honor is long past due.

Maynard Tischler: Selected Works, through March 20 at the School of Art and Art History Gallery, 2121 East Asbury Avenue, 871-2846.

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