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Natchez Clay artist in residence blends styles in pottery pieces

NATCHEZ — Mary Baugh likes juxtaposition.

It is what fuels her art and, in a way, fuels her.

Traditional shapes of Southern whiskey jugs decorated with straight, sharp lines of city skylines and familiar vessels with just a hint of humor and whit are what come from Baugh’s hands.

“That’s my personality,” Baugh said. “I’ve always felt like I sort of didn’t fit in (anywhere), and I’m OK with that. That is what makes me who I am, and my art what it is.”

Baugh has been the artist in residence at Natchez Clay for 15 months teaching classes, throwing pots, and manning the studio on a day-to-day basis sweeping floors and on occasion even repairing the kiln.

Classes for this term begin the week after Labor Day. Baugh will be teaching beginning pottery classes. There are also classes in hand building, in which students will build Christmas village pieces, and intermediate level classes.

Her position is one of work exchange, which means, Baugh doesn’t get a paycheck, but she does get something as valuable to a clay artist — a potters wheel and firing privileges.

After graduating from Furman University in May 2009 with a bachelor’s degree in studio art, Baugh came to work at Natchez Clay and will finish up a two-year stint as artist in residence before moving on to attend graduate school.

Growing up Baugh knew she wanted to be an artist, but never thought clay would be her chosen medium.

“My parents owned the local print shop,” Baugh said. “That was a great place for a young artist to grow up because I was always cutting, taping, gluing and photocopying. I was allowed to play with my art from a young age.”

She began college as a studio art major with an emphasis in painting, but after working one summer at a camp for girls in North Carolina, where she was assigned to the crafts area, she discovered her real love was messier.

“I was taught to throw on a Wednesday and began teaching on a Thursday,” Baugh said. “I had a one day advantage over the 7-year-old girls.”

And that one experience was all it took for Baugh to be hooked on clay.

After getting her hands wet on the wheel at camp, Baugh began working at night learning techniques and reading books she could find on pottery.

When she returned to school, she officially switched her concentration from painting to ceramics.

As graduation neared, Baugh began looking for a position to work as an artist. Originally, she wanted an apprenticeship that allowed her to work directly with a master potter, but instead took the position in Natchez, which is a community artist position.

Baugh said while the set up was not originally what she felt she was looking for, she now believes what she is doing now was right for her.

“I don’t know any other place that can give me the number of opportunities I’ve had here,” Baugh said noting she has taught classes for children though senior adults. “I have a good breadth of experiences now.”

Donna Jones, co-owner of Natchez Clay said that is how the position is intended to be used. Jones said not only is Baugh teaching classes but she is also using the time at the studio to create art.

“What has been really great about Mary is watching her work develop since she got here,” Jones said. “She is a very prolific potter and is not afraid to try new things and test lots of glazes and techniques. We have watched her work change as she has.

“It has been so good to see her working so hard to develop her heart in the clay.”

Jones said Baugh displays a dedication to her chosen medium that helps other members of the studio.

“What I think would surprise many people is the amount of research she does about clay,” Jones said. “She is constantly on the Internet reading Web sites and blogs and magazines. She really brings a wealth of knowledge that those of us who are just hobby potters would never thing to check into.

“She is always willing to try anything new. She is always game to experiment and play.”

Not only is Baugh teaching, cleaning and manning Natchez Clay on most days, she is also actively showing and selling her creations at art markets and festivals.

She regularly displays at art markets in Baton Rouge and in June was asked to be one of 25 artists to represent the New Orleans Arts Council at a show in Norfolk, Va.

After Hurricane Katrina, the arts council in Norfolk asked what they could do to help the arts community in New Orleans rebuild. The answer was for the Norfolk council to sponsor two busloads of artists at their annual show.

“As an artist, this was an opportunity to go and show my work and see people interact with it,” Baugh said. “Going to shows can be expensive for an artist, but at this one everything is basically taken care of you and you just concentrate on having a body of work to show.”

Locally she is involved with ArtsNatchez Gallery and displays work there and at the Natchez Clay studio.

After completing the two-year residency at Natchez Clay, Baugh will pursue a masters of fine arts degree with a concentration in ceramics, a needed step to accomplish her career goal of teaching others at the university level and in a workshop circuit that would allow her to do multiple-week intensive workshops with students.

“Natchez Clay was a good stepping stone for what I want to do in the long term,” Baugh said. “I’m excited about getting back into an environment where there is critical dialogue about my work and into a place that will allow me to continue to grow into my work.”

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