Arts and Entertainment

Shakers keep their secrets salted away

One of Fecher
One of Fecher's works in progress seems to grimace at the thought of a touch-up.
— image credit: RYAN SCHIERLING/Staff Photo

In her 20 years as a ceramic artist, Debbie Fecher has made more than 30,000 unique salt shakers in human form.

Now, in her first gallery exhibit at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts, Fecher cuts loose from function to concentrate on form.

“Making all the shakers, I feel like I’ve been asked to sing as many songs as I can using only six notes,” Fecher said. “With this show, I bring on the orchestra.”

Although each of her shakers was a unique variation on the theme, Fecher says she has felt constrained by the format.

“They all had to have holes in their heads,” Fecher said, “and they all had cork under their feet. It was like a porcelain straightjacket.”

The mixed media sculptures at BAC show Fecher’s delight in expanding beyond craft boundaries.

They feature exuberant, if small, human figures with animated faces in a variety of settings that are often personified.

One work includes a road that rises into a threatening tidal wave topped by a ferocious face. A bird perched at the edge of a branch ready to fly away – representing, Fecher says, a son soon to leave home – is similarly personified.

The show’s curator, Bainbridge Arts and Crafts artistic director Janice Shaw, says the sculpted faces suggest that the show is about putting a face to one’s emotion.

“Debbie is so lucky,” Shaw said, “to have a way to process and express those feelings.”

Fecher agrees that her work is journalistic, detailing her response to her life’s events.

A piece titled “Stick in the Mud” – composed of a stick with a clay face, set vertically in a saucer-like arrangement of porcelain leaves – was inspired by a boat trip Fecher refused to take with her husband and children.

“I needed some time alone,” Fecher said, “but then I realized I was being an ‘old stick in the mud.’”

The highly personal theme in the hands of a less-accomplished artist might have been merely therapeutic, but Fecher’s years of manipulating the material pay off.

Subtle visual delights, like the delicate handling of the leaves in this work, are likely to appeal to a broad audience.

Like all the pieces in the show, “Stick in the Mud” contains a secret message.

One leaf flips up to reveal a large beetle so meticulously rendered that viewers may do a double-take when the insect pops open – revealing a minute scroll containing the story that inspired the work.

Fecher began including secrets in pieces early in her career.

Concluding that the shakers were likely to get broken sooner or later, she put the secret right into the wet clay so it would be revealed when the shaker broke.

“I thought it would be fun for whoever owned them to find them,” Fecher said. “In these latest works, I included the secret so that the story will get passed along with them.”

The first piece Fecher made for the BAC exhibit chronicled her fears that she wouldn’t be able to pull off work so different in spirit from producing 30,000 creative versions of the same thing.

An anxious-looking face, hand pensively to mouth, ponders the words inscribed in the clay forehead:

“What if I can’t?”

A tiny figure perches on the worrier’s shoulder to whisper in an ear:

“You can!”

Viewers of this engaging show may well agree that Fecher has.

* * * * *

“Twenty Years of Inspiration,” new work by ceramic artist Debbie Fecher, is on display through Oct. 28 at Bainbridge Arts and Crafts .

Call 842-3132 for information.

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