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I just started working in clay at THE CLAY ART CENTER on October 8, 2011. Here's how it happened.

September 25, 2011 my boyfriend has a small stroke that affects his eyes so he can't drive to work. He also awaits cataract surgery. So as soon as he is able, I drive him to MOUNT VERNON NY and decide to hang around until 5 pm when we can go back to NJ. A trip back to NJ will cost $10 bridge toll plus gas and at least 1 hr of my time, stuck in traffic. No-siree. I'll find something to do in Westchester. So I sit in the parking lot of the PELHAM LIBRARY pushing the "around me" button on my cell phone map. Two senior citizen centers tell me that they lost their federal funding so ONLY locals can be served-- sorry! Local LIBRARIES are nice, but for reading, not artwork. Colleges are prohibitively expensive, and no auditing of classes for seniors, SORRY!

Two art centers allow me to register for a 2 hours a week but this is pricey and what will I do the rest of the time? They never heard of "open studio," i guess. On my fourth day sitting in my car, I phone THE CLAY ART CENTER in port chester, ny. A welcoming voice named Dominique invites me to come visit, have a tour and chat about my needs and what they have to offer. Wow. I sign up for independent study in clay for $150 a month, plus the cost of materials and firing fees and my life changes big time.

I start modeling clay like I am 5 yrs old and the results are on this page. By December 2011 the boyfriend has finished his cataract surgery, his minor stroke has healed itself, and he is driving himself to work, with me in the passenger seat. It's time for me to step aside and give him the car during the day, but I refuse to stop my clay classes because I'm having too much FUN.

Here's one of my favorite pieces. It's one of the first ones I made, back in October or November 2011. I called this LADY GODIVA because that's the only thing I could think of for a nude on a horse, but it looks more like INDIAN MAIDEN on HORSE. The clay is a mixture of buff stoneware, white stoneware, and bits of porcelain that I salvaged from the recycling bucket. I hollowed out the horse and figure with various drills and tools and poked holes everywhere possible because I was told the steam has to come out in the kiln. What did I know.

This piece is glazed with rutile wash then base glaze of the century on the horse and I think charlie D glaze on the figure. But remember, I never follow rules, which means I never mixed up either glaze so it was more of a WASH than a glaze. Beginners luck, i love the way this turned out. Today, feb 29, 2012, i added dark blue lettering enamel to the hair of the indian maiden and part of the horse mane and tail. Then I scrubbed that paint off again under hot water with a brush. I love the effect, where part of the paint remains. I sold this piece to a wonderful artist from englewood nj.

Today, January 23, 2012, I'm updating my website to add my CLAY sculptures. Here I am working on a DANCING COUPLE, made from cone 10 paperclay, with black slip applied. The black slip looks brown because nothing is fired. This is "greenware," which will not be ready to be bisqued until it dries out for a few days, maybe a week or two.

Ok, it's now 29 February 2012 and the DANCING COUPLE is finished. I do not know how to glaze very well so the faces are touched up with rustoleum enamel tinted with red lettering enamel, whatever that is. I used cans of stuff i had around the house. I was thinking about Lachaise when I made this piece, but I've been told it looks more like R. Crumb, which I take as a great compliment. So far, I have not looked at any photos of anything when working in clay. It's a game for me, like not looking at the answers when doing a crossword puzzle (altho in that case i often cheat.)

I am finding my way in clay, and everything is an experiment. The dancers are made with WHITE PAPERCLAY, just using my fingers and some tools to model. I painted BLACK SLIP on the man's suit and woman's dress and carved thru it or rather scratched thru it with a tool while it was still just greenware. After the bisque fire I added glazes, which I forget. Let me think. It was oxblood over black slip on shoes, oxblood on hair followed by bk purple glaze which turned the hair grey. I fixed that with black "lettering enamel" oil paint. Until i figure out what to do, I just make do.

Here it is March 1, 2012 and I'm adding more photos of my clay work.

Here is a statue called THE BUNNER SISTERS, modelled out of buff stoneware. I listen to books on tape while I drive to Port Chester, and one story by EDITH WHARTON caught my interest, THE BUNNER SISTERS. I loved the sweet relationship and love they had for each other, struggling to maintain a trimming shop in a basement store in the lower east side of NYC in the 1870's, So I made this little statue of them. I got all the glazes ok except the flesh tones, which alas are put on with rustoleum enamel, almond white mixed with a little red called "lettering enamel" from another old can in my basement at home. I do plan to learn more about glazing soon.

You may notice that this statue is a little klutzy looking. That's because I'm in INDEPENDENT STUDY, not a class, so I'm figuring things out on my own. I had read that "nylon thread clay" worked very well when it came to holding delicate forms together, so I bought a container of nylon threads from ceramic art supply in lodi, nj. I added these to buff stoneware, and it turned out to be a HUGE pain in the neck, a hairy mess. Plus, the heads broke off before I bisqued the piece. So I added those white collars (thanks to rustoleum paint) to the statue before firing and thank my lucky stars it survived ok!

The shape of these ladies came about because I had tried to make MISS NJ SHORE earlier, but it broke off at the ankles in the kiln. So this time I was determined to work more carefully. I started at the waist, upside down, with the legs up in the air. But then realized the statue would be wayyy too tall, so instead of legs, I made these two ladies.

After complaining at the difficulty of modeling nylon threads, you may notice the dress patterns look pretty crisp. That is because I carved thru blue and green SLIP on each piece. Slip is, after all, clay, so that was like a smooth coating over the hairy base.

This statue of ADAM and EVE is i guess sort of a self portrait of me and the boyfriend. I take photos as I work and plan to post a video on youtube (under "leoniagirl") showing how I made this piece.

