Visions in Clay

Visions in Clay

Interview with L.H. Horton Gallery Director Jan Marlese

     Every year I look forward to the Visions In Clay show held at the LH Horton Jr Gallery on the campus of San Joaquin Delta College. This show was founded by the San Joaquin Potters Guild in 2002-2007, who turned it over to the Horton Gallery with the request to continue presenting an annual ceramics based exhibition which Jan Marlese, Gallery Director, has continued and more. Now Visions In Clay is the largest exhibition of ceramic work in the San Joaquin area presenting 55-65 works per show. In addition, the show has garnered regional and national attention and has been featured several times in Ceramics Monthly, a renowned national ceramics magazine. Visions In Clay is an exceptional show of technical ability with diversity in style, process and content.

     “With over 20 years experience in the arts when I started at Delta College, it was quite easy to pick up the program and shape it into what it is today,”states Jan Marlese, who has worked for the Minneapolis Arts Commission, Zeum Studio for Technology and the Arts at Yerba Buena Gardens, and as Director of the Napa County Arts Council. She came to San Joaquin Delta College as Gallery Director/ Program Coordinator in May 2007.

     “Since 2010, I’ve seen what seems to be quite an increase in ceramic art shows. I think the broad reach of ceramic arts, from sculptural to decorative / functional, and the wide range in formal qualities is what the public is responding to. I recall being in sensory overload with the first Visions In Clay show (and every show thereafter), as I am awed at the range in surface quality and form. The curated shows and Visions In Clay are the most well attended exhibitions.” 


Also, Visions In Clay supports the popular ceramic and sculpture courses taught by Professors Shenny Cruces and Gary Carlos who work to advance students to a high level of proficiency. The exhibition creates a great opportunity for students to see fantastic ceramic works created by the best of the best artists, and broadens their understanding of what is possible to do with the clay medium. Students also have the opportunity to participate in John Natsoulas Gallery’s Ceramics Conferenced for the Advancement of Ceramic Arts, which is an incredible educational opportunity for showing their work. 

     When Jan first arrived at the Horton Gallery, there were six quality shows a year, primarily individual and small group shows, processed through the Gallery Committee from a broad call for entries process. Finding something lacking, she produced more specific calls, and curated shows by invitation, which changed the gallery programming. Adding 2-3 fee based calls also generated income, enabling more exhibiting artists, art lectures, demonstrations, student workshops as well as thematically-tied performing arts events. “The great thing about being a not-for-profit gallery is our ability to spend all of our income on artists.” 

In 2012, the killing of Trayvon Martin inspired Jan to curate identity art exhibitions which have now become a major mission in the gallery to recruit BIPOC artists for shows overall. “Themes of Black Identity in America,” the first of these exhibitions, included Amy Sherald, who later became the portrait painter for Michelle Obama. 

                                                   Jennifer Holt

     Covid-19 has brought a huge challenge to all of the art classes. However, the ceramics and sculpture departments have risen to the occasion. New ideas and materials are taught and some materials are distributed for at home building. Professor Cruces continues to fire using social distancing appointments to the ceramics department during the Covid-19 campus closure. 

     You can check out the LH Horton Jr Gallery on Facebook, or on Instagram @hortongallery_deltacollege, or find all the shows since 2000, including 10 years of Visions In Clay on their website: 

CCC Artist David Tholfson

 David Tholfson


CCC artist David Tholfson says “ceramics saved my life in high school where I was lucky to have the East Coast funk ceramicist Toby Bonagurio as my teacher.” Since then he  continued to refine his ideas as a sculpture/ceramics major, but never really grasped the technical side of clay, relying on the clay to impose its will on what to do.


Focusing on his music and performance work after college, he returned to clay when he was offered a small kiln to take home and got excited about raku firing. “It’s a great way to ensure the surface was part of the form” 


Now he relies on hump and slump molds for structure, makes his own stencils using the SolidWorks modeling program and a 2-D cutter. He fills the stencils that press onto slabs with local dry clay dust. “I’m really fascinated with the idea of many things inhabiting the same space so textures swell over patterns. Someday, maybe I’ll figure out how to actuate the insides of the vessels."


