March 17, 2004 – Raku-fired pottery artwork for wall display by St. Thomas ceramist Lynn Paccassi-Berry is being showcased in the new exhibition at Alexander's Bella Blu, which opens Friday evening with a meet-the-artist reception from 5 to 7 p.m.
Paccassi-Berry, a third-generation potter, has titled the show, consisting of 18 works, "Peregrination — An Artistic Journey."
"Perigrination" is defined as a journey or traveling from place to place, usually over a long time period. The word often is used in the same sense as "pilgrimage," in the sense that the person making the journey is motivated by a spiritual desire to accomplish a goal.
Raku is a Japanese clay-firing technique that dates from the 16th century. Today, the glazed pottery is removed from a kiln fired up to nearly 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, placed in a pit or a container holding combustible materials and tightly covered. The process reduces the oxygen in the chamber, creating unique and unpredictable effects in the coloration of the pottery's glaze as the objects cool.
Paccassi-Berry's wall hangings are fired in pieces: After forming a panel, she allows the clay to dry and then literally breaks it into several pieces which then receive different glazes, based on the effect she wants to achieve. For her "reduction chamber," she uses metal containers anything from a trash can to a cookie tin and she fills them with shredded newspaper.
She describes her raku firing process: "After the kiln has reached the correct temperature of 1,758° Fahrenheit and after shutting off the gas, the lid is then lifted off the kiln. With glasses, a heavy jean jacket, welder's sleeves and leather gloves that reach to my armpits, I pull the pieces out of the hot kiln with a pair of metal tongs and place them in the cans. The newspaper then catches fire, and my assistant will place a lid on the can if a reduced oxygen atmosphere is desired, which will produce the metallic effects. If an oxidation atmosphere is desired, the lid is put on loosely or not at all, which will produce the blues and greens.
"If a heavy crackle is desired on the pieces of panel with white glaze, they are pulled out of the kiln last, placed on a bed of soft kiln brick, fanned to create a greater thermal shock effect and then placed into the can with extra newspaper thrown in on top. The carbon that is released from the burning material goes into the crackled glaze and creates the black net of crackle, which is one of the defining characteristics of raku."
The cans are opened after 10 or 15 minutes. After the pieces cool enough to be handled without gloves, they are washed to remove the soot and carbon accumulated in the firing.
A couple of days later, she reassembles the panel: "Using masking tape, I secure the pieces together on the front side of the panel in their original order and then flip it over to the back side and begin to epoxy the pieces together. After the epoxy is dry, I then glue two finished two-by-two's onto the back, which provides stability throughout the piece, a way to hang it and, once it's hung, a means of holding it a bit away from the wall, thus providing a little more dimension."
For Paccassi-Berry, working in clay — something she has done since 1973 — has taken her on an evolutionary journey from traditional three-dimensional sculpture to framed wall pieces, and she says she chose the title "Peregrination" to reflect the definition of that artistic progression.
"These panels have evolved over a period of several years," she says in her artist's statement for the Bella Blu show. "When I first started working in raku, the pieces were very monotone, and my goal was to see how many different results I could get with the same three glazes. Now it's all about the color and using glaze to paint a picture — whether I see something definite or whether it's abstract. I have always leaned toward simple designs while letting variations in the glaze provide the visual interest."
"These raku-fired pieces reflect the heart and soul of my artistic journey," she says. "Clay is a part of my family tradition." She adds that her most recent works represent "a progression of my panel wall sculpture pieces … meant to be hung on the wall next to other pieces of an art collection." All of the pieces displayed will be available for purchase.
Her pieces hanging in the Bella Blu exhibition will be complemented by a few paintings by other artists whose work is represented at Gallery St. Thomas.
Working in her Tillett Gardens studio, Paccassi-Berry exhibits her work in the adjoining showroom and also at several other island venues.
A native of Detroit, Paccassi-Berry lived on several other Caribbean islands before settling on St. Thomas 11 years ago. Her many awards for her work include first place for hand-built claywork at The Pot Show in 1992 in Sacramento, Calif.; honorable mention at the Lake Oswego Festival of the Arts in 1998 in Lake Oswego, Ore.; and prizes in the three-dimensional art category of the territory's 2000, 2001 and 2003 Caribbean Colour exhibitions, including first place last year.
The public is invited to the opening reception at the Frenchtown restaurant. There will be complimentary champagne and appetizers, and attendees will get a chance on the door prize of a gift from the artist. The show will hang through April 15.
Alexander's Bella Blu features the work of a different artist or group or artists every month at Art Show Monthly, always with an opening reception. For more information on the Paccassi-Berry exhibition, call coordinator Claire Ochoa, owner of Gallery St. Thomas, at 777-6363, or preview the show images on the Gallery St. Thomas Web site.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.