Natchez Project brings clay artists together

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 10, 2010

NATCHEZ — Conner Burns has invited a few friends to town.

Burns, a local clay artist, will host three other clay artists for a weeklong work session, called the Natchez Project, which culminates in a public exhibit on Saturday including work from all four artists.

The Natchez Project, Burns said, provides a unique experience for artists as they spend a week, free from unwanted distractions, creating with other artists.

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“Even as an artist, when I would interact with other artists it would be at exhibits,” Burns said. “It is rare to see an artists’ work in process. Typically, we see each other’s finished pieces, but it is good to see the process and see other artists in the studio working.”

For this year’s Natchez Project, Burns invited three artists, who all work in clay, to his Natchez studio. But Burns said, outside of their medium of choice, the artists, creatively, have very little in common.

“I picked three people whose work I like, but have three completely different styles,” Burns said. “I wanted to pick people to represent a diversity of processes and but also people whose personalities match well with each other.”

This year Burns will be joined by Scott Bennett, Matt Chatterley and Steven Hill.

Bennett, from Birmingham, Ala., works with both sculptures and vessels.

Bennett received a master’s of fine art in ceramics at the Ohio State University in 1989. His sculptures have been exhibited in galleries and museums nationwide. He was a prototype designer for Bath and Body Works and White Barn Candle Company for seven years, and has been working with clay since 1979.

He is a co-owner of Red Dot Gallery in Birmingham.

Chatterley, from Williamston, Mich., creates large-scale figurative works. His work has been featured recently in Ceramics Monthly and Metropolitan Home.

He has both a bachelor of fine arts and a master of fine arts degree from Michigan State University.

His work has been in publications including “American Art Collector,” “The Sculpture Reference” and “500 Figures in Clay: Ceramic Artists Celebrate the Human Form.”

Steven Hill, from Chicago, makes elegant vessels and has been teaching clay artists for over 35 years.

He has been a professional studio potter since 1974. He is the co-owner of Center Street Clay in Sandwich, Ill. His work has been exhibited and sold in nationally juried shows and featured in many ceramics books.

He has conducted more than 200 workshops throughout the United States and Canada and written articles for “Ceramics Monthly,” “Pottery Making Illustrated” and “Studio Potter.”

Burns said he is excited about the group of artists that has been assembled this year.

“They are all phenomenal, at the top of the field,” he said.

The Natchez Project begins Monday with no set agenda or goal, Burns said. Each artist will have access to Burns’ studio on Franklin Street at anytime, and Burns said “we will just see what happens.”

“Last year, the artists both wanted to spend time each day critiquing each other’s work,” Burns said. “This year, who knows. (This project) is to allow artists to learn from and experience other artists and how that happens won’t be determined until the artists are together.”

At the end of the week, the fellowship of artists will host a free public exhibit in the gallery at Burns’ studio. The exhibit is from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday at 209 Franklin St.

Each artist will bring completed pieces to display, but will projects in the works will also be shown. The artists will also be on hand during the exhibit.

“People visiting galleries only see artists best work, the perfect pieces,” Burns said. “This opportunity gives people the chance to see work that’s not perfect, that’s not complete and ask the artist about the process.

“Most people enjoy seeing and learning about the process as much as the end product.”