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News from Dowd House Studios: places to find our pottery, exhibitions, classes & workshops, new forms and exciting projects.

Filtering by Category: Projects

Making a puppet

Jenny Dowd

It can be difficult to share process photos and explain projects that are still mostly living in my head. However, I’m finding that this is a helpful part of my process, plus I’m excited to share this project.

Sam and I are currently working on a huge project - we are making a pole puppet! In June we had the opportunity to work with Eric and Ines Bass from Sandglass Theater in a collaboration with Dancers’ Workshop. This project will culminate with a parade and performance on August 16. (Stay tuned!) Our puppet is 1 of 5 beasts, each based on one of the Chinese Five Elements: Earth, Water, Metal, Wood, Fire. Our beast is Metal, and is loosely based on an armadillo.

The Chinese Five Elements contain a lot of interesting layers; Metal also refers to the emotion: sadness, color: white, and flavor: pungent.

We spent 4 days working on the body structure, the tail and head will be added later.

The base of the creature was made out of cardboard, with the double layers helping to keep the reed armature in place. After shaping the vertical hoops, I attached the horizontal reeds with tightly tied bike tubes. I really wanted the puppet body to articulate in two directions - up and down and side to side. However, after attaching a fabric hinge and trying to move the creature, I discovered that it was too bulky to have that much movement. Up and down was more important, so the hinges were remade to easily shift the mass up and down - as seen in the bottom right image.

Poles were installed under the base - they are fitted to the backpack worn by the puppeteer. A pole was inserted into the front half so the body will articulate up and down. Both me and Sam tried on the backpack to make these adjustments.

So, now that the structure is nearly complete, it’s time for the details! Although, these are still complicated and require a bit of engineering and careful thought. This is just the body of the puppet - the head and tail are still seperate at this point and will each have their own pole and puppeteer. Our beast will be operated by 3 people!

I’ve started covering the armature with fabric, including the soft underbelly of the beast, in silver and metallic blue. Next, the scaly armor will be attached, plus a neck, head, and tail.

Remember that the Chinese element Metal also includes the color white? My plan is for the colors to fade from deep metallic blue on the inside to silver and white as they progress from the body.

A few of the details here - Sam is gluing nostrils onto the head and I’ve started sewing the tip of the tail. I think we are over halfway finished, but there is still lots to be done.

Stay tuned for more updates and information on the performance and parade on August 16th in Jackson!

Sometimes for fun

Jenny Dowd

Sometimes I make silly things that are just for me... these plant pots were demo pots made while teaching youth and adult handbuilding in the spring at the Art Association. The submarine started out like a regular pot, then transformed into something truly silly that I couldn't wait to get into my garden! The whale came along second as a response to the submarine.

It might be rare that I have an excuse to use a cake stand, but it's fun to use them! And I do think they get sad when they go too long without cake (oh, and I get sad too.) This cookies & cream icebox cake was extra yummy since the cake stand was involved!

Sometimes cake stands crack in the kiln- in my garden those turn into plant stands.

I have a few more silly things at work in the studio- starry garlands for my art fair booth and a sea monster paint brush holder... I'm looking forward to putting these to use soon! 

FoundSpace: Update

Jenny Dowd

I'm used to projects offering more challenges than initially expected. Most things are not as simple as they seem, and making working thaumatropes proved that statement true over and over this summer.

Despite, or perhaps because of the difficulties, these are the projects I love the most. In frustration I'll leave my studio to take a walk, returning with another idea that I'm eager to try. I'll turn a difficult project around in my mind while working on something that makes sense- then when that project turns on me I'll go back to the other one.

To read about the first installment check out this past post and to read about the whole FoundSpace project check out this past post.

Thanks to installation by Matt Daly all 12 thaumatropes are now on display until the middle of August at Emily Steven's Park!

I got really serious about making the thaumatropes sturdy and functional, so for this final version each disk spins on an axle. The wood disks are glued and screwed together (learned from another early mistake.) The screws are counter-sunk on the last 4 disks so the drawing surface is smoother.

Each illustration was completed on paper, then transferred to the wooden disk using carbon paper and drawn/painted with acrylic paint pens. The illustration for the mottled sculpin was made on paper as well as vellum so I could check the overlap. When the disk spins both images are visible at once- for this image the mottled sculpin needed to look like he was under water- or more precisely, in a riffle.

After the logistics of creating spinning thaumatropes was figured out, the illustrations came easily as accompaniments to Matt's poems. 

