By Randi Jo Gause
The unbridled clay creatures poised to swoop and stride throughout Gina Hollomon's art studio seem appropriate, as she credits her passion for clay art with an instinctual attraction. "It's primal…that feeling of taking something from the earth and creating something that will last much, much longer than I ever will," she explains.
Although Hollomon first began experimenting with clay during a series of pottery classes, she did not find her true calling in throwing pots. Instead, Hollomon molded her own niche by using the malleable medium to create creatures that fascinated her.
She quickly discovered clay's chameleon-like ability to transform into the texture of virtually anything, from wood and metal to feathers and fur. "Whatever you want clay to become, if you choose the proper firing technique and glazes, it can appear to be that material," Hollomon explains.
Hollomon's education in biology and a passion for working with birds and animals form the groundwork for her art. As a result, she's drawn her inspiration from the vast array of creatures she's been fortunate enough to work with.
A volunteer for the Bird Treatment and Learning Center, she recently created a life-sized eagle with a 6-foot wingspan in dedication to the 30 eagles from Kodiak that survived a deadly feeding frenzy in a dump truck filled with oily fish guts that became piscatorial quicksand for the unwitting raptors. "My art is an extension of my heart and all the living beings that occupy its walls," says