'Crystals and Cracked Earth' show opens at SJC

Mike Easterling
Pottery featuring a textured glaze is part of the "Crystals and Cracked Earth" show being presented at San Juan College.

FARMINGTON – The new art exhibition opening this weekend at the Henderson Fine Arts Center Gallery at San Juan College is all about the finer points.

That approach certainly is reflected in the show’s title, “Crystals and Cracked Earth.” The exhibition is a collection of pottery and photographs that feature eye-catching examples of both of the elements cited in the name.

Some of the pottery pieces have been treated with crystalline glazes that SJC pottery instructor Don Ellis describes as “precise and elegant,” while others are treated with so-called lichen glazes. The photos are macro images of crystals and minerals, and dried-up, split-open sediment. The connection between the two elements in the exhibition is that both are examples of naturally occurring phenomena – and that they have a beauty all their own.

Ellis said the idea for the pottery portion of the show came about when he was kicking around creative ideas with his SJC students.

“Each semester, we try to come up with new techniques,” he said.

The idea for the crystalline glazes sounded intriguing, Ellis said, and the group decided to explore it further. After one of the glazes was applied to a porcelain piece, it was fired, then removed from the kiln. Ellis said the glazes cool very slowly because of their particular chemistry, and that allows for the formation of the crystals.

“You don’t control where the crystals are or how many or how big they are,” he said, noting that the randomness of the result is a big part of the appeal.

The "Crystals and Cracked Earth" show at San Juan College showcases images captured in the school's new photography studio.

The lichen glazes are different in that after they are applied and have dried, they crack and become crusty, Ellis said.

“One is really fine and one is not so fine,” he said of the glazes.

Ellis estimated the show will feature 60 to 80 pottery pieces.

The photos of the crystals, minerals and cracked earth are at the opposite end of the spectrum, Ellis said, in that they required no human intervention, aside from the process of capturing the image.

SJC photography instructor Tony Bennett, who helped organize the show with Ellis, said the crystals and minerals his students photographed for the exhibition came from the school’s geology department and were shot at SJC’s new photography studio.

“It’s a big deal,” he said of the studio. “It takes things to a whole other level. It’s got equipment you can’t find anywhere around here – probably the closest (comparable studio) would be the University of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff.”

Bennett said the studio and its lighting allow him to teach his intermediate digital photography students how to produce a professional-quality product, and he considers the “Crystals and Cracked Earth” exhibition a showcase for the new studio.

Approximately three-fourths of the photos in the show are macro shots of crystals and minerals, he said, while the remainder will be cracked-earth photos and images of the textured pottery.

Bennett said many of his students have taken part in past semester-ending student shows that are held at the gallery each year, but this is the first time any of them have had their work featured in any other exhibition. So the work they did for this show will serve them well down the road, he said.

“It’s tremendous because it’s not an assignment where you can say, ‘The dog ate my homework,’” he said. “This had a deadline. They had to turn it in (on a certain day). We love that real-world experience.”

Bennett, a former commercial photographer in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex whose commercial clients included such corporate heavyweights as American Airlines and Hardee’s, is all about putting his students in those kinds of situations. Last semester, he said, he took them to a local nursing home and had them shoot holiday portraits of the residents.

“We got an unbelievable response back from the families,” he said of that venture, explaining that, for most of the residents, it was the first professional-quality portrait they had had taken in many years.

But it was the students who really benefited, he said, explaining that his budding portraiture artists had to conquer their nerves, and learn how to deal with live subjects and the challenges of the environment to complete the assignment.

The work they produced for this show was different, he said, but that doesn’t mean Bennett and his students are any less apprehensive about how viewers respond.

“We’re dying for everybody to see it because we think it looks really cool,” he said.

Ellis said he’s never been involved in a show quite like this one.

“It’s kind of what I would call a conceptual show,” he said, explaining that the pottery portion will showcase only the two firing techniques that produce very different individual results. That kind of experimentation is exciting, he said.

“It’s a new thing that we thought might be interesting to try,” Ellis said. “But I’m enjoying it, and the students are.”

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 “Crystals and Cracked Earth” exhibition by San Juan College advanced art students and faculty members

When: 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 5

Where: The Henderson Fine Arts Center Gallery on the San Juan College campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington

For more information: Call 505-566-3464