A fiery passion for clay and glass

Local artists connect with customers and peers at annual festival

Huddled into a corner of her shop in Menlo Park's Allied Arts Guild and surrounded by glistening platters and origami cranes, Joy Imai explained that she has always made "stuff." As a child, she sewed, drew with crayons and helped her family craft leis and doll clothing. Now Imai is a veteran potter, having created clay pieces for more than 50 years.

Imai is one of 132 juried artists who will present their work at the 26th annual ACGA Clay & Glass Festival in Palo Alto on July 14 and 15 at the Palo Alto Art Center. With an estimated 10,000 people attending, the festival, hosted by the Association of Clay and Glass Artists, will feature a wide variety of fine and functional art, from bowls and teapots to sculptures and knicknacks.

This year's festivities will include wheel throwing, hand-building and ikebana demonstrations and an exhibit displaying more than 110 self-selected pieces from the artists.

The festival is an opportunity for visitors to meet with professional and amateur artists, for connoisseurs to bulk up their collections and for the artists themselves to meet up with old friends and make new ones.

"Connecting with old friends is really a highlight because many times those old friends are 25 or 30 years in the making," ACGA Board President Bill Geisinger said. "People at the festival have relationships with one another -- that connection in clay or that connection in glass. But I also love meeting new people who are finding ceramics or glass for the very first time."

More than 25 artists will showcase their work at the festival for the first time this year, Geisinger said.

Making contacts is especially important for Imai, who has participated in the festival for 22 years. At the exhibition, she and other artists can sell pieces that they have worked on for months to perfect -- Imai will sell her pieces for $5-$150 at the expo. She said, however, talking and connecting with those who are attracted to her work is better than the money.

"When the festival was just starting out, I thought that selling with a bunch of potters and glass people was a crazy idea because there would be so much competition," Imai said. "But actually the opposite happened. I think that people who come to the festival are just attracted to glass or pottery and it's a turn on."

From Hawaii and of Japanese heritage, Imai is inspired by East Asia. Her body of work includes black pottery embellished with gold ginkgo leaves, stone fountains and raku vases shot with sodium bicarbonate.

Engrossed in the free-spirited counterculture of the 1960s, Imai had one goal at the start of her career: to be a hippie.

"The whole pottery thing and handmade stuff was all about this do-it-yourself attitude," Imai said of her younger years. "It was a great scene to be in."

She relocated from Hawaii to downtown Palo Alto in 1968 to learn pottery from an arts teacher at the now-closed Pacific High School in Woodside. Her instructor doubled as the school's lunch lady, and in exchange for an arts education, Imai would help her cook and buy ingredients.

After a school year, Imai knew that clay art was something she needed to pursue.

She stayed in Palo Alto, experimenting with different firing kilns and types of clay.

Like Imai, Corinna Mori, who will showcase her work at the festival, also calls Palo Alto home. While hailing from Cape Town, South Africa, Mori has lived in Palo Alto for 30 years. She has found a home within the Palo Alto Art Center where she works in the center's studios and teaches ceramics to children.

Despite her life in Palo Alto, Mori still feels inspired when she returns to South Africa to visit family.

"I bring something back with me every year. I like the (country's) rawness," Mori said. "I think that my African roots comes through a lot in my work."

Inspired by nature, Mori often plays hunter-gatherer, picking up branches and other natural forms of texture outside. Just recently, she brought back a large ostrich egg from South Africa, which she casted and molded into a bowl.

This year's festival will be her third time participating, and she plans to show 160 pieces, each of which will range from $25-$700.

"It's a great camaraderie being part of that festival," Mori said. "You want to keep up your part of the bargain and show quality work to keep up the standard of what's expected. I walk around the festival and I'm just so inspired by what other people do."

What: ACGA Clay & Glass Festival in Palo Alto.

When: Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road, Palo Alto.

Where: Saturday, July 14, and Sunday, July 15, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Free.

Info: ACGA.

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Short story writers wanted!

The 33rd Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult (15-17) and Teen (12-14) categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by March 29. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category.

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