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Clayopolis in Carbondale

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesMissouri Heights artist K Rhynus Cesark became artistic director of the Carbondale Clay Center in November. The organization's benefit event, Carbondale Clay Night, is Saturday, May 22.
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CARBONDALE – K Rhynus Cesark, who has taught at many of the arts facilities in the Roaring Fork Valley – Anderson Ranch, Colorado Mountain College, Carbondale Clay Center – has one rule regarding her students: She won’t give them an assignment that she would be unwilling to take on herself.There is, however, a corollary to the rule. There is a certain direction that Cesark routinely gives her students that she has been unable to follow. She has tried, and continues to try, but is has proved elusive. It is the idea that an artistic idea should be examined thoroughly, even to the point of exhaustion, before moving on to the next thing. But the 45-year-old Missouri Heights resident has made a habit of jumping from one theme, one medium, one project, to the next before she has finished working over the previous one.”Like I’m all over the place? A.D.D.? That might describe it,” Cesark said. “I should probably stay with one idea longer than I do. But one idea leads the another and leads to another and another.”Those ideas have begun to pile up. At her home studio, Cesark works in ceramics, and in encaustic, a painting medium that combines heated beeswax with damar resin from the sap of fir trees. Among the latest ideas she has been working out is incorporating images into her ceramic work. This summer, for the second year, she will teach an adult encaustic class at Anderson Ranch; in the past, she has taught a kids class at the Ranch. In July, Cesark takes over as director of the ceramics program at CMC Aspen, a position she held several years ago, and in June she tackles new ground – the Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts in Tennessee, where she will also lead an encaustic class.And last November, Cesark took over as artistic director of the Carbondale Clay Center, where she shares virtually all responsibilities with Sarah Moore, who became the organization’s administrative director last fall. For the moment, that is the job that has the bulk of Cesark’s attention. On Saturday, May 22, the Clay Center will host a fundraising event, Carbondale Clay Night. The 5 p.m. event, which in the past has been called Cajun Clay Night, with a Louisiana theme, gets reworked this year as Clayopolis, with a Greek theme. The night will include Clay Olympic competitions, a toga contest, a Greek meal that includes dolmas, orzo, Greek salad, and a designated god and goddess. God for the night is Steven Colby, a former Clay Center artist in residence who is moving to Pennsylvania for grad school; goddess is Diane Kenney, the Clay Center’s founding director. Carrying on the tradition of a themed cake, Cesark and her husband, sculptor Mark Cesark, will make a Cracken cake, an idea borrowed from the recent “Clash of the Titans” movie. (For several years, the Cesarks assembled the famed alligator cakes for Cajun Clay Night.)Cesark did not get into the arts to be on the administrative side. A Connecticut native, she studied art and anthropology at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, and then earned an MFA in three-dimensional design at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. But after grad school, she worked for a year as an assistant to the director of curating at the Massachusetts College of Art, a job she describes with much enthusiasm. Over the years, she has also developed a passion for teaching. And while back, Cesark made a promise to Kenney to do what she could to help the Carbondale Clay Center. When Cesark, a board member at the Center, saw that the institution was foundering, she stepped up.”There was a series of announcements that the place was going down the tubes. And I said, No, I’m not going to let that happen,” Cesark said. In their brief tenure, she and Moore have already shored up the Center. This year, in a collaboration with the Carbondale studio SAW, the residency program is expanding from four artists to eight.••••Last summer the Cesark family, which includes two young boys, traveled to New Hampshire. There they spent time with the daughter of some friends of Mark’s, and K saw some resemblance between the daughter and K in her younger days.”She was quirky,” Cesark said. “She didn’t need other people to interact with. She entertained herself. That reminded me of the little-girl psyche that lives somewhere in me.”From the many photos she took of the girl, Cesark made “Wrangle,” a piece in encaustic and oil. The image of a threatened but confident little girl surrounded by big black birds earned much praise when it was exhibited at the Aspen Art Museum’s Roaring Fork Open last year. It was given a most prominent placement, at the entrance to the exhibition. One of the reasons, perhaps, that the piece is so attractive is how closely Cesark identified with the theme of a girl by herself, who didn’t need much external company. Cesark’s got plenty going on internally to keep her busy.Cesark confesses to possessing “an active mind. An overactive mind.” She goes through stretches where she will often work in her studio till 2 a.m. Typically, she will then balance herself by getting to bed early for awhile – but this does not rule out squeezing in studio time before she makes breakfast for the family.When Cesark had her kids, about a decade ago, she put her art-making on hold. Her creative thinking, however, was not so easily constrained. Her mind became crowded with ideas – so much so that she thought she needed a different medium besides ceramics, which had been pretty much her sole focus.”I started painting because I had a lot of ideas stored up after taking off four years to raise my kids,” Cesark said. “I had a lot of time to store information in my head. I thought a lot about why I made certain things, why certain images repeated in my work.”I saw [encaustic] as a way of getting my ideas out quicker than ceramics. In ceramics, I always wanted to get a lot of detail into the work, a lot of information. And the process is slow in ceramics. I felt like the process was slowing down the flow of my ideas. I thought that painting was a way of getting my ideas out faster. But now I’m finding that I’m getting as caught up in the process of painting. In both of them, there’s a lot of layering of information.”The latest round of her art career was kickstarted by a friend who not only insisted that Cesark take an Anderson Ranch-sponsored ceramics workshop in Jamaica, but paid Cesark’s way. “She said, ‘You need to be making art again,'” Cesark said. Cesark did her part as well, returning to being a full-time studio artist upon her return, and vowing to spend a year in the studio before she started teaching again.••••Early on Cesark was focused on one idea, relatively speaking. Her interest was in using ceramics to create narrative work. She came to Snowmass Village in the early ’90s to take workshops at Anderson Ranch with Richard Notkin, who she says is “one of the people at the forefront of ceramics, one of the main guys.” At the time, her work was taking a turn from personal narratives to a narrative that had more to do with the environment and social commentary.Over the years, Cesark has broadened her interests considerably. She has made series of books out of clay, ceramic cups made to resemble bundles of sticks, small-scale encaustic works. But while her creativity has ranged wide, there is a set of images that have continuously been present: most prominently birds and houses, but also trees, hearts and hands.Houses have become particularly significant in her recent work, and this might be connected to a return to issues of a more personal nature. “There’s houses floating with flowers carrying them through the sky, and balloon shapes. Or there’s chaos, all these houses suspended in space,” Cesark said. “The house is a place where you feel the safest, where you have your family, where you nurture them and they feel the safest. You think that could be jeopardized because of the economy and you think, ‘OK, where is home?’ And it’s wherever your family is. It’s not necessarily the four walls you’re paying a big mortgage on. You start to question what you need to feel safe and at home. And it’s not as much as you thought. “A lot of good thinking has come out of this economic downturn. What we actually need is very little.”That’s a piece of advice Cesark might get her students to buy – that they don’t need a lot of ideas, just a few ideas that should be examined extensively, from many angles. But Cesark is starting to think that that is one lesson that she can exempt herself from.”Maybe I’m just not meant to have one thing I’m working on,” she said.stewart@aspentimes.com


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