This is white "paperclay" that is my most recent experimental clay. Paperclay is less apt to break than regular clay, so they say. My forms are hollow, and in this case I sort of rolled them. While working the clay, I have a squirt bottle handy (94 cents at home depot garden dept) to keep the clay from cracking.

Since I still have not found a good glaze for bright red, the apples are thanks to red "lettering enamel," found in my basement. The white part of the apple is almond rustoleum.

The bodies of Adam and Eve are unglazed, just red iron oxide applied very thin. The grass and snake are my old friend "base glaze of the century" with blue lettering paint mixed with white rustoleum applied in spots to the snake. I forget what black I used for the tree and hair. Could it be willy helix? Must remember to take notes!

Red riding hood is one of my favorite fables and the wolf was easy to model because he looks like my dog MOOKIE, even tho my Mookie is a SHE not a he. I sold this figurine to a couple in Edmonds, Washington and they plan to place it underneath one of my paintings. I wish them many years of happiness together with red riding hood.

By the way, not everything is roses when it comes to me and clay. I really don't know what I am doing, and it shows all too often. Here are three of my failures, if you can call them that. I so much enjoyed making them that I don't feel my time was wasted. The little girl has a broken nose and arm in the kiln, the middle one of Miss NJ shore broke at the ankles and has been epoxied together, the one on the right tilted and burned in the kiln because I used too much iron oxide and too little shino glaze. But I am undeterred. I shall rise and try again, after I eat some ice cream.

Here is another photo of one of my favorite pieces, LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD on the wolf, that I mailed today, March 3, 2012, to a man and woman in Washington State.

Rainy days are best for photographing artwork, in my opinion. Look at the lovely reflections, and the overcast sky makes no shadows! You can see what a lovely section of the world I live in here in New Jersey. This is my home town, where I grew up. Can't find a better place anywhere.

Below are two photographs of what I am working on now-- a clay statue of BERTHA HUBER, who was a wonderful friend to me and my children when we lived in New York City.

She started out as babysitter in 1961, when my oldest child was 3 months old, but ended up as an unpaid dear friend, my children's "step granny" who visited us every day, and sometimes lived with us.

She was the most important person in our lives, and most people thought she was my mother.

Miss Bertha Huber was born August 1888, in Kelheim, Germany a little town near Munich. She emigrated to the United States in the 30's or 40's and worked as governess for Marta Schenck (now Marti Stevens) whose father Nicholas Schenck worked for Louis B Mayer. She told me how she sat up all night to teach a boy named Gerry Ballin not to wet the bed. She said working for the Jergens family was interesting because every Christmas the help would line up for their present and each would be presented with a large bottle of Jergens Lotion.

Miss Huber had been recommended in February 1961 by an old employer of mine, Mrs Henry Duncan Wood III who taught "ballroom dancing with deportment" on the upper east side of New York City. I was her social secretary but needed child care for my 3-month old newborn.

Miss Bertha Huber was 73 years old, long retired from governess work, but we got together for coffee anyway. Miss Huber climbed the five flights to my cold-water flat at 518 E 76th Street (long since torn down) and we enjoyed the first of many streudels together over melitta coffee.

I showed her my baby and said, "don't you just love her?" Years later Miss Huber admitted she felt nothing at the time. It was just another baby to her. But soon, she said, "I ABSOLUTELY fell in love with her! Now I see that Diana is just a DARLING! She is the SWEETEST, most INTELLIGENT, most WONDERFUL baby in the world, and you just have to LOVE her!"

Months passed into years and Miss Huber became a part of our lives forever. She stopped taking money when my oldest was 2 years old, but stayed on free of charge, as a surrogate grandparent. When my family enlarged to three children, she stayed on because, "I feel sorry for the children, with such a mother!" Miss Huber criticized my cooking, my housecleaning and my quick temper, but when we got along we got along very well indeed, and when she was in my life my house was clean and orderly, and the children were well cared for. I was lucky indeed to have had her in my life for 14 years, from 1961 until she died in 1975.

Miss Huber wanted very much to be remembered, especially by my children and me. This photograph by Richard Slote shows her with Diana on Fifth Avenue looking at a big chocolate Easter egg in a shop window, about 1963.

I remember Miss Huber with my artwork. I've made paintings of her ascending into heaven, and now this clay statue of her sitting with her purse in her lap, as I imagine her watching my children in the park on 68th street near second avenue in NYC. I started this figurine in early March 2012, at the Clay Art Center independent study room. It was empty at the time and I felt lonely. I was wishing for Miss Huber to be there so we could have coffee together and discuss my wonderful children. I wanted to tell her what was new with Diana, Tommy and Becky, so I decided to make a little statue of her from memory. I could have looked at a photograph, but I prefer to remember with my head.

My clay sculpture shows her black felt hat, which she wore in winter, not summer, but I've got it on here anyway with her dark blue print "bolero dress", and her wrist watch, and big leather purse and sturdy walking shoes with the 2 inch heels. In life, her stockings were cotton, and carefully mended in spots because she did not want to waste anything. Her eyes became dim with cataracts but she still managed to keep an eye on the children and cook their meals.

She loved to treat them to steak tartare made into hamburgers, creamed spinach, and french fries. Sometimes she brought smoked pork chops, called "kassel a ripkin" bought specially from Shaller and Weber in Yorkville, near her apartment. Here is a little oil painting I made from a tiny photograph I took with my Minox camera. Miss Huber is serving dinner to Becky and Tommy on a card table set up in her little apartment at 529 East 81 St NYC. That apartment was so full of wonderful times for us, but after she died, we went back and it was empty, devoid of the happiness we remembered. It all left with her but we have our memories, and we were lucky to have her.

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