Please check out David Tholfsons new Instagram account:

CCC Artist Natalie Black

 Natalie Black 

Until 2019, CCC Artist, Natalie Black lived her whole life in Tennessee and was first exposed to the thrill of creating with her own two hands by her Grandmother who taught her to sew and knit as a girl. One can see an influence of this in her ceramic work which translates techniques and aesthetics of material fiber that is soft and flexible into a ceramic material that is hard and rigid. Her work is a reconsideration of “women’s work” and fiber traditions. 


Natalie uses various sculpture clay bodies and has recently started experimenting with paper clay. The textures she applies to surfaces are very time intensive and she develops a small section at a time, until it feels finished.  Natalie started experimenting with slip dipping knitted squares when quarantine started. It has been difficult to fire her work since the studios have shut down, so she has revisited a 2-D process employing a graphite rubbing technique to collect textures and reconfigure into a larger composition combining sewn sheets and ceramic wall pieces. 


Natalie’s deep inspiration comes from poetry and fiction, as well as visual artists such as Linda Lopez, Francesca DiMattio, Rebeca Hutchinson and Ruth Asawa.

With her confirmed commitment to her art, Natalie must balance in her full-time job as a custom framer, and keeps in shape by running, cycling and playing soccer. Though now in quarantine, the soccer league and Artist as Quiltmaker XIX, at the FAVA Gallery have been canceled.


Please check out Natalie’s website:

CCC Artist Darren Cockrell

 Darren Cockrell

“My father taught me how to work with my hands and problem solve,” says Darren Cockrell, this week’s CCC Artist. He got sucked into ceramics more and more after taking a class from a good friend while pursuing a degree in anthropology. 


Darren focuses on woodfired stoneware and porcelain. All his pieces interact with the group process involved in a long wood firing. Natural ash glaze is used for an ideally firing goal of deep, rich, matte surfaces. “It is really about the firing process for me.” He spends a long time on each piece: firing, and post firing sanding. While firing he can stoke the kiln for 8 days and grind, at least an hour, on a simple bud vase or cup and 10-30 hours on a sculptural vessel. At present he is working on sculptural vessels with the shape of tilted hourglasses. This work is more refined and geometric that his previous work. It is his innate desire to make and the prospect of the next wood firing that keeps him inspired. 


Darren has to balance his artwork into his life with two young children so he  works in manic bursts. He was able to attend the Kohila Woodfire Symposium in Estonia as a US representative in 2016. Check out his work at:

CCC Artist Naomi Stein Cooper

Naomi Stein Cooper

“I see beauty everywhere,” states Naomi Stein Cooper from her new studio in a 1972 Airstream Land Yacht. This is her first time in the California Clay Competition and simultaneously juried into Focus on Ceramics 2020 at the Davis Art Center ACGA Show. 


Currently, Naomi is developing a series of sculptural shamans, incorporating human, animal and plant imagery, referring to the idea that humans have innate connections and communication with spirits, animals, the dead, God, the future and past. These connections can be used to heal, and lift up others. Similar to the ideas revealed to artists communicating with their Muse. This series is the first time she is sculpting the human face as a means to connect more with her audience. 

Naomi uses several different types of Cone 5-6 clay bodies employing hand building, slab and coil building techniques. Texture is especially important and she experiments with multiple finishes including underglaze, commercial glazes and multiple firings to get the effects she wants. “The bolder I am, the more I learn about how far I can push the material, every time gaining more techniques to get more variegated, visually interesting pieces.” 


Naomi is on a roller derby team called the Carquinez Quad Squad and has kids in elementary school. Since the pandemic quarantine, her balance has been thrown off. Kids are at home and her exercise practice has been reduced. As for the artwork, there is less time. “But one thing I love about clay is how it needs attention, how the timing is important, which demands that I return to the studio to finish what I started.” 


Unfortunately, Naomi had a solo show at the McCune Rare Book and Art Collection in Vallejo which opened on March 13 and closed on March 16 due to Covid-19. So to see more of her work check out her website: and

CCC Artist Kathy Pallie

Kathy Pallie


After a career in commercial art, Kathy Pallie, this week’s CCC artist, rediscovered the tactile allure of clay. “I need to have my hands manipulating clay”. The tactile sense is always in play, whether she is creating a realistic trompe l’oeil effect or zeroing in on one of the many nuances of tree bark through a macro lens. 


