Inspiration is stacked up at Roseville Arts ceramic exhibit

Totems, Plates & Teapots reinvents traditional forms with whimsy
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
-A +A

When artist Robyn Slakey was growing up, her dad nicknamed her Little Miss What If?

Ideas often came to her in dreams or as she lay awake at night trying to fall asleep - she'd wonder what if she did this or tried that?

"What if I did 10 feet of doughnuts?" Slakey thought one day a few years ago.

Instead of wondering, the Sacramento-based artist tried it out, making a totem of dozens of colorful ceramic donuts.

One of her latest food-inspired creations is a 10-foot-tall totem of stacked cupcakes, which will be displayed in the Totems, Plates & Teapots ceramic exhibit and competition at the Blue Line Gallery in Roseville from April 20 to June 2.

Well-known Sacramento figurative artist Tony Natsoulas invited more than 80 artists to participate and compete in works of clay for the second-annual exhibit, sponsored by the Placer Community Foundation and Alpha Fired Arts.

"This show presents traditional forms in nontraditional ways," Natsoulas said. "Plates are presented as paintings, totems as contemporary sculpture and teapots as conversation and conventional use."

The competition is juried by Director of the American Museum of Ceramic Art Christy Johnson. The grand prize winner receives a full-color announcement in Ceramics Monthly featuring their prized piece.

Slakey had an easy time finding inspiration for her piece in the show.

"Tony said, 'Do what you love,'" she said. "And I thought, I like dessert."

She spent more than four months creating the totem, which involved making cupcakes of differing sizes - the bottom cupcake is about 45 pounds of clay and the top one is the size of a dime. At first, she struggled with making frosting out of clay.

Slakey first experimented with food-themed art a few years ago when the U.S. economy began to tank. She doesn't believe that art always has to be serious. Sometimes it can be whimsical.

"Peoples were always saying something negative," she said. "Why not make something happy? ... When (people) come up to the totem, they start smiling."

Ceramic artist Lee Kavaljian will display a piece that also incorporates light-heartedness, although with a serious undertone.

"I (will) display a plate on which there are some buildings, more or less in 'profile,'" Kavaljian said. "I am thinking of entitling the piece Short-Sale Entree, inspired by the current real-estate market here in Sacramento where short sales of homes are common, and because these buildings are on a plate the way a restaurant entree would be."

He thinks the title conveys humor, but he's considering a different name.

"Perhaps it's a bit risky, because short sales are not happy events for sellers," he said.

Kavaljian, a longtime professor at California State University, Sacramento, has showcased his ceramic artwork for the past 50 years. His work is often architecturally inspired with an Asian influence. Many pieces are of spirit houses, bridges, boats and other structures.

In addition to veteran artists Slakey and Kavaljian, the Blue Line exhibit features pieces from several up-and-coming artists and from the "Alpha Women," a group of a dozen or so ladies who meet weekly to work on projects at Alpha Fired Arts in Sacramento.

One of those women is Jackie LaFleur who has a ceramic piece featuring a barrel of monkeys in the show. On a recent afternoon, she crafted a pair of ceramic giraffes.

"I'm the animal person around here," she said, smiling.

Sena Christian can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at SenaC_RsvPT.


Roseville Arts presents Totems, Plates & Teapots exhibit and competition

When: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays from April 20 to Saturday, June 2

Where: Blue Line Gallery, 405 Vernon St. in Roseville

Cost: Free

Info: Call (916) 783-4117 or visit