One of the coolest things about working with Matt on this project was learning about these little critters. When I looked up images of the Bushy-tailed Woodrat I also learned that they will drop whatever edible thing they are carrying back to their stash in favor of a shiny object- like a spoon or coins!

I had no idea what a Mottled Sculpin was- and that they are tiny- end of a finger tiny! 

Plus the humor- while it may seem funny and light-hearted to authropormophise animals, it might also be serious. They might actually find each other obnoxious.

And cicadas might actually be pretty excited to graduate from nymph-hood!

The best part is that this project has made me look differently at this area I've lived in for over 10 years... there is always something to learn and something to see.

Stop by Emily Steven's Park to see all 12 before August 20th!

FoundSpace 2018: Part 2

Jenny Dowd

This week FoundSpace 2018 was unveiled at Emily Steven's Park! This art will be on display until August 8, and there is plenty to explore. I'm one of 5 artists invited by the JH Land Trust and JH Public art to create a temporary installation that will bring awareness to our public wild spaces. At FoundSpace, the challenge is to create something that will help visitors see the space in a different way- and hopefully discover something new every time they visit.


This awesome map, designed by Cal Brackin, was screen printed onto bandanas by Walt Gerald

FoundPrints by the Sun

Brittany Hill took inspiration from the organic material found in this location to create naturally dyed flags. Each represent a species that has been transferred to the fabric through printmaking processes that rely on the sun.


Bronwyn Minton invites viewers to come over and take a looksee. Her large sculptures are hard to resist and each offer spyglass holes- look through and you might just see something.

The Small Village of Treepoli

Bland Hoke enticed the small occupants of Treeopoli to construct a tiny village of hanging houses and rope ladders. Look closely, many details are hidden within the village.

Chronicles of the Introverted Minifauna

Matt Daly and I have created thaumatropes (check out last week's blog post for details) that tell stories about the little critters that are easily overlooked. So far we have installed 4... but keep an eye out, we will be installing more around the park over the next month!



Jenny Dowd

It's time for the Laramie County Library annual book arts exhibition, Inspiration and the Artist Book. As usual, this year's theme left me stumped for a few months: Ensemble. I rolled the idea around in my head as I worked on other projects and brainstormed with my dad (now you know my secret!)

This time I went tiny, deciding to make an ensemble of clothing. But it's not just any clothing- these items are made from the pages of an old book.

I started out by making tiny patterns and testing how to fold the paper with the fewest number of folds or overlaps. 

I really wanted a hat as part of this wardrobe, it took me a few tries to figure out how to display it. At first I made a stand-alone hat rack, but that seemed too complicated. In the end I added a little hook onto the clothing stand so all the little pieces would be together.

The clothing rack and hangers are made from black wire. I like the gestural line quality and felt it fit well with the pages of text.

The final piece is very small, 8 inches tall by 10 inches long.

Book Jackets

Each person is a book. We are each an ensemble of ideas, information, fact, fiction, stories, dreams and musings. In order to face the day we wrap ourselves in what we have, leaving space in the wardrobe for more items and changing styles.

By mixing and matching we create a story to be presented to the world, adding and sharing pages and pieces through conversation, reading, living, and researching.

This tiny delicate piece was also a challenge to pack for shipping. In the end it occupied a much larger box than I would have imagined for such a small piece... but the box only weighed 4 pounds!

Visit this book sculpture in person and see how all the other artists interpreted "Ensemble." The show will be on display at the Laramie County Library in Cheyenne, WY from June 8 - August 8, 2018.

Catching Up

Jenny Dowd

So much is happening right now! Which is funny, since I have been feeling like I'm not doing anything interesting or worth talking about. I'm at the start of several new things, desperately behind on some others, and thinking about a huge change to my studio by adding a new clay / decoration / firing temperature. I think it's realistic to say that I've been overwhelmed. 

So what has been happening?

A few sculpture projects are in the works. More on these to come in the next weeks...

I've been teaching a lot of clay classes at the Art Association, both adult and youth. And making some funny things as examples... like this submarine flower pot (next up, garden gnomes!)

I just finished a project at the Kelly Elementary with the 2nd & 3rd grade class. For this project I worked with pARTners- an organization that bring local artists into the schools to help with special projects. The class was studying the Pacific Northwest, so I worked with the students to make their own totem poles. Each section tells a story, about the maker as well as family, past and present. 