Nature is Kathy’s biggest inspiration with its vast palette of colors, textures and patterns. She uses tools like pieces of bark, tree nuts, springs, and twigs. With the idea of the way nature grows vertically from the earth, reaching for the sun, so working in clay brings to life Kathy’s passion to communicate her ideas in clay from the ground up.  Observing the detail of nature opens a world of exciting abstract graphic designs and forms. 


Kathy uses a variety of clay bodies in slabs, coils and extruded shapes. She doesn’t use the clay as a canvas to paint or glaze but loves to work the surface and allow a 3-dimensional form to take form. The scope of her work ranges from small 3” diameter coil baskets to architectural installations such as Out of the Woods created for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Lake Tahoe. From her home studio, Kathy works around family needs, and keeping active: hiking, skiing, swimming and staying shape.


“I’m always inspired by what is going on around me, nature, political situations and emotions. I start with a concept and figure out how to execute it. It’s always a journey and that’s exciting.”


Since the Covid-19 crisis Kathy has had 3 shows cancelled or postponed. California

Clay Competition at the Artery Gallery in Davis where my piece “Ebony Landscape Trio”can be

viewed on the website; Art Works Downtown gallery in San

Rafael, CA, in the “100 Years of Freedom” exhibition, my two pieces “Tied Up in Knots - Fake

News” - no clay involved, and “ Dialogue Dispels Differences “ with is fiber and clay tiles

imprinted with lace; and Epperson Gallery in Crockett, CA, a 4-person show “Into the

Woods” (postponed, no new date) where I will be showing a body of 17 pieces of clay work, all

nature and tree related.


You can see more of Kathy Pallie’s work here: or on Facebook KathyPallieArt. 

CCC Artist Linda Litteral

Linda Litteral


“Art has been the avenue for healing for me, from the beginning.” states Linda Litteral, this week’s CCC artist. Linda took her first art class in clay when she was 33 and graduated with an MFA from San Diego State University when she was 49. “Art is a powerful medium for saying things that cannot be said verbally. It takes the trauma out of your body and lessens the power it has over you.” 


When Linda moved to Charleston, SC with her husband in 1988, she was working in manufacturing as a tooling and product designer. She was told, ”We do not hire women here” time and again. So she began taking classes at Duke’s School of Clay and Fine Art and fell in love with the medium. 


Passionate about women’s issues and specifically sexual abuse, Linda uses her art to make political commentary. She also teaches, using art as a healing modality at Donovan State Prison and at Las Colinas Detention Facility for women, where 80% of the population has been sexually abused at some time in their lives. “I find it inspiring to help others, and expose inequities in a world that seems to be warring against women.”


Currently Linda is working on a series of carvings around a spiral design. A repeated motif found in Linda’s work, the spiral, represents her path to recovery from childhood sexual abuse. Carving porcelain comes naturally and with flow,  and it is where she works out her ideas for sculpture. The meditative process gives her mind space.  She also throws and carves bowls, labeling them “possibility bowls” where your hopes and dreams can be held in a safe place. She likes the surprise’s in soda firings for glazes. For larger sculpture she uses coils and can work on a single piece for a couple weeks or more depending on complexity. Linda enjoys technical challenges and different media. Ultimately, the work is more about the idea than the material. 


Linda is the Co-director of the Feminists Image Group(FIG) a professional women’s artist group that shows together. She has curated a show at City College in San Diego called “Don’t Shut Up” which is her mantra around sexual abuse. She also has had a residency at Centre Pompadour, A laboratory for Neo-Feminism in France and two shows in Sweden, Feminism Now, at Grafiska Sallskapet Gallery, and Betrayed at  Krogen  Amerika Gallery. She is currently showing Linda Litteral: A Solo Show, at Sparks Gallery in San Diego and Flourish, at Klamath Art Gallery in Klamath Falls, Oregon. 

To see more of Linda’s work find her at or, on Facebook: Linda Literal Artist and on Instagram @lindalitteralartist