In addition to the new artists on this year’s Artists of Rappahannock Studio & Gallery Tour (Nov. 1-2), several popular Rappahannock artists will be returning, including painter Benita Rauda Gowen and potter Susan Dienelt, who also hosts guest artists (and long-term tour enthusiasts) Jeanne Drevas and Davette Leonard.
Visitors who venture up the mountain to the Juba Mountain Pottery studio outside of Sperryville will experience a rich mix of talents: Dienelt, a master potter; Drevas, an innovative mixed-media artist; and Leonard, a classical still life oil painter.
Dienelt is the host of the Juba Mountain event. She earned a Master’s degree in photography and printmaking and worked in graphic arts, but it was not until she took a pottery class that she found her passion.
“I fell in love with clay. My teacher said I was a goner,” said Dienelt, who started along the artistic path young. As a child, Dienelt accompanied her mother to the Art Institute of Chicago to take classes — a two-fer for this artistic family.
She has been working with, or throwing clay, for almost 15 years, but her art is different from the more common pottery created in an electric, low-fire kiln. That method uses an oxidation process, which adds oxygen to clay. Instead, Dienelt uses a “reduction” process that instead pulls oxygen out of the clay, resulting in a denser “stoneware” product.
During the 48-hour process, temperatures in her propane-powered, high-fired kiln can reach 2,300 degrees; everything takes two days to cool down. Salt is added during the cooking process to interact with the high heat and clay, leaving a natural glazed surface. The pottery can also be dipped in a colored glaze, which — when cooked in the salt-kiln — creates designs with names like “hairs fur” and “orange peel,” leaving a unique patina on each piece.
Inspiration for the final piece comes from the “form of the pot,” Dienelt explained. “The form and surface [of the pottery] have to work together.” Her specialty is creating containers for food, which she said stems from her obsession with food — which began with a two-year jaunt in Paris. “I like creating functional pottery,” she explained.
Showing with Dienelt as a guest artist is Drevas, a fellow potter and artist, who recently moved to Portland. Instead of her usual pottery, this year she’s exhibiting her small fiber figures, or sculptures, which she calls “mummies.” The mummies are made of natural materials — always a trademark with Drevas — which are then wrapped in fabric.
Also showing as a guest artist is Leonard, a classical artist whose still life oil paintings look like they should be in a museum. Leonard is also a well-known art educator.
On the other side of the county, in Flint Hill, Gowen, another longtime artist, will open her light-filled studio to visitors. Gowen’s work bursts with vibrant colors; little in it belies the dark and gray days of her youth in Latvia during World War II.
Fleeing the Russians, she lived in German refugee camps for four years before immigrating to the U.S. “I experienced despair and hopelessness. I am making up for the happiness that was not in my childhood when I paint. I saw so much gray, that I am now drawn to color,” said Gowen, who — like many Rappahannock artists — finds her grounding in nature.
Some of her recent works include watercolors and acrylics, as well as abstract collages that use a variety of materials — bright fabrics and yarns from around the world, as well as multi-hued acrylic and textured papers. Always, color is the unifying theme.
Like many artists, her path to the fine arts has taken many turns. She worked in ceramics and commercial art, and taught sewing and fashion design. She traveled extensively with her husband and even designed furniture (and supervised its construction) in the Philippines, Ethiopia and Algeria.
In the 1980s, she turned to interior design, earned a degree from George Washington University and started her own business. It was not until the 1990s that she began devoting time to painting, studying with many well-known artists. Her works have been shown at the World Bank and other galleries in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
This is the fourth in a series of articles on the Rappahannock Association for the Arts and the Community’s (RAAC) 10th annual Artists of Rappahannock Studio & Gallery Tour this Nov. 1-2. For more, visit raac.org/aor14.