Even the most urban-based child manages to find enough dirt and water to create mud pies at least once in their lives, but for Dayton potter Roberta Zimmerman, three out of four of the sacred elements — Earth, Air, and Water — were an integral part of every childhood summer. (Fire, she added when she was an adult.)
“I was born in Arizona, the first-born daughter of a real cowboy and a homemaker,” Zimmerman says. “We lived all over Arizona on cattle ranches and movie sets, as my father worked on all of John Ford’s western movies shot in Arizona.”
While Zimmerman’s father attended to the stuff of legends, Zimmerman focused on that legendary childhood stuff — mud pies, baked under the scorching Arizona sun. When it got too hot for inedible culinary production, Zimmerman did what any sensible child would do and ran around barefoot.
“We found Indian arrowheads just laying all over the land. Another favorite pastime was chasing lizards — it was a challenge to be fast enough to catch them!”
Such is the stuff of memories better than legends, and in Zimmerman’s life, those memories have shaped the art that she does today: hand-thrown, hand-painted pottery designed to endure (because of that Fire she added, pushing the temperature in her studio kiln to 2300 degrees Fahrenheit) as well as be used for the cooking and serving of food (definitely not recommended with mud pies).
The lizards she chased and the arrowheads she admired factor strong in the decorative inspiration she adds to her finished work, expressing her reverence for and respect of Native American art and artists.
“The works I create reflect my love of the West and the ancient people who came before us,” Zimmerman explains. “Each and every piece is thrown on the pottery wheel, so there are no identical pieces — no molds.
“The paintings are free-hand paintings, no stencils. All the glazes are lead free to be safe for dinnerware.
“It is my deep wish that folks will enjoy using these pieces I create.”
In between childhood mud pies and adult work with clay, Zimmerman’s residence in the art arena took a break as she ceded to the demands of the work world, serving 11 years as a police dispatcher and 11 years as a correctional officer at Washington State Penitentiary (she and her husband, Ralph, who also worked as a correctional officer, like to tell friends that they met in prison).
When severe back surgery in 1999 resulted in an earlier retirement than Zimmerman had initially envisioned, Ralph’s practical, yet encouraging, nature propelled her forward when he asked,
“What do you want to do?”
Pottery. The answer was out before the question was finished.
“I just always wanted to do that ever since I was a little girl,” Zimmerman says. “So I started taking classes at community college, Ralph bought me a wheel and a kiln, and I was off and running.
“I bought every book I could get my hands on and highlighted and highlighted, and just tried and tried.”
Through the years, in addition to working with white stoneware, Zimmerman has explored Raku, pit-fired, black smoked, and horse hair pottery, and she has sold her work through art fairs, regional shows, gift shops, co-ops, and at Sun Lizard Studios, the brand name for her work which she creates from her Wolf Fork home.
An inveterate learner, she has added the Internet to her repertoire of information resources, communicating online with artist colleagues in Germany, Israel, and throughout the world. Ralph, ever the encourager, owes gratitude to the opportunities technology offers, remembering the five-hour driving detour they took once in Nevada so Zimmerman could visit a potter’s studio she had heard about.
“It turned out to be a fascinating place,” she remembers.
But just as fascinating is Sun Lizard Studios, named when Zimmerman’s daughter playfully observed, “Well, Mom, you are just an old sun lizard!” In this mountain retreat, where a bear swimming in the pond or turkeys strolling through the yard replace lizards darting underfoot, the child who spent her summers slapping mud seamlessly picks up where those joyous days of abandon left off.
“Making pottery has been the fulfillment of a dream for me.”
Roberta Zimmerman is the featured Art Event artist at Wenaha Gallery, 219 East Main Street, Dayton, WA from Monday, July 13 through Saturday, August 8.
Contact the gallery by phone at 800.755.2124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and by appointment. Visit the Wenaha Gallery website online at www.wenaha.com.
Wenaha Gallery is your destination location for Greenwich Workshop Fine Art Prints, professional customized framing, and original fine art paintings and sculpture by notable Pacific Northwest artists. Books, gifts, note cards, jigsaw puzzles, and more are also available. Visit at 219 East Main, Dayton, WA.
This article was written by Carolyn Henderson.