Glenwood potter makes vase for each war fatality
October 17, 2005
Nine for every one ” the statistic ran through Annette Roberts-Gray’s head. Nine soldiers injured in Iraq for every one killed. And so many killed, more than 2,000.
Roberts-Gray, who is a potter living in Glenwood Springs, wanted to do something for the dead.
“The statistic got me thinking about [the war]. I wanted to do a vase for every soldier killed,” she said.
That was months ago. Now, Roberts-Gray’s ceramic studio in her house is awash in white porcelain vases, each about six inches high, each stamped with the name of a soldier, the date of death and age, and military branch ” Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force.
“I want them to be a memorial,” she said.
There are about 250 of them now, in various stages of completion. Roberts-Gray hopes to have about 500 by next spring for a show at the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities. The show will open in March, the anniversary of America’s invasion of Iraq.
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“That first year’s casualities were 590,” she said.
“I wanted pure white porcelain because it’s like marble; it’s very translucent,” she said.
Each vase has small handles or lugs on the side, a pointed lug for men, a serpentine handle for women.
Roberts-Gray downloaded the list of Iraqi war dead from the Internet.
“I’ve really gotten into the names. I realize what a melting pot we are,” she said.
She spends about one hour on each piece.
“A lot of my potter friends think I’ve lost my mind,” she said. The production “is so repetitive. But in a way I feel I’m honoring production potters.”
Roberts-Gray has come to her project ” indeed her life as an artist in Glenwood Springs ” on a winding path that led from the door of her parents’ house in Salt Lake City. Her father was a mining engineer who worked for Kennecott, which operates the largest copper mine in the world across the valley from Salt Lake City.
When she was 11 years old the family pulled up stakes and moved to Silver City, in southwestern New Mexico, where she graduated from high school. Roberts-Gray went to Western New Mexico University in Silver City. Although she studied ceramics, “I never thought I could make a living at it, so I went into health care and family planning,” she said.
That degree led her to take a job in 1981 at Planned Parenthood in Glenwood Springs.
In 1998, Annette left Planned Parenthood “to see if I could make a go of it in pottery. It’s a hard way to make a living,” she said. Most of her art revolves around the functional ” everyday mugs and bowls and plates. “I like people to appreciate pottery in daily use.”
Her work is for sale in the Artist’s Mercantile and the Carbondale Clay Center.
The soldiers’ vases represent a sharp turn away from that.
“This project is a real departure from what I’ve always done,” she said.
These days, when she returns from her day job ” packing fine art for moving or storage ” it’s back to the soldier vases. Seated at a low table, she attaches the lugs to the sides of the vases. “In a way they remind me of little people,” she said of the ovoid vases, “they’re figurative.”
First, she throws the basic shape on the wheel, then when they have dried to a leathery consistency, shapes the cylinders into ovals.
She’s also trying to figure out a way to wire each vase with a small light bulb so that the letters of the soldiers’ names are illuminated.
With the same movements, over and over, Roberts-Gray finds a kind of peace in the work.