FARMINGTON — Cynthia McDowell loves being an artist. She loves being an artist as much as she enjoys celebrating the work of others which is why she chose to hold an open studio tour at her La Plata home.

The event, held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 28, will feature a mixed group of talented potters and landscape painters from Farmington, Kirtland, La Plata, Durango, Colo., and Sun City, Ariz.

All work on display will be available for purchase and a percentage of each sale will benefit Autism Speaks.

"I figured I could raise a little bit more money selling art than what I could afford giving a donation on my own," McDowell said.

This will be an open studio type of gathering, held in McDowell's Spanish style courtyard. People will be able to wander into her studio and check out the many kilns where she holds wood and pit firings about five times per year.

"My ceramic art is a reflection of the rustic, natural lifestyle, here in the Southwest," McDowell said. "I am inspired by cowboy and Native cultures, as well as mountain and desert landscapes. My ceramic forms are influenced by Early American, Japanese and Mexican pottery."

All of McDowell's pots and most of her clay bodies are handmade.

"Sometimes I carve into the clay with original designs like trout and horses," she added. "I fire the work in one of two types of atmospheric kilns — either wood or pit. Wood firing is special because it draws the local clay community together.


We fire hundreds of pots, for many days, around the clock. No two are ever the same since the wood ash, fire and kiln create unique effects on the pottery. I make functional pieces for enhancing the daily ritual of eating, while bringing joy and creativity to your table."

McDowell said the pit firing process is sacred to her and serves as a link to ancient techniques and people.

"My modern' version adds a lot of color, line and mystique onto the decorative surfaces," she noted.

Joining McDowell will be Cheryl Foley, who was born in Pennsylvania and graduated in 1970 from Moore College of Art in Philadelphia with a BFA in Illustration. Upon graduation she headed west for Los Angeles where she worked in movie advertising doing production and design ads for major studios.

Foley worked primarily in graphic arts until 1986 when she began producing a line of hand-painted clothing for Nordstrom. Painting on fabric evolved into working with interior designers, creating hand-painted pillows and large contemporary paintings for model homes. Her expertise working with interior designers has given her the opportunity to create extensive murals, decorative paintings and canvases for homes and businesses alike. After many years of mural work in Prescott, Ariz., it was time to make a move to Southwest Colorado to concentrate primarily on fine art.

For the last few years Foley has enjoyed painting a variety of images on re-purposed vintage windows. The windows have been well received in Arizona and her home in Durango, Colo.

Award-winning artist Sandra Nelson will have paintings on display. Nelson has been painting most of her life, using a variety of media including oil, acrylics, and pastel as an impressionist/realist.

Nelson's participation in the event is a way to branch out from the norm and have art displayed in a setting different than most are accustomed.

"It's a way to help put yourself our there," she said. "Showing at a variety of places helps builds your reputation."

Looking at Nelson's vita, her reputation is not something needing to be improved. Her work can be viewed at Artifacts Gallery on a regular basis as well as during many of the downtown Art Walks in Farmington and most recently at an exhibit at San Juan College.

Sculptress Carmelita Topaha likes to capture the rawness of beauty which portrays American Indian culture in her ceramic sculpture.

"My art work takes a critical view of American Indian female forms and beauty often referencing American Indian culture and history," Topaha said in a prepared statement. "My work explores the varying relationships between Native culture and fine art."

Topaha's experience with clay produces a soft image of contemporary American Indian women and this medium allows her to express the deep silence of Native women with dignity and pride.

"The subject matter of each clay sculpture determines types of clay, firing processes, and glazes," she added. "I prefer on my body of work, an organic look by referencing back to nature and what Mother Earth has given me."

Also participating in the studio tour, Colin Fallat, a disabled Vietnam veteran from Sun City, Ariz., who spends time with his dog Buddy making handbuilt ceramics will have items to showcase.

Twice a year Fallat travels to wood fire kiln events in Arizona or New Mexico where he joins fellow ceramic artists firing their work in a wood fired kiln for up to seven days, 24 hours a day. It was at a past firing in Taos that McDowell first met Fallat and the two worked together firing pieces of their work.

His art reflects the ruggedness of the West, with raw clay surfaces often imprinted from weathered tree trunks and rocks he encounters.

"Working with a wood fire takes teamwork," Fallat said. "There is some reward to your hard work though.

"Like I always tell people," Fallat added, You turn your work over to the fire gods and they either bless you or damn you.'"