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Local potters show off imagination, heritage

The Potters Market hits Madison Heights, Nov. 30 through Dec. 2

November 27, 2012

» click to enlarge «
Yazi Shamina, a Southfield resident originally from Iraq, works in a pottery lab. Her work will be featured in the Potters Market in Madison Heights for the third year.

SOUTHFIELD — Southfield resident Yazi Shamina knows a good piece of pottery when she sees one.

The 59-year-old hails from Iraq, where clay pieces were first used in ancient Mesopotamia and continue to serve in both aesthetic and functional purposes across the Middle East. As an emerging potter now, Shamina says her work goes back to the basics of her heritage.

“The Babylon people, they were the first people who used plates. … Everything was clay,” she said. “(My) vessels, they are like of the ancient old days, for drinking, for eating, for cooking.”

Shamina came to America from Iraq in 1994, and after raising her family and working for some time as a civil engineer, she was laid off. That’s when a friend suggested she take up pottery at Oakland Community College.

There, she learned a new skill on the potter’s wheel that she could infuse with her Middle Eastern heritage. Shamina’s work will be displayed at the Potters Market in Madison Heights this weekend for the third year in a row.

Linda Ashley, event spokesperson, said Shamina’s work has created quite the “buzz,” though Shamina stays humble about her creations.

“I try to make something different, but I’m not creating anything new; it’s all known to other people before me,” she said. “We all follow the same steps, each one follows what is from our history.”

Shamina’s pieces, which are often metallic black, reds or golden colors, embody a Middle Eastern flare with minaret shapes or Arabic handwriting, she said. She travels often in the Middle East and still draws inspiration from the great collections she sees at museums or the pieces that capture her attention as a buyer.

“This past September, I was in Istanbul, Turkey, and they use the same pieces like in Iraq. … I bought two pieces, also handmade, and they are special,” she said, noting the well-known design of the lotus flower that she loves and a rich turquoise color that attracted her to the works.

“I am still new. I’m still a student. … People have praised my pieces, though, and I feel so happy,” she said.

This weekend Shamina will join nearly 140 skilled artist entrepreneurs who will bring some 40,000 pieces of handcrafted pottery to this year’s Potters Market, now in its 37th year.

The event has become a holiday tradition in Metro Detroit, and as the largest all-clay pottery sale in the U.S., the work of artists from all over the state is displayed. The artists run the event as a collective, handling everything from constantly restocking the shelves during the show to checking out customers at one of the 14 cashier stations.

“It has a life of its own,” Ashley said. “I’m always inspired by the creative energy, the sense of color and artistry. You’ll go down one row, come back later and see something new.”

The Potters Market will feature stoneware, earthenware, porcelain, raku and smoke-fired pottery, in all shapes and sizes. Among the items are bowls, mugs, pitchers, planters, platters, pots, pins, vases, mirrors, tables, lamps, birdbaths, necklaces, ornaments, statues, tiles and more, in many an eye-catching, color-coalescing glaze.

Some are functional; others are flashy or fun. All are unique. 

Several other Southfield-area potters will show off their creative designs at the event, including Chris Jackman of Southfield, who specializes in petite raku vessels and tiles. Jackman’s unique work has earned her honors in national competitions, according to Ashley, and she offers fun pieces like small, animated heads.

Similar to Shamina, Southfield’s Rob Crysler is another local who found a passion on the potter’s wheel after losing a job. As a laid-off electrician, he made changes to revamp his entire life, and his ceramic technology degree is at the center of it all.

He found something he could do that still used his hands but in a new creative path, he explained.

“I learned that I enjoyed it and I have a real knack for the skill,” he said.  “It is hard to be laid off. … It really eroded my confidence, but now I have a new lease on life. I lost 120 pounds. I met my girlfriend in dance class, and I’ve got a new career as a potter!”

Crysler will feature everything from crafted teapots and pitchers to bowls and plates at the Potters Market this year.

Other local talent includes Lee Grigorescu, of Lathrup Village; local emergency room doctor Lonnie Bodzin, who also earned a master’s degree in ceramic technology; husband-and-wife duo Dawn Boesen and Leo Zimmer, of Southfield, who share a love of pottery; and Southfield’s Joan Brandt, who creates teapots of the “Alice in Wonderland” variety.

Prices in the popular bargain area range from $5 to $30, and even more pieces are available in the back room. Attendees can ask staff to check if a particular item is available in a different color or size.  

The potters all had to prove themselves in order to be in the sale by meeting high standards of quality and producing enough to keep the shelves stocked, Ashley explained. Many of the artists are returning favorites, back with new wares.

“The goal for them is to constantly be changing their work so that there is something new,” she said. “It’s their aesthetic and their talent that people have learned to love, but there’s always something new they’re bringing to the market.”

The Potters Market will be at the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Union Hall, 876 Horace Brown Drive, one block south of 13 Mile, between Interstate 75 and John R, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 30; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 1; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 2. Admission and parking is free. The preview sale is from 6-9 p.m. Nov. 28, with a $10 admission. 

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