I've been working on a new mug design for the General Store at Menors Ferry in Grand Teton National Park:

And... I'm a new vendor at Uncommon Goods! Visit my page and read the story here

I'm moving in a lot of directions right now and every day is different. It's good to take time to reflect, this is a nice reminder that I'm doing a lot of interesting things. (And even a better reminder to keep carving out time to sit and read!)



Pottery in Action: The Wild Sage

Jenny Dowd

Here's a behind the scenes look into a project I've been working on for the past few months. I'm currently working on pottery for several Jackson area restaurants (more updates to come!) the latest one is the Wild Sage located in the Rusty Parrot

I've not been great about photographing the work, I was so excited to deliver these pieces that they went straight from the kiln into boxes. That just means that now I have an even better excuse for dinner out! (Besides, pottery always looks better with food.)

Last fall, Chef Travis Catanzaro contacted me to discuss new pottery designs for the restaurant. Since then I've been making sauce bowls, pitchers, ramekins and bread baskets with a stoneware, earth-tone inspired palette. 

One of these forms, the bread basket, is intended to replace the metal woven baskets they have been using. After measuring the existing baskets, my first thought was to find a form that I could slump the clay over. I wasn't terribly excited about the simple oval form that would be created, so I took some time to think.

Eventually, I wondered if the clay could be folded into the squared oval shape that I was seeking. After a few paper test pieces, I was able to make a pattern. Rolling the slab of clay onto burlap gave the outside texture. The walls were folded up and since the baskets are the same size, they also stack. (The first few were pretty wonky, I learned that the template was really important.)

Amazingly, when I sent Travis a photo of the prototype basket, he told me about a bread dough that is wrapped in fabric with texture similar to burlap, the process then transfers the texture to the bread!

These ramekins are a new form for me as well. As an extra challenge I had to find an oven safe clay that could survive the thermal shock delivered from the oven. The dishes are wheel thrown and then slightly pressed on the sides to create the oval shape. When glazing I used 6 glazes in a variety of combinations- you can see by my notes (on the left) how I had to make a plan to keep things organized.

So if you are in Jackson, be sure to stop by the Wild Sage for dinner. I know I can't wait to see these pieces in action!

Ornaments & Cookies

Jenny Dowd

Same process, different outcome!

About a month ago I started making ornaments knowing they would be just in time for absolute last minute Christmas gifts. The ornaments start out a lot like cookies- roll the clay thin, cut with biscuit cutters, add a small hole for hanging. 

The ornaments are for sale at Workshop in Jackson and each one is unique, just like everything in this store. Even the name- some say Jackson Hole and others say Jackson, WY. 

The text is written with an underglaze inlay process; when the clay is almost leather-hard I write the text into the surface with a sharp blade. Watered-down black underglaze is brushed over the surface, then sponged off.

The other side features patterned mountains, this time in a sgraffito process. The entire surface is coated with black underglaze, I wait until it has dried just enough, then scratch through to reveal the clay underneath. Some are glazed partially with a clear glaze while others remain unglazed for a satin finish. 

Needless to say, I've been thinking about cookies since I started this project! 

My ornaments are hanging and the (actual) shortbread cookies are out of the oven... Merry Christmas!

Pathways Timeline

Jenny Dowd

Yesterday, in celebration of the 20th anniversary of Garaman Park, I was invited to create a chalk timeline to depict the history of Pathways through Jackson Hole. This park is a nice stop along the 49 miles of pathways through Teton County. With access to Flat Creek, a picnic pavilion and open grassy space; Garaman park is a peaceful and open space tucked between neighborhoods. 

It's been rainy lately in Wyoming, so this was a risky project. Once the pathway dried off, I got to work marking out the timeline- from 1991 to 2017. I worked all afternoon to write the highlights from each year and added in some graphic elements to illustrate the story.

With large grey clouds looming, I focused on the process- legible handwriting, interesting and simple graphics. I learned a lot about the history of Pathways and all the elements and work that have made these areas possible.

And then the rain came... I didn't take any photos of my work before this point yet I was surprised at how the chalk held up! 

Projects don't always go as planned, but there is always something to be gained. 

The anniversary celebration was from 4 - 7 and was well attended. The chalk timeline was just one element during the evening and was a great way to invite people to walk the years of work behind Pathways projects. A lot of people experienced the timeline while I was working on it and also before the rain washed it away.

