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Glorious glass, stupendous ceramics

Annual festival offers functional, decorative, artistic pieces for the home

Nearly 200 clay and glass artists will come from as far away as Missouri to participate in the 18th annual Palo Alto Clay & Glass Festival next weekend.

The free event -- yes, it costs nothing to look -- encourages visitors to stroll across the grass at the Palo Alto Art Center and chat with artists as well as observe wheel-throwing demonstrations or ikebana presentations.

Besides the juried artists, highlights of the festival include an indoor gallery show featuring 50 pieces, opportunities to dig into clay to create ceramics works, information about eco-friendly techniques, and food and drink.

The artists will be selling everything from hand-blown glassware to functional desktop accessories, large garden ornaments to jewelry.

Here are just a few of the artists' stories:

Randy Comer

"I'm a maker by nature. I like working with my hands."

That's how artist Randy Comer, 55, describes his fascination with glass.

Trained in fine art at the University of Missouri, he initially worked as an illustrator and later as a graphic designer in California. That's where he was "surrounded by Victorian stained-glass windows. Seeing all that colored light attracted me," he said. By 1985 he was taking a stained-glass course at San Francisco City College, then learning glass painting, firing and working with a kiln.

Today he works in his home studio in Forestville, in California's Russian River valley, where he creates functional bowls and platters, often using a trompe l'oeil style that makes the glass appear like textiles. He likes to incorporate chevrons, stripes and colors from Asian and Indian native cultures.

"Glasswork is truly a craft; you work with three-dimensional materials. It's more hands-on and less esoteric than working with printed materials," he said.

Colors, on the other hand, are a bit more free-form, Comer said, noting he often tries to think what aboriginal peoples creating textiles would have at their disposal.

"It reflects a natural sensibility, what a textile might be made out of."

Eve and Dan King-Lehman

In a converted horse barn on their property in Marcola, near Eugene, Ore., Eve and Dan King-Lehman work side by side, each creating wonders in glass, often sharing the finish work.

When they met 35 years ago, Dan had a degree in oil painting, Eve said, while she had studied drawing at the California College of the Arts for year. They began their partnership by creating glass beads and glass-bead sculpture, which they continued for 15 years.

For the past 20 years, they've evolved to fusing and kiln-forming, creating bowls, dishes, plates and platters as well as sinks, windows, lighting and chandeliers.

"I love working with color," Eve said. "Seeing the colors inspires me; they speak to me, tell me how to go together."

And the melting goes much faster than bead work, which she described as "unbearably slow."

While Eve helps with the finish work and grinding, she credits her husband with being "master of the kiln."

"Whenever we go larger or thicker, the glass demands more time in the oven, so he's been the one to tweak that," she said, noting that he's conscious of conserving both energy and glass.

In fact, they dip into boxes of "broken, old stuff" to recycle glass.

Eve describes their life as scheduled, with most weekdays spent in their workshop, weekends at art shows, and only occasional days off for gardening breaks.

Her favorite project? "Whenever we expand ourselves or do new things. That's always exciting."

Hsin-Chuen Lin

Taiwan native Hsin-Chuen Lin studied ceramics at the University of Iowa, earning a master's degree in 1991. Upon graduation, his wife found a job in Silicon Valley and they moved to California.

There he took an open-studio course at San Jose State University so he could work at the facility. Today he's set up a studio in his Fremont back yard with a kiln on wheels.

Mostly he creates functional ware -- bowls and vases -- as well as some larger sculptures, all out of high-fire stoneware or porcelain.

"It's stronger, better for everyday use," he said, noting he fires at 2,350 degrees Fahrenheit.

At the festival, he's looking forward to dialoguing with visitors, who "appreciate how a person created the piece."

Lin also teaches pottery at Sunnyvale Community Center, and soon he'll be uploading videos weekly onto YouTube, offering demonstration lessons showing how he creates his pieces. The videos can be found by searching for "mypots."

Tom and Sara Post

Davis clay artists Tom and Sara Post both work together and make separate pieces, a break from their former large production studio where they only worked together.

Tom, who grew up in Palo Alto, earned a bachelor's degree in economics at U.C. Berkeley before joining the Peace Corps. Later both he and Sara went to the University of Northern Arizona, he to study ceramics and she to pursue a master's degree in art and art education.

In 1975, they settled in Davis and worked a studio in their garage. They started hiring people, outgrew the garage and moved into warehouse space. For the next 20 years, they ran T.S. Post Ceramics, mainly focusing on tableware, tiles and cabinet hardware, Tom said.

Today they're back working from their home, mostly independently, on ceramic collages, ceramic painting and wall art. The collages begin as separate pieces with design elements put together at the end, mounted on birch backing, he said.

Since 2006, Sara has focused on limited edition and one-of-a-kind ceramic wall panels and installation works, drawing on her background as a painter and printmaker.

"Our ideas come from a lot of artwork we've been around. Mexico is a big influence, also Japan, early American stuff -- mostly it's looking around at what we see everyday. We abstract it, add a natural element that may or may not be recognizable," he said.

New this year at the festival will be a "little line of crazy birds," what Tom describes as free-form small bird sculptures.

Jan Schachter

Portola Valley potter Jan Schachter started making clay figures as a small child but ended up studying microbiology in college. In 1964 she began taking pottery classes at New York's Greenwich House Pottery and soon was devoting her time to ceramics rather than science.

She doesn't see the evolution to full-time ceramic artist as that great of a leap, given that she uses her chemistry background to mix glazes.

"I knew I never wanted to work behind a desk," she said, adding that both in a lab and in her studio, she was constantly moving around.

"They're both creative," she said.

But it wasn't until she moved to California in 1978 that she set up her own studio at home. Today she does mostly functional work, either thrown on a wheel or rolled out and cut from a slab. She's especially fond of the custom dinnerware she produces, working with a client to make just the right size (what fits in the dishwasher or on the shelf), rim shape or color.

"Each is a bit of a unique challenge, adapting to each person using my own style," she said.

She also creates straight-sided storage jars and canisters with lids, as well as casseroles.

When not in her study, Schachter serves as co-president of the Palo Alto Art Center Foundation.

Schachter said she's influenced by looking at "other wonderful pots," such as ancient Chinese ware or folk pottery. "I never get tired of looking at pots."

Jan Wax and Chris Bing

It's been nearly 40 years since Jan Wax taught English in the Oakland public schools and Chris Bing worked as her assistant.

Today the two, now married, work together on their land in Philo, which is in Anderson Valley near Mendocino. While Wax throws the pots on the wheel, Bing adds original sculptures, or he hand-builds pieces, especially ikebana vases. Wax glazes -- in celadons, copper reds and Tenmoku (a high-fire glaze mixture) -- and Bing fires the kiln.

Inspiration comes largely from the land, with its redwood trees and a creek. Bing's sculptures are "like portraits of individual animal species," Wax said, adding, "Most naturalists could tell the kind of frog or moth that Chris sculpts."

The couple does 15 shows a year, but it's Bing who mans the booth and chats with visitors, while Wax stays home with their three dogs and three cats, making more pottery.

What: Palo Alto Clay & Glass Festival

When: Saturday, July 10, and Sunday, July 11, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Where: Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road, Palo Alto

Sponsors: Association of Clay and Glass Artists (ACGA) of California and the Palo Alto Art Center; will also feature Clay and Glass Arts Foundations (CGAF) and the Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF)

Parking: Valet or street parking

Info: 650-329-2366 or

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