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Late artist revisits childhood imagination in ceramic art exhibit

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Liliana Casteñeda
Copy Editor

The American Museum of Ceramic Arts showcased the colorful and lively ceramics of the late influential artist Don Reitz in “Don Reitz: Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal.”

Reitz was a pioneer in ceramics through his revival of the salt glaze-burning techniques, used in Germany in the early 1400s. This process gives ceramics tiny dents that create an enhanced dimension and texture.

Using bright colors and different textures in his ceramics, Reitz was able to pin down childhood curiosity through his interpretation of figures expressed mostly in children’s imagination with characters like “Refrigerator Man” and scenery reminiscent of Peter Pan’s Neverland and “The Lost Boys.”

The exhibit brought the old Wild West, plants and abstract characters to life.

“I think they are very whimsical,” Victoria Anaya, Pomona resident, said. “I like that they are tied with each other, like the handprint, it gives the art a whole different meaning.”

Andy McMahon, Pasadena resident, said he saw different types of art incorporated into Reitz’s pieces throughout the exhibit including features from French paintings and similarities from Native American art.

His piece called “How Did You Get to Be Chief” featured multi-layered facets depicting a story scene. In the forefront, there was an open book made of clay with rough jagged edges and the name of the piece engraved within it. In the center of the book, there was a massive “X” like that of a treasure map and on top of the book there lay a mask. 

The background displayed a wrecked sailboat broken in half that looked like the tidal waves crashed against it. The bright colors ranging from yellow to orange to blue all created a sense of innocence and authenticity especially because the piece was engraved in a child-like manner where one could have the impression it was engraved by a real child.

“You get the sense that it’s all telling a story,” said McMahon. 

There was a dream-like wonder in the pieces because even the way in which the pieces were framed, they appeared to be stacked pieces of paper with how pieces had uneven and ragged edges.

“I think his art shows depth and kind of fanciful types of additions to the clay, that you wonder why it is that he’s chosen to create that aspect,” Jill McMahon, Pasadena resident, said.

Another piece was a ceramic plate, called “She Stood Sideways to the Hour.”

In the dead-center of the plate was a stick figure engraving of a girl with curly hair that had a surprised expression on her face, her mouth forming an “O.”

The figure was laying on her bed, a pillow behind her head engraved with stars and the moon. An arrangement of squares and rectangles depicting a quilt from her torso down. 

This piece featured a bug-eyed purple monster, bearing sharp, long, burgundy teeth stalking right behind her bed. However, there was a sense of comfort in this piece despite the monster because there was a handprint stamped right next to her, almost as if protecting the child from the engulfing arms of the monster that framed the plate.

“The arts empower you spiritually as well as physically. And it gives you such a sense of accomplishment,” Ethel Vincent, La Verne pottery artisan, said.

The exhibit “Don Reitz: Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal” is now on display and will run through Feb. 20, 2022, at the American Museum of Ceramic Art in Pomona. For more information visit amoca.org.

Liliana Castañeda can be reached at liliana.castaneda@laverne.edu.

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