The Denver Art Museum prepares for the big one, Marvelous Mud

Clay is arguably the first medium ever invented by humans -- one of the oldest prehistoric artifacts ever found was a drinking vessel made of sun-dried clay -- and it'll soon be the star of the largest single-subject exhibition the Denver Art Museum has ever mounted: Marvelous Mud, scheduled to open June 11. "Literally all of our curatorial department are doing something for it," says DAM communications associate Ashley Pritchard. "We've never had such a large exhibit."

In fact, Marvelous Mud is a collection of eight exhibits altogether: six smaller exhibits along with two major ones -- Marajó: Ancient Ceramics at the Mouth of the Amazon and Overthrown: Clay without Limits, the latter of which takes advantage of the Hamilton Building's crazy angles and cavernous spaces for a collection of site-specific installations made primarily with clay-based and ceramic materials. It's a big show, and these are big installations.

And because they're big, they're already getting put together. We ambled over to DAM today to stroll around and see what's up so far, and while we were there, we chatted with Canadian artist Linda Sormin, who heads the ceramics department at the Rhode Island School of Design and had been in town scavenging materials for her installation, which doesn't yet have a title -- "I'm running a little behind," Sormin somewhat breathlessly admitted, surveying the agglomeration from above and calling down directions to the crew of workmen piecing it together. Sormin brought some of the materials for it with her from Rhode Island, but much of the piece comes from the Colorado School of Mines' Edgar Experimental Mine, a disused mining compex deep under a mountain in Idaho Springs that Mines revamped as a teaching tool back in the 1920s, after the big silver and gold boom was over. "I collected a bunch of objects from there, some things that the School of Mines agreed to give me, and then I hand-collaged it together," she explained, pointing to a drawing that roughly resembled what was on the wall. The trick, then, was getting it to fit together as envisioned. Sormin's work was just a small piece of the work to be done, and by the time it opens, Marvelous Mud will pretty much dominate the museum's entire campus with not just art, but activities as well -- every weekend during the show features artists doing live demos, with local artist Bob Smith doing a live raku firing opening weekend and, later, adobe experts constructing a clay playground from scratch in the Hamilton Building's courtyard that onlookers can help build. Marvelous Mud opens June 11 and continues through September.

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