Blanton’s ceramics connect with ‘Sacred Silence’ at BAL

Linnis Blanton works on a creation in Lamar University’s ceramics studio where he teaches.

Linnis Blanton’s latest works have turned his creative process inside out — literally. The Beaumont ceramicist has tapped into his Native American heritage to transform his pots into sculptural landscapes that are intimate and epic at the same time.

One day, Blanton said he was working on the wheel on pot, pushing in from the outside to twist the damp clay to create his signature organic shapes, when friend and local sculptor David Cargill looked inside and said, “It’s better on the inside.”

“What blew my mind is I knew it, I’ve always been aware of that,” Blanton said. “But to hear David say it, it’s like, ‘Whoa!’ So, I have been turning my pots inside out and it has freed me up to reconnect to sculpture instead of pottery. I’m not ashamed of pottery at all, but it’s like taking an extra step and it was it was just so exciting.”

The inside-out sculptures resemble deep canyon walls, such as those that can be found in the West. Blanton, who has Cherokee and Osage ancestry, said on a visit to the Ancestral Pueblo (former Anasazi) ruins in the Four Corner states, he found similarity in the marks on the canyon walls and the marks on his sculptures.

“That is kind of a thread that goes to the clay that goes through my body, soul and spirit that connects it to my work,” he said.

The Beaumont Art League will host “Sacred Silence: The Artistic Vision of Linnis Blanton,” which opens with a free reception, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Nov. 13. The show will be on display through Dec. 17. The title reflects what Blanton strives for when he works.

“I find that quietness inside myself and it becomes a meditation,” he said. “You go off into this daydream state and then the real work starts. I like the silence. That’s my favorite sound.”

Blanton has been working in clay for nearly 50 years. He developed a clay program at a middle school where he taught for 30 years and he has taught at Lamar University for almost 20. The Art League show is his second in just over a year, but few saw the last one as COVID shut it down. Despite his longevity, Blanton has the enthusiasm of a young artist just starting on a journey of discovery. He will spend 15 to 20 minutes throwing the pot, then three weeks working out where the sculpture needs to go. Part of that is allowing for the unexpected.

“A mistake is a great opportunity to do something I’ve never done before,” he said.

“Sacred Silence” is not just redo of his previous show, as his new work demands a different look.

“That new again is what’s exciting, that’s what keeps it interesting, keeps me motivated,” he said. “I can’t wait to do it.”

As well as canyons, other shapes reveal themselves in the work, with recurring bird forms which remind him of Native American Thunderbird myths, Blanton said. He uses ferric oxide and raku glazes, but the pieces are not raku fired, but oxidation fired which affects how the glazes react. The ferric oxide has a red hue, which Blanton often contrasts with greens. He works on a wheel, constantly turning the pieces and working on all sides.

As clay goes through the cycle of creativity, it changes its form, Blanton said. When first being worked on clay is wet, which he said is the state all ceramicists love most. Then the clay dries and becomes brittle before being fired.

“They lose their life when they dry out,” he said. “They are successful when they come alive again.”

Blanton has the air of a man who knows his place in the world. His is a world of clay and he needs nothing else.

“I feel sorry for people that never find it, never find out what their niche in life is,” he said. “I feel so fortunate I found something I can really truly connect with — and that’s just the feel of the clay. When I’m making marks on the clay, it’s like a comfortable feeling, that I know I’m doing the right thing. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Fired pottery can last for eons. Indoors, it’ll last forever, outside, maybe million years, Blanton said. That permanence gives him a sense of immortality.

“I really want my pieces to have a life of their own because I’m not going to be here,” he said. “They’re going to be here a lot longer than I am. I would love for them to be heirlooms handed down from generation to generation.

“You know, you’ve made it when you hit the garage sales. I think it’s a compliment, because it’s like the old generations letting go of it and the new generations getting rid of it. And, hopefully, somebody will see it and want to hold on to it, you know?”

“A thousand years from now, somebody could pick it up and they don’t know who you are. But maybe it’s possible, if it stayed in the family for even 100 years, you feel like a family friend. ‘Oh, yeah, there was this guy, he was head of the art department at Lamar — this whole mythology built around you that has elements of truth. But that’s what art is all about, just telling us a story.”

When Blanton is working in clay he tries to be in the moment. Yet he is also acutely aware of how those moments form a narrative that connects the past, present and future. With that in mind, he prides himself in doing everything the very best he can.

“I don’t want a bad piece to get out,” he said. “I’m always redoing something if I’m not satisfied with it.

Blanton has no plans to change what he does. After almost half a century he knows exactly what he wants. Or, rather, what he doesn’t want.

“One thing I don’t want to do is live an average life,” he said.

The Beaumont Art League is located at 2675 Gulf Ave. in Beaumont. Call 409-347-6166 to view the show after the opening date.

This story first ran in the Nov. 12 Art of Living section of the Beaumont Enterprise.

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