Western Design Conference 2016

Jenny Dowd

Earlier this year Agnes Bourne invited several Jackson artists to work with her on a project for the 2016 Western Design Conference. We were asked to create artwork for the foyer of the Designer Show House, on display during the conference, September 8 - 11.

The theme of the room, Flying West in Summer, served as inspiration as we met and discussed our vision for the space. Sam committed to making a coat rack and I took on the challenge of a chandelier.

The cool end of summer / early fall weather was perfect; we turned our driveway into an extra studio for welding, fabrication and even wood burning.

The Designer Show House is composed of 9 rooms, each featuring a different designer. The foyer celebrates "New Arts" in Jackson, with new and repurposed objects offering a welcoming space full of ideas and reflections. Visitors are met with a large shelving unit filled with fascinating objects: a Cabinet of Curiosities. To the right in the lower bank of photos, Ben Roth's Aspen Coat Rack, fabricated from steel and spoons. At the top and lower shelves of the Cabinet of Curiosities is The Grand Pan, created by Bland Hoke. Small paintings by Lee Riddell are tucked between the curiosities. 

Inspiration for Sam's steel and wood coat rack came from the current fire season in Wyoming and throughout the West.

My inspiration for the Wyoming Sky Lantern came originally from the little white birds seen at a distance in Yellowstone National Park, usually around Grand Prismatic. I also incorporated the silhouette of the ever present mountains and stars that pierce the night sky.

Also in the image below is a plein air painting by Kathryn Mapes Turner. And surrounding the room is a giant image from Triangle X Ranch, printed on fabric.

This project stretched the imagination- the first time we saw all of the components together was during the installation on Monday before the show opened! With a bit of magic and a lot of trust this project came together to offer a space full of vision, as written by Agnes Bourne:

listen to the light

in the tent of early dawn

under the cover of quiet sunrise

the Wunderkammer of deepest dreams

reflects the shadows of living memories

in the museums of our minds

flying West in summer

listen to the light - listen to the light

Wonder Cups

Jenny Dowd

Lately I have been working on several interesting projects; special orders and prototypes for local shops. 

This week I finished a special order of little cups for the Center of Wonder in Jackson, WY. Since this organization is dedicated to creating moments of wonder and supporting creativity in our community, it seemed appropriate to make each cup just a little different.

In order to add a bit of personalization, the Wonder Bird logo is on the inside of each cup. This took some trial and error, in the end I made a stencil using contact paper. Simplifying the logo then adding the details made this process a little simpler.

First, using underglaze, I would paint the positive or negative of the simplified bird into the base of the leather hard cup. Next I would peel off the stencil and paint in the details or scratch them out of the black: eye, feet and curly tail.

The finished cups are super cute plus I got more confident with making, using and altering stencils. 

Often these projects help me figure out different ways to approach my craft and sometimes the techniques show up in future work.

Update: Wonder Spot

Jenny Dowd

Part II: The Clouds Have Gathered

It took nearly a month after the first install (for details check out Part I) but the clouds have finally gathered on the Wonder Spot. The final addition is a cloud over 8 feet wide that hovers at the top of the sign.

The clouds take shape upon approach. Once up close, all the parts and pieces used to make each form are visible. At this point it is as if the cloud particles have been magnified, similar to being inside a cloud where the edges are no longer visible. 

This has been a tough sculpture to photograph!

Better photos will be added to my website over the summer, for now I've been snapping quick pics on my way in and out of Jackson. 

The sculpture contains a few surprises: 

When driving north past the clouds there is a spot where Sam's giant steel boat on top of Jackson Hole Whitewater appears to float through the clouds. (Check out this video of the boat when it was in the sign a few years ago.) At night clusters of light within the clouds are reminiscent of a far-off thunderstorm.

The clouds will be up until late fall, so if you are in Jackson check them out as you are driving by!

Wonder Spot

Jenny Dowd

Part I: The Gathering

For the past several months I have been working on a large-scale project: creating a sculpture capable of living outdoors for 6 months. The Wonder Spot is 10 feet tall X 6 feet wide and stands about 10 feet off the ground along highway 191 as it winds north into Jackson, WY.

This tiny maquette is a simplified view of my vision. You've just arrived in Jackson (or you are heading to work) there might be summer traffic slowing down your progression... what's that? A group of clouds have gathered on a sign?

Here is the first installment of the process behind what will be a month long installation... The Clouds are Gathering.

I started out by making hundreds of ceramic balls, using plastic bowls as moulds. This has been a great way to use up the mounds of recycled porcelain piling up in my studio. 

