Dana-Bilello-Barrow - Loving her conversation with clay

Ceramic artist Dana Bilello-Barrow, while growing up on the East Coast, never considered herself an artist. In fact, she found art classes to be “quite painful.” Still, she admired her talented schoolmates and others who created art. Then, at 30, she married and decided to re-invent herself by returning to college. And while her husband hoped she would pursue a traditional career, she instead signed up for “bucket list classes”— photography, drawing, ceramics, sculpture and design, classes that rewarded her with an Associate Degree in Art and a passion for clay. Or, as Dana tells it, “They say that a ceramic artist is either a mud (clay) person or a fire (finish or glaze) person. On my journey, I had two seminal experiences, one for each.”

It happened after her husband was transferred to Texas. Dana, not thrilled about the move, sat in a room and daily threw pots. She trimmed, she glazed and she fired. But every time she opened her kiln, she threw her pots in the trash. Frustrated with glazes, she decided to focus her wheel-throwing skills on light, fine, almost fragile-looking forms. But what about the fire? One day, looking at her raw clay pots, she realized that it was at that state when she liked pottery the most, that glass glaze hid the intimacy she had with each vessel, made the forms unrecognizable. That led her to ask, “How does one finish a pot without glaze?”

After returning to California, Dana learned the answer from an inspiring instructor’s class at Mendocino Art Center. That class, focused on the finishes of naked raku, taught her how to use organic material and minerals to imprint color and designs on clay. Today, with a second home in Brookings, Dana’s work is more sculptural and includes wall installations and totems. Her goal is to create pieces that she hopes the viewer will want to touch and interact with, just as she does. Dana adds, “It seems that just when I think I have learned enough to call myself a potter, I’m reminded daily that there is still more to learn and perhaps it’s the excitement of the journey that draws me back to my wheel. I’m still a student of clay and hope I always will be, because I love the conversation.”

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