“Whatever you can do or dream that you can… begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” Goethe
[Montrose, Colo. | February 2020 | San Juan Silver Stage | By Linda White]
For Jana Gray Adams, it’s all about clay. She’s an artist and, at heart, a ceramicist, but it took her a while to get there. As a young girl in 1950s Fort Worth, Texas, seeing the world in colors and form was not an accepted view, nor was “artist” an occupation. “I was not encouraged at home or in school,” she said. “Young ladies, in particular, were expected to be traditional, which meant business classes or home economics.”
During high school, Adams was lucky enough to meet a church member who was an artist. She began taking his painting classes. Palette knife in hand, she could paint anything and everything. And her world grew.
When she got to college, Adams majored in interior design. The curriculum required every basic art course, and one was pottery. Young Adams’ artistic vision saw fruition. She found a pottery teacher, signed up for an eight-week course, and learned to throw clay. Her father, an engineer, built the wheel she would use for years. She bought an electric kiln and was on her way. “Clay forms in the earth as silica, and with the wheel, the different shapes are formed and the ideas boundless. After that, I was self-taught with the through line being ‘practice, practice, practice.’”
Following graduation, she moved to Phoenix in the late 1970s, where she taught a girlfriend the craft. Soon they were selling their wares at swap meets. “After adding wind chimes and selling out of everything, we were really inspired! We then started customizing for tourists and placing art in local shops and doing art shows.”
But Phoenix was getting too crowded, and she longed for the solitude of the Colorado mountains. Adams moved to Redstone in 1985 and continued the pottery and wind chime business, which expanded throughout the western U.S. and into various galleries. “Everything was great until the Gulf War, when orders stopped coming in.”
The next move was to Paonia in 1992. “It was a good move,” Adams said. “The studio grew and fabulous art was made for 25 years!” But when her circumstances changed, she sold her studio and pottery equipment and moved to Montrose.
“I really didn’t think I would be a potter or artist again, but a new acquaintance invited me on a weekend trip with friends. I saw a demonstration of alcohol ink that transforms ink on paper. It is fast-drying, highly pigmented, and great on ceramics, too. It was picking up the palette knife again, but with air as the brush and the fabulous colors inspirational. Here I was—no tools, no studio, no prospects of staying with my art, and suddenly all that changed. I took an online course and discovered an art of bright colors, intense and transforming—like watercolors with an attitude! It opened windows in my art, my perception, and my imagination.”
Adams now works (and teaches) clay art using an air-dry process. “Unlike vitrification with kiln-firing (the process that prevents water penetration), the air-dry approach is fragile. Sealed with acrylic, the method is demanding and requires the sensitivity of human touch, especially in my recent work with masks. Being a member of the Montrose Center for the Arts, I can show my work and I’ll be teaching classes in the spring. I love sharing my art and my world. It’s why I became an artist.”
While Adams utilizes a variety of media and artistic techniques, including alcohol ink and encaustic wax, it all goes back to clay. Her masks on display at the Montrose Art Center through March demonstrate that truth. The current technique, with clay personified in images, reflects dreams, mystery, and ourselves, visualizing and forming and reshaping and starting over and finishing and stepping back and seeing the one-of-a-kind, the art. The world in colors and form; the accepted view. The “artist” as occupation.
Water, heat, and the human touch: profound simplicity, staggering history. When her hands mold an object, Jana Gray Adams steps in line with an ancient ritual. And now that clay is back in her life, for Adams, everything has come full circle.
Above: Jana with her clay masks. Left: Clay masks. Above: Spirit bowl. All are done with new air-dry clay. (Images courtesy of the artist.)