Maker of the Week - Bonnie Belt

Monday 30 January 2012

Bonnie's fascination with nature and trees has pervaded most of her 30-year career in art. She attended ceramics courses at college and later studied Chinese brush painting, from which she learned the subtleties of brushwork and the Chinese philosophy that influences her work: "The natural world and respect for nature is the primary focus of my life and art. I could not exist without the solitude of the forest or the interaction with the wildlife at my home in rural Northern California," she says.

Bonnie tries to capture the drama and movement of the windswept trees of her coastal surroundings: "I especially love the cypress trees, the way they obstinately hang onto the edges of cliffs, bent by the wind, yet still survive. They express the enduring - yet fragile - existence of nature," she comments.

Her most recent work is expanding on this nature theme with bird and wave motifs. Bonnie has chosen the heron for its elegant look and serene imagery. In her sculptures, she hopes to show the graceful lines of the body and the flowing expressive wings of these birds. The 'Wave' pieces are inspired by the Japanese master of woodcut prints, Hokusai, especially his Mt. Fuji wave print: "The waves show not only the power of nature but also its graceful beauty."

Bonnie sculpts each piece individually from white stoneware clay, often attaching her trees and birds to a vessel made on the potter's wheel. She likes combining the symmetry of a vessel with the flowing movement of her sculptures. She hopes to make the viewer feel the tranquility and harmony of the subject, but also experience the tenacity of the natural world: "I use detail to define my subjects who are realistic but fanciful. Many of my pieces have a final smoke firing. It is a relatively quick end to the laborious sculpting, throwing and glazing process. After the piece is masked with glaze, I layer sawdust, newspaper and whatever organic materials from my yard - usually dried redwood needles, madrone or oak leaves - into a metal bin. I gently pack each piece into the can and smoke the barrels for 45 minutes to an hour, allow the sculptures to cool, then remove them and scrub them clean. This gives each piece an organic, ancient finish that compliments the sculpture."

Bonnie currently exhibits her work at galleries and museum stores, including the de Young Museum, San Francisco and The Smithsonian Museum Shops, Washington, DC.

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Images, from top to bottom:

1. 'Cypress Cutaway Bowl', 150mm (6in) wide x 150mm (6in) high, white stoneware sculpted on hand thrown bowl, underglazed, smokefired, with acrylic gold interior

2. 'Cypress Pedestal Cutout Vase', 460mm (18in) high x 200mm (8in) wide, white stoneware sculpted on hand thrown bowl, underglazed, smokefired, with acrylic gold interior

3. 'Flame Wing Heron Sculpture', 460mm (18in) high x 230mm (9in) wide,white stoneware sculpted on hand thrown vase, then underglazed

4. 'Grapevine Teapot', 230mm (9in) high x 255mm (10in) wide, white stoneware sculpted on hand thrown teapot, underglazed, then smokefired

5. 'Hollowbody Cypress Ring', 200mm (10oin) high x 100mm (4in) dia., white stoneware sculpted on hand thrown ring, underglazed, then smokefired

6. 'Wave Rim Bowl', 100mm (4in) high x 150mm (6in) wide, white stoneware, carved, cutout and textured on hand thrown vase (PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF BONNIE BELT)