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A show opening this week at Artworks@7th Gallery in North Beach brings together two women, each of whom represents the second generation of artist families in Calvert County. Parran Collery, a ceramic artist, grew up in Calvert, and has worked in her ceramic studio in the backyard of her mother’s house since 1997. Nancy Klapper, Collery’s mother, studied art in college and had an art gallery for 15 years in her family home on Main Street in Prince Frederick. Theresa Musengo, an artist who works in blown and sculptured glass, now lives in Baltimore but grew up in Calvert. During high school, Musengo worked as an assistant in Collery’s ceramic studio.
Musengo also grew up in a household where art and music were in the air she breathed. Julia Musengo, her mother, is a well-known jeweler, sculptor and painter whose works are represented in galleries in Calvert County and throughout the metro area. Fred Musengo, her father, is a musician who plays professionally at various venues in Southern Maryland.
Music was her main form of artistic expression while she was growing up. She studied music all through school, played several instruments when in high school and played in the band.
“I did do some drawing and painting from time to time, but I was never satisfied with the results. I couldn’t ever seem to get what I wanted,” she said.
Musengo’s major at Towson University was art education, with a concentration in sculpture. She’d learned about the production side of ceramics when she worked in Collery’s studio. Musengo liked the art classes, and really liked student teaching.
“But I didn’t like all the administration that went with full-time teaching,” she said.
That was when fate intervened, and Musengo took a glass-making class at McFadden’s Art Glass studio in Baltimore.
“I fell in love with glass when I found it,” Musengo said. “I worked and studied with glassmaker Tim McFadden, the teacher and glass artist who owns the studio. I learned so much from Tim, and learned so fast. I started the way everyone starts, making glass marbles.”
Musengo has a busy personal schedule. Her day job is at Clayworks Supplies, an art supply company in Baltimore. She does her glass-making in the studio in evenings and in her spare time. To support her use of the studio and her supplies — and because she enjoys teaching — she teaches beginner classes at the glass studio.
“We have groups who’ll come in for a day — often young people — with school or scouts groups. We also do longer classes; I’ve taught a four-week course at the community college.”
Glass-making is not a serendipitous art discipline. For example, in pastels, the artist can vary the composition while creating it, by overlaying or removing chalk layers on the paper.
“When you have a hot glob of glass on the end of the rod, you’d better know what you want to do with it,” she said. “It helped that I’d worked in ceramics before — there are certain similarities in making the pieces.”
Musengo likes to create functional glass pieces, such as her beautiful hand-blown vases, dishes and pitchers. She wants to make beautiful things that are useful. Her esthetic ideal is to create elegant, classic shapes that transform her vision into objects with the colors of the earth, sea and sky, objects that enhance the user’s everyday life. She loves the process of glass blowing, loves to see the completed pieces.
Parran Collery’s studio is a former garage that, by now, more closely resembles a little rustic cottage, complete with a tiny front porch. The purple paint trim makes the structure look a little like a child’s playhouse, but airier, with a wall of full-length windows facing the porch.
Since 1997, this little studio has been the home of Collery’s business, Eartha Tile. She trained after college in the Peace Valley Pottery, an art tile pottery company in Pennsylvania, which has long been the home of handmade art tile companies.
Collery was raised in Calvert County and came back to it after earning her undergraduate and graduate degrees. She was a psychology major for awhile as an undergraduate, at the university of Vermont.
“One time in high school, each class member was asked to state his or her career goals. I had no idea what I wanted to do, so when the girl next to me said ‘psychology,’ I said it, too,” she said.
She did major in psychology in college, but it never completely eclipsed the appeal that art had for her. “I walked by the art department one afternoon and saw ceramics students outside the building using a trash can to do a raku firing,” she said. (Raku is a traditional Japanese ceramic technique that utilizes high heat and quick cooling to achieve unique forms and glazes.) “I’d seen a raku demonstration in art class in my ninth grade class at Calvert High, but hadn’t thought any more about it until I saw those art majors doing that firing. I thought the idea of using a trash can for a kiln was fun and interesting.”
Collery completed her undergraduate degree at Vermont, and then went on to Rutgers University for her master’s of fine arts degree.
After graduation, Collery, in her own words, “suffered through various bizarre jobs not at all related” to her degree, and then went to work at a small art tile workshop in Pennsylvania. The Peace Valley Tile studio makes decorative ceramic tile for use in homes and public buildings. This style of terra cotta tiles, with earth tone glazes, and stylized plant and floral designs, was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and was widely used to decorate homes and public buildings. Since this style has become fashionable again, Peace Valley Tile continues to make many of the historic designs in tiles for use in modern buildings.
Collery uses the same materials and techniques — kiln-fired terra cotta clay with low-relief designs — but there the similarity ends. Her tiles draw on natural forms but are complex compositions of animal and floral forms, which combine her appreciation for her natural surroundings with a deeply personal esthetic. She makes a master design for each tile, and then makes a mold from each master, so each tile can be made multiple times. While each tile from the same mold will be the same, she uses a range of glazes so each tile is different, often unique in color. Collery can work on a much larger scale, as well. She once created a large ceramic sign for a hardware store in Washington, D.C., working under a grant from the D.C. Arts Council to beautify a neighborhood under renovation. Collery has recently returned to making larger pieces from the terra cotta clay. These larger pieces are fired and glazed separately. She then fits the finished pieces together to form landscape murals.
Although on first thought the creation of glass and ceramic objects would seem very different, the materials and the manufacture are related. Both disciplines utilize basic earth materials: clay for Collery, and sand, as silica, for Musengo. Both ceramic and glass creations use natural chemicals, such as oxides, metals and ash, to achieve the range of colors in ceramic glazes and in glass manufacture. Finally, both forms depend on heat for their creation. These two artists also have responded esthetically to their common backgrounds, growing up in surroundings of great natural beauty of land and water, and in homes in which artistic expression was as much a part of their environment as the air they breathed.
These links — of family background, their art and their love of nature — make their exhibit, “Eartha, Wind and Fire,” realistic as well as poetic. The show at ArtWorks @ 7th opens Thursday, Aug. 2. There is a public reception from 3 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4, featuring live music and light refreshments. The artists will be on hand to speak to visitors and answer questions. The Artworks@7th Gallery is at 9100 Bay Ave., North Beach. For more information, call 410-286-5278, or go to www.artworksat7th.com.