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“A Collective of Two” –captured by clay

By Alice Sperling

In the lovely serendipitous way that San Miguel provides, a licensed clinical social worker from San Diego (Sylvia), with a passion for photography, met a medical researcher and talented clay artist from Philadelphia (Elaine) in a restaurant eight years ago. The women were breakfasting with their respective husbands. Elaine and Ken, in the process of renovating a house, spied a door that they liked hanging over Sylvia and Richard’s table and went to inspect it. The couples started talking, eventually got together and forged a friendship.

A Collective of Two
Sun, Oct 28, 2-5pm
Galería Relox 46
Reloj 46

The women instituted “Adventure Fridays,” taking forays on the road to Dolores in the hunt for interesting “stuff.” It didn’t have to be practical; they were looking for shapes; Sylvia with her photographers’ eye, Elaine looking for geometric 3-D shapes. Sylvia said that she was struck by their differing points of view but with a similar way of seeing.

Elaine eventually got to unpack long-loaded boxes filled with her organic style of unglazed pottery. Sylvia said that she was never attracted to ceramics until she saw Elaine’s work. “It was light, sculptural, sensuous, earthy. The only pottery that I had previously admired was anthropological.”

Elaine invited Sylvia to join her in the studio and to teach her technique. Elaine said, “Not everybody connects. Our aesthetics matched perfectly.” Sylvia chimed in, “I feel that the relationship came first and the invitation into Elaine’s world followed. She was a very generous teacher and I fell in love with the process.”

Sylvia said, “I knew of the psychological work of the Stone Center at Wellesley College’s research into what happens when a relationship is truly mutual: When each feels heard and respected a synergy, an energy, is created. That happens to us all of the time.”

Elaine said; “I became interested in clay during the ‘70s, but I started with more functional, traditional pottery, not sculpture. I fell in love with the material. She states that she was “captured by clay.”

Sylvia was always drawn to interiors, has an incredible eye, a highly developed visual sensibility. Every piece she creates she envisions right out of Cote Sud. In four years, she has truly mastered the craft, her learning curve straight up.

Geometry and nature are main sources of inspiration. Elaine’s latest work is based on geometric forms and is more origami-like, although always related to natural forms. Sylvia is drawn to ribbed, segmented pieces and also uses natural forms to guide and inform her work. “Clay is always sensual. It holds universality.” Elaine says the material can feel like mud or stone as it changes into differing states of plasticity.

All the work is hand-built, using coils and slabs to construct pieces. The challenge is how to create variation, texture, different finishes, using no glazes. They introduce a variety of natural materials into the kiln—weeds, horse urine, banana peels, donkey dung, sawdust, cactus, chemicals, copper, iron, and magnesium. Elaine said; “You have to give up control to the fire. It’s not predictable. Sometimes we fire a piece many times. The add-ins effects the surfaces, as does the relationship of the pieces in the kiln. You are always taking a risk.” Sylvia said; “Opening up a pit firing or the kiln after a firing is like opening up gifts at Christmas. Sometimes you like what you get and sometimes you don’t.”

They had a choice, either put the work out there or put it under the bed. They chose the former. Gracias a Dios.

Website:, available as of October 28

Contact (415) 154-7177


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