RIDGWAY – Start with a 16x16-inch masonite board and a five-pound brick of modeling clay. Take a few tools and the gift of time – two hours’ worth, to be exact. Now, let’s see what you can do.
A small crowd of 21 adventurous souls accepted this challenge on Saturday, June 23, at the first-ever Ridgway Amateur Sculpture Contest. Participants ranged vastly in age, experience, artistic vision and ability, and came from across the Western Slope of Colorado, as well as Texas and New Mexico.
As the amateurs seated themselves at tables in the Ridgway Community Center and unwrapped their clay, the room brimmed with conversation and excitement. John Billings, a local sculptor known to many as the man who makes the Grammy Awards, pronounced the occasion, in his opening remarks, “The most exciting thing that’s ever happened in Ridgway,” and admitted he was moved to tears to think that such a thing was occurring in his home town.
There was a hush as the sculptors began wrestling with their clay, smoothing and shaping, slicing and building the raw stuff into myriad forms. Onlookers and judges paced the sidelines, bearing witness as the room became populated with animals, abstracts, fantasy creatures, brave experiments with human form.
At one table, out of three blocks of clay emerged a charming mouse, a primordial swirl of tree trunk, an awkward goddess. At another, a smooth reclining female nude with hair curling about her shoulders, a dragon mother with her young, a Dr. Seuss-like tree with dredlock branches.
When two hours had passed, the artists put down their tools and walked away from their creations. A panel of local professional artists determined the winners and awarded cash prizes of $1,000, $500 and $250 for first, second and third place respectively.
But it wasn’t an easy job. “Everyone was inspiring, and deserved recognition,” they said.
The grand prize went to 24-year-old Tessa Arnett of Delta, a petite redhead with a biology degree, who had just returned from Alaska, where she was an observer on a fishing boat. Her clay creation: a squid, inspired by those she had seen at sea, that was perfectly rendered, down to the last suction cup.
Linda Cannizzaro, a Ouray summer resident hailing from Texas, won Billings’ nod for Best in Show, and third place overall, with her whimsical sculpture portraying a little girl engaged in shadow play.
Other prizewinners included Deb Scott of Montrose (second place), and emerging teenage artists Kiana Zieman of Ridgway and Dylin Jarboe of Farmington, N.M., who took fourth and fifth place, respectively.
Zieman, 14, participates in the Art Partners of Delta, Montrose and Ouray County program, and has recently been paired with Ridgway clay artist Danelle Norman. The talented teen practiced her piece for several weeks leading up to the show, said Art Partners coordinator Lissette Riviere, who was thrilled with Zieman’s success.
The contest complemented Ridgway’s recent designation by Gov. John Hickenlooper as one of five Prospective Creative Districts across the state of Colorado. Indeed, its primary champion and organizer, Ridgway artist Mike McCullough, is a key player on Ridgway’s Creative District board.
McCullough declared the contest a smashing success. “We are already talking next year,” he said.
The contest was co-sponsored by Weehawken Creative Arts, and serendipitously timed to dovetail with that organization’s launching of “All Fired Up,” the new clay center in Ridgway that opened this spring. The Center offers classes and workshops in hand-building, wheel throwing, open studio, and more. For more information, visit www.weehawkenarts.org