'Heart as Art' show opening at Feat of Clay

Mike Easterling
This Valentine's box by Denise Lucero will be included in the Feat of Clay Gallery's "Heart as Art" show that opens this weekend.

FARMINGTON – Zack Pettijohn doesn’t mind telling you that, generally speaking, he doesn’t have much use for Valentine’s Day artwork.

“It seems kind of frilly to me,” said the Aztec High School art teacher and metal artist. “It makes me think of chocolate and red satin, that kind of thing. I don’t want to stereotype, but those are the things everybody thinks about.”

So when Pettijohn was encouraged to create a piece for the second annual “Heart as Art” show opening this weekend at the Feat of Clay Gallery in Aztec, he wasn’t very enthusiastic about the prospect. It wasn’t until he got to toying around with some battered copper and some wood salvaged from a decrepit church in Silverton, Colo., that he found inspiration.

This copper-and-wood heart by Zack Pettijohn is part of the "Heart as Art" exhibition at the Feat of Clay Gallery.

Pettijohn wound up crafting a 2-foot-by-2-foot heart for the show. The object is designed as a wall hanging, and is covered in copper in front with a wood backing.

“The ironic thing is, I don’t really like hearts,” he said sheepishly. “I don’t allow my students to draw hearts in class.”

But to his surprise, Pettijohn said he found the ruggedness of his new piece appealing.

“It just seemed like juxtaposition,” he said.

In addition to being striking, the new piece is rather hefty. Pettijohn said it weighs out at 35 pounds and has the added distinction of drawing the approval of one of his regular critics.

“It’s one of the few things of mine my wife has liked,” he said, laughing. “She saw it and said, ‘I kind of like that.’ I said, ‘Rats – it’s going in an art show. I guess if nobody buys it, I’ll give it to you.’”

Pettijohn said he works in various media, not just metal.

“I really enjoyed sculpture in college,” he said. “I used to weld, and now, I just do whatever comes to mind. I try not to put any confinements on myself.”

That’s an approach he wants his students at Aztec High School to follow, and he hopes a few of them turn out for this weekend’s opening for “Heart as Art.”

“I encourage my students to get involved and critique my work,” he said. “That kind of reverses the roles a little bit.”

Ceramic hearts by Toni Trosky will be part of the "Heart as Art" show opening this weekend at the Feat of Clay Gallery.

That’s not always an easy sell, but Pettijohn likes to joke that he has a surefire way of enticing his students to attend art openings and perhaps expand their horizons a bit.

“I always tell them, ‘Free cubed cheese, free cubed cheese,’” he said, laughing, before turning serious and explaining that, every once in a while, one of his students finds that attending an opening is actually something he or she enjoys.

“I think that’s cool (when that happens),” Pettijohn said. “They realize people can make art, and it can be fun.”

That experimental spirit is exactly what drove Carla Allen to come up with the lace ceramics style of work she’ll be displaying at “Heart as Art.” The longtime Farmington resident, a California native, said she’s been honing her unusual style for approximately three years and wound up going against a lot of conventional wisdom in the process.

“I use a special fiber clay sold here in New Mexico, and I had to come up with my own recipe for this,” Allen said, explaining that while most ceramics artists stick to a certain range of kiln temperatures to fire their pieces, she works with more extreme temperatures.

“I don’t follow the rules,” she said.

Allen began exploring new techniques when was looking for a way to express what she was feeling after her twin children got married and left home within nine months of each other.
“I was devastated because I was an empty nester,” she said. “I was working in my yard one day, and I looked up and saw a nest with no bird in it. Then I noticed a bird sitting on a branch, singing or crying or whatever you want to call it, and I thought to myself, ‘Everything’s going to be OK.’”

Farmington artist Carla Allen will be showing her lace ceramic work during the annual "Heart as Art" exhibition opening this weekend in Aztec.

Allen was inspired to recreate the image of that empty nest and began experimenting with her lace ceramics technique at her home studio. She said she experienced another breakthrough when she visited a pottery shop during a trip to Ireland and struck up a conversation with a potter there who worked in what she called “paper clay.” Allen located that clay when she got back home and began working with it, applying a series of glazes, and firing her pieces at different temperatures and taking note of the results. Eventually, she found the right approach, though it took some time.

“If I was working on it every day, maybe I would have come up with it sooner,” she said.

Allen said that while there isn’t a great deal of familiarity with her style  — which she compared to cake decorating — there is a lot of curiosity. And it seems to suit her.

“It’s kind of therapy,” she said. “I’ve found a real peace in working with it.”

The “Heart as Art” show also features photography by Jim Daly and Erin Gilligan, as well as ceramics by Toni Trosky. The work will remain on display through March 19.

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

If you go

What: Opening reception for the second annual “Heart as Art” exhibition

When: 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 19

Where: The Feat of Clay Gallery, 107 S. Main Ave. in Aztec

For more information: Call 505-334-4335 or 505-334-3014