Three artists who are ceramics students of Barton Community College art instructor Bill Forst are exhibiting their works in the display cases located outside the Shafer Gallery in the college’s Fine Arts Building.
Dolores Baker and Esther Maher, both of Great Bend, and Kay Bitter, Ellinwood, differ in the styles of their art, but their one common denominator is their enthusiasm for their work in the ceramics lab.
A retired teacher, Baker became interested in ceramics about six years ago after seeing a presentation by Maher, who has been involved in ceramics for more than 35 years. "I was fascinated and I was hooked," Baker said. She began taking ceramics classes taught by Forst at the college.
She had never done anything with clay before, but soon she was experimenting with both hand-building and potter’s wheel and seeing artistic results from her work. Having taught for 18 years in USD 428, 10 years at Park Elementary School and eight years at Great Bend Middle School, she chuckles when she says she used to draw stick figures on the chalkboard in her classroom. She refers to herself as a "late bloomer" when it comes to this new kind of creativity.
Learning to work with clay has brought out a new interest for her, and a new talent. An avid flower gardener, she has found she can relate one hobby to another – in one instance, using grape leaves from her garden to create texture and designs in her ceramics.
"This has been a wonderful experience," she said. "Bill (Forst) has been superb in taking our ideas and helping us develop those ideas."
Local ceramics artist Esther Maher has spent more than 35 years developing her art in both ceramics and painting. She started taking art courses at Barton in 1975 with art instructors Jon Ulm and Ray Bachura. "I’ve been hooked ever since," she said, adding she has taken all of the art courses offered except for art history.
Over the years, as a member of the local artists’ organization Art Inc., which is no longer active, she was involved in many workshops, especially painting classes, offered in coordination with the college.
She said she likes to "try it all." Recently, she has been working with jewelry, including some designs using horse hair and porcelain pendants. She also has been creating some filigree and "lacey" designs in various pieces. Her work in the exhibit also includes Raku.
People who know Maher’s work are familiar with the shades of blue that she often chooses for her ceramic pieces, although she uses other colors as well. She has exhibited her art in 12 one-person shows and has recently shown her work with other artists. She also displays her work in her own gallery at her home.
Bitter had her first experiences in the art of ceramics at Fort Hays State University in 1989, and she took art courses at Pratt Community College for two years in the early 1990s. Then after 16 years, she came to Barton in 2009 to start enjoying her work with clay again with more time to devote to her work.
"I like to experiment moment-to-moment," she said. "I don’t think I’ve found myself yet, but I really like sculpture." The exhibit in Barton’s Fine Arts display cases is her first time to show her work.
She said she’s always been interested in art. "Even as a kid playing in the mud, I was always making something," she said. She knows she has always had a gift for it, but hasn’t used it very much until now. She likes working in the Southwestern style.
The ceramics courses at Barton have given Bitter the opportunity for the first time to just experiment, she said, expressing her appreciation for Forst’s teaching style. "Bill guides us but doesn’t discourage us from experimenting," she said. "He answers our questions, then gives us enough information so we can go ahead and find our own style."
All three of these ceramics artists exhibiting their work are members of St. Justa Pottery Guild at the college. Their work will be in the display cases from now through April 3.