Big, almost monumental, one-of-a-kind vessels built from clay slabs rolled by hand are dominating Dale Hartley’s new exhibition. Some are subtly textured with gritty sands she has collected near her home or during travels. She adds slips, glazes, and enamels. Working with the fire brings out the colors and surprising other effects of the firing atmosphere. Hartley, born and raised in the Flint Hills and living in Saffordville, often combines thrown clay with hand-built clay and many pieces have a matte surface with a glaze that is almost too subtle to be seen.
One glance at Hartley’s work and it is evident that she acquires a wide sense of spaciousness from the prairie around her and also a great appreciation of the simplicity of this landscape. No artist and certainly not Hartley can avoid nature’s influence here in the tallgrass prairie; its overwhelming closeness is hugely inspirational; its enormity drives her to her best creations: tall, grand vases and platters that befit the landscape and prove she herself is not afraid of size at all, no, she loves it.
Hartley’s close observations of the environment are clearly of great influence to her creations. So are, of course, her skills and the techniques she experiments with in a never-ending process; they are her true resources. “Like pulling something from a bag when you need it,” she says. The low temperature firing method she uses often adds another layer of familiarity to the objects. “It creates imagery in the clay; when it comes out of the fire I go, ‘Gosh, this looks just like the field across the road… isn’t this wonderful?’.”
Hartley is interested in volume, color, roundness, and a sense of wholeness. “I want to make gorgeous clay pots, large ones with some sculptural appeal and an elegant functional form, or large clay bases for more sculptural forms. I use my instincts.” Continuing in clay, Hartley keeps finding renewal. Yet some twenty years ago, and twenty years into her career as a clay artist, she added a new challenge and began painting en plein aire. As always under the influence of the unique landscape, she developed a very personal way of closely observing the environment and guiding it to canvas and paper. And sometimes she paints on clay, too.