My husband, Sam was the muscle behind bending the steel rods (our landscaping came in handy) and has helped brainstorm and problem solve at every step.

The porcelain orbs are beaded onto the steel armature. Then more are strung within the cloud structure to help fill the space. After a long day of troubleshooting and heavy lifting, we were tired and when the weather turned nasty we had to call it quits. (I didn't even have the energy to take a decent photo!)

I'm finishing the huge cloud that will go on top, plus making tons more ceramic orbs to help fill in some gaps in the 2 small clouds. In a few weeks we will meet for the final install and the clouds will finish gathering. In the meantime, they subtly hover on the Wonder Spot.

I had a team of awesome helpers- thank you! Now I'm looking forward to finishing the next step!

Life is a Game

Jenny Dowd

There's nothing like a deadline to help an artist actually finish something.

In January I was invited to create a piece for the Laramie County Library Book Arts Invitational. While that is plenty of time, I spent a few months puzzling over the theme for this year's exhibition: The Game of Life. After hashing out several ideas I finally landed on actually making a game.

Onto 52 cards cut from a very heavy watercolor paper, I assigned each card a topic from the following categories: Life Event, Helpful Tool, Surprise. 

I started each drawing with an ink wash, then layered the details in with a pen. After cutting my thumb, even the bandaid got into the spirit of the game and dressed up like a ghost.

As you might expect, this set of cards has many more surprises than tools and events. And probably more bad surprises than good. Zombies, sharks, snakes, a giant spider but there are also surprises like a fancy cake, vacation and presents. 

I kept most of the drawings open to interpretation: a desolate desert road- are you lost or traveling in a foreign land, luggage- are you going on a trip or moving out? 

This has been a big project, but also portable. I took the cards with me for a tea break between teaching classes last Thursday. It's also hard to stop a project when I'm really excited, so it has been nice to take them with me.

Some surprises are good while some are bad- Surprise... Your shoe has a hole in it! Others are really bad... Pterodactyl!  

A few life events; Too much work / Baby / Camping trip

Now I'm working on the final details; sanding the rough corners and testing some ideas for the back of the cards.

The cards will fit into a box; here is a hint as to the final presentation.

So, how does the game work? I have no idea. Since life does not come with instructions, neither does my Game of Life.

By next weekend the game will be finished (or ready to be played?) I will put images on my website under Other Projects.

If you are in Cheyenne this summer, be sure to check out the show and see how other Wyoming artists interpreted this theme!

Laramie County Library, Cheyenne, WY

Exhibition dates: June 9 - August 7, 2016

Opening Event: June 17


Jenny Dowd

Things break.

Last fall I made a series of porcelain pendant light shades for the brand-new Jackson, WY restaurant, Picnic. It's not often I have the opportunity to make something for a public space, or that what I make is experienced by so many people. Picnic is a great spot, and has quickly become my favorite place to meet friends. And I have to admit, every time I see the cloud-inspired light formation I'm a little surprised. 

I will post an update soon with better photos of the installation.

I knew there was a possibility of a shade breaking, but I was still surprised when a tall person stood up with arms overhead and broke a low-hanging shade! I made a replacement, and this time, several extras.

Porcelain paperclay was perfect for this project. An addition of paperpulp to clay adds strength before firing- during which the paper burns out, making the form slightly lighter. The clay needed to be thin in order to be translucent; the forgiving nature of paperclay made these otherwise fragile forms possible. 

This is my super high-tech process for making clay, a small batch made in my driveway.

Once the clay is dry enough to work with, I roll out thin slabs and cut the sides to shape using a template. I enjoy projects that push me to figure out interesting design solutions, in this case I needed to dry the clay into the shape I wanted, making sure the lightbulb fit inside without touching the sides of the shade. In this case, I made heavy-duty tarpaper cones and clamped them to a work table.

Another benefit of using paperclay is that wet clay can be attached to dry clay, this is something that usually ends in heartbreak. Once the sides were stiff enough to stand on their own, I attached a little clay to the top in order to change the shape. 

Firing the fragile shades is tricky, I found that the two sides needed to be fired together so they would still fit together after possibly warping in the kiln. Not many fit on a shelf, and with their height the most I can get into my small kiln is 5.

While I had admired ceramic light shades I had never considered making them! I am glad for this challenge and the ideas that have been generated through trial and error. Now I'm looking at lights a little differently...