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October 22, 2005
ARTIST CRAVES CREATION WITH CLAY
Author: Jennifer LaRue, Correspondent, Spokane, WA;
Liz Bishop wears oversized heavy gloves and brandishes a jumbo set of tongs. It is night and the raku kiln glows eerily. It is fashioned from an old electric kiln. The elements have been removed and large holes have been drilled, one on each side and two on the top. A propane tank fuels the fire that shoots into the side holes and sends two rays of light out of the top holes.
The kiln sits in the back yard of her Valley home. Close by is a cedar pit. Bishop raises the kiln’s lid. The heat is enough to burn all the hair off your face. She gingerly lifts out the radiant pieces with the tongs and tosses them one by one onto the pit. Her daughter, Sarah Hawks, throws handfuls of cedar chips onto the pieces to douse the flames.
Bishop has an electric kiln in her studio, which has a much slower firing process. While the indoor kiln fires all day long, the raku kiln is much hotter and completes the process in about 90 minutes. The action is the same for both the regular ceramic and raku pieces, but it is the firing that decides the final piece.
"Raku is more earthy," says Bishop. The earthiness can be seen in its texture and rich metallic color. A raku piece is also more fragile then the ones fired more slowly.
Bishop began her vocation 20 years ago, the same amount of time it took her to get her bachelor of arts, which she earned from Whitworth College in 1994.
Bishop, 50, has a learning disability. She does not write well, and it is hard for her to focus. She was on Ritalin 30 years ago. "I’ve always had to go the extra mile," she says.
Her hard work has paid off, and her creative hobby has become her occupation. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a ceramics instructor and has had more than 30 exhibits of her work, from New York City to Idaho. One permanent display of clay tiles that make up a series of murals can be seen at Liberty Lake Elementary.
Her work is filled with movement. Designs form shapes that seem to dance. She adds copper and glass to some of the pieces for eclectic wall hangings. Her raku tiles are put together like abstract storytelling. Even her functional pieces of pottery have an added quirkiness.
Her pieces are alive and filled with emotion. Her past has not always been easy, and her pieces reflect life and rejuvenate her. Though she still has a hard time focusing, her work is intense and focused. "It is easier for me to express myself by working with my hands," she wrote on her Web site. "In my heart, I feel a burning sensation, which is only relieved by creating with clay."
Bishop is also a natural teacher. Her mother and aunt were teachers. Even her daughterteaches. Hawks, 23, just began as an art teacher at Cheney High School.
Hawks began as a painter but recently has begun to throw clay. Throughout her childhood, she would paint on her mother’s clay pieces. Now, they are doing larger, more in-depth compilation pieces, including a series of wall hangings; they are 5-foot "Ladies" made from raku tiles placed on a plywood form and then grouted.
Bishop has a long history of struggle and survival, and with every step, her work continues to evolve.