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Terry Balden plate
By Rachel Kiser
MT. VERNON ARTIST Terri Balden is no stranger to art. She’s experimented with many different mediums. She’s used a split-nib pen and inkwell to write approximately 10,000 names in chancery-style calligraphy, and for many years, watercolors and oils were the stars of her portfolio. One of her paintings was chosen for an internationally distributed calendar, and another was used as the design for the dust jacket of a book.
But in 2003, she took a detour from fine art, rinsed off and put away her paint brushes, and tried one more medium: stoneware pottery.
“Whenever my husband, Gordon, and I would go to art fairs, I would buy other potters’ work,” Terri says. “And Gordon said, ‘Why don’t you make your own?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know how.’ ”
So that Christmas, Gordon bought Terri pottery lessons, and she began sculpting and molding her new life as a potter.
“I’m a fine artist who turned into a potter, and the clay is my canvas,” she says. “The clay has proved to be an immensely enjoyable medium, capable of withstanding the whims of an imagination, yet still holds the capabilities of being functional.”
Terri’s pottery is showcased throughout the state. Currently, Art Impressions Gallery and Framing in Sedalia and Waverly House Gifts and Gallery in Springfield house her work.
Other than the initial pottery lessons, Terri is a self-taught artist. When she switched from fine art to pottery, Terri started making bowls to master the technique of throwing clay on the wheel and molding it into art. Her repertoire has now bloomed to include mugs, plates, platters, and more.
These pieces are functional yet also decorative with extensive hand-carving on the surface of her pots. She also creates unusual forms by combining different pottery techniques, such as wheel thrown, extruded (pressing the clay through a simple hand-powered machine), and slab-rolled clay.
“A pitcher may be a combination of several methods,” Terri says. “The body may be extruded, the bottom is a slab, the spout may be wheel-thrown, and the handle would be hand-pulled. All these variety of pieces are then assembled into one piece.”
The process of creating these pieces can take almost three days from start to finish. Terri uses stoneware clay to throw whatever piece is on tap; usually her decision of what comes next is based on inventory and what has sold well. Mugs and bowls usually sell the best.
She takes the pottery off the wheel, lets it air dry, then puts it into the kiln for 12 hours at 1,888 degrees. After 24 hours, it is cool and ready to be glazed. It goes back in the kiln so the glaze can set, and it is fired for another eight hours at 2,232 degrees until it is ready to cool for one more day before being finished.
Not all of Terri’s pottery is created equal. The shape of the pot will change how Terri places her hands and where she exerts pressure when she is throwing on the wheel. A mug will require her to bring the clay up into a straight cylinder. If she is fashioning a bowl, she forms the clay to lie flatter and brings the sides out more.
The glaze used also changes among each pot created; the concept of one-size-fits-all is nonexistent in Terri’s studio. She mixes her own glazes, and some colors are harder to come by than others. Take, for instance, a large bowl she designed with hand-carvings riddling the sides. It has blue runs that glide down the inside of it, and the blue subtly changes into soft lavender. It’s not often she can manage to get a lavender out of the glaze, which makes the piece unique.
Shifting from a portfolio laden with fine art to one where pottery snags the main stage has also shifted Terri’s view of her artwork.
“Whenever I did fine art, it would take me a whole year to do a painting and get it finished,” she says. “Pottery doesn’t take that long. And I like being able to sell it to people. I like to see that it makes them happy, that they enjoy my work.”