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@Work: Ridvan Studio


April 13, 2005 – Lynn Paccassi-Berry's clay studio is full of works in progress.
"I don't really call myself a potter," says Berry, who says she prefers "ceramic artist." "Ceramics, clay, pottery—it's all the same medium. You can make it look like anything. You just have to figure out, 'where's my niche? What kind of work do I want to do?'"
At the Ridvan Studio (pronounce it "Rizwan"—it means "paradise"), Berry's niche is in Raku, a unique firing process that requires a lot of hands-on focus. Raku as we know it is an American version of the ancient Japanese art form, which respects both the mark of the potter and the mark of the fire.
Berry is known for her wall sculptures in the genre. She started with large, 12 pound pieces used as decorative wall hangings, and has recently added smaller pieces that are mounted and framed. One series Berry is working on was inspired by ancient architecture from a trip to Israel last summer, another is a series of abstract women.
Each piece begins as a brick of soft, moist grey clay. Berry throws out the slab and transforms it into an irregular shape that is ready to receive her trademark geometric impressions, a constant in her work since the beginning.
"They are impressions of what I see around me," says Berry. Once framed, the finished product looks almost like a painting, but with a lot of dimension and texture. "I like the fact that it's not flat," she says.
The artist, who began working with clay in 1973, is a third generation clay artist. Berry's grandmother lived in Laurel Canyon, Ca., and was one of the first artists to show her work at the famous Renaissance Fair in Marin County.
Berry's aunt worked in tapestries, and an uncle worked in clay as well as doing line drawings, and they had an art camp in Vermont. Her father is a musician. "He says he's not but he is," Berry says with a smile. And her sons are in theater arts.
Berry grew up surrounded by the arts, but her art was music until she was 18 years old. She was in the school band at what is now Addelita Cancryn Junior High School, and Charlotte Amalie High School.
"I've always been interested in clay, but didn't start working in it until I was 18," she says. "When I went to university I started working on the wheel and doing functional work."
An instructor helped Berry refine her skills and asked her to assist him in a hand-building class. Berry wasn't interested in learning the technique until the instructor made a deal with her. "He told me to throw three bowls and build hand stuff onto the bowls." It was a turning point she says, "After that I've never seriously hand-thrown."
Berry still uses the potter's wheel in her teaching, but "I found it kind of boring. Everything is round unless you sit down and alter it," she says.
The artist finds her current work anything but boring. About once a week Berry dons a leather jacket and thick leather gloves and heads out to her kiln in the back of Tillett Gardens. Assisted by artist Kim Young, Berry fires the pieces for about 45 minutes, pulls them out with huge tongs and places them in tins filled with organic burnable materials. The smoking actions produce an oxygen reduction that blackens the clay and penetrates the copper based glazes. The finished product has beautiful lustre.
"The same glaze can look totally different. My favorite part is opening the kiln and seeing what's in there," she says. "I like the serendipitous nature of it, but I've done it long enough that I can pretty much achieve what I want."
Berry's work is shown at Gallery St. Thomas, Into the Sea, Color of Joy and other places, but "I don't do it for anyone but me," she says. "The fact that people buy it is a bonus."
In addition to the wall hangings, Berry also creates wind chimes, coasters, ornaments and tile vases, and teaches classes.
You can visit the Ridvan Studio at Tillett Gardens Monday through Saturday, or visit the website at www.ridvanstudio.com .


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