Feat of Clay gallery in Aztec opening new show

Mike Easterling The Daily Times
The Daily Times

But when he and his wife left their home in Massachusetts for South Dakota 11 years ago, Barr realized he was ready for something different.

"I like my hands too much," he said drily, explaining his rationale for leaving the family business behind. "I've always been interested in the arts in one way or another, even though I haven't taken an art class since third grade. I had written quite a bit — short stories and poetry — and I'd always had an interest in woodworking."

It was the latter that ultimately captured Barr's attention, propelling him into a new career. Barr now makes custom, finely crafted tables, beds, shelves, bureaus, chests, trays, platters, bowls, cubes, boxes and other items, and his work will be featured in a new show opening Friday, June 26 at the Feat of Clay Co-op Gallery in Aztec.

Barr and his wife Vicki, an employee of the Bureau of Land Management, relocated here in October 2014 from Panaca, Nev., where they landed after leaving South Dakota. That move appears to have sparked his creative fire.

"Yes, this is a very positive thing for me," he said, explaining that he fell in love with the Southwest while staying at the Philmont Scout Ranch outside Cimarron when he was a Boy Scout.

"I was 13," he said. "And I've always tried to come back, one way or another."

Now that he's here, Barr has found plenty of inspiration. He said that while showing his work at Farmington's recent Riverfest celebration, he found that many members of the Native community took a strong interest in his work. That led to an idea he had never considered before, he said.

"I thought, 'I could do Navajo blankets — or variations thereof,'" he said.

The Barrs celebrated their wedding anniversary a few weeks ago by taking a trip to Santa Fe to study the Navajo blankets in the museums and galleries there. Barr said he's intrigued by the geometry of trying to incorporate those designs into the wood medium, and he believes his technique of using splines — a thin strip of wood fitted between a pair of grooves to create a joint — could be the key to that effort. He said one admirer of his work once compared it to stained glass.

"I know I can do it," he said.

Barr doesn't have any pieces to show for that idea yet, but he hopes to soon. The work he will be displaying at Feat of Clay is of the style that he long has been selling through his web-based business, greatbasindesign.com.

Another artist in the show, Aztec's Pip Howard, creates jewelry that she described as heavily improvised. Her work is light on metals, mostly silver and copper, and heavy on a variety of other materials, including glass, shells and especially beads. Her earrings, bracelets and necklaces also feature many different finishes, but Howard said the distinguishing characteristic of her work is likely its asymmetrical nature.

"I like to have things a little bit off-center," she said. "I don't like to have things perfectly ordered."

Howard has been making jewelry since 2002 and is a longtime member of the Feat of Clay co-op. A native of England, she said she finally began to take her work seriously after returning from a trip there several years ago, where she had purchased a number of beads. Howard said she had been in the habit of purchasing materials before and not doing anything with them. But this time, the muse remained with her — and has ever since.

Her work has evolved over the last 13 years, Howard said, explaining that she likes to move from style to style.

"Sometimes, I can look at my work and know exactly when I made that," she said. "It circles around. I can look at something and say, 'I don't make that anymore.'"

Howard said the entire world is her inspiration.

"I'm always looking for ideas," she said. "I love going to art galleries and museums to get a feel for what other people are creating."

But she always applies one strict criteria to her own work.

"Jewelry is meant to be worn," she said. "If it doesn't look beautiful hanging from somebody's neck or ears, I don't have much use for it. It has to be wearable — not just (look good) in a store in a glass case."

Also being featured is the work of photographer Jessica Polatty. The show will remain on display through July 18.

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610 and measterling@daily-times.com. Follow him@measterlingfdt on Twitter.


What: Opening for new exhibition featuring the work of Steve Barr, Pip Howard and Jessica Polatty
When: Opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, June 26.
Where: Feat of Clay Co-op Gallery, 107 S. Main Ave. in Aztec
For more information: Call 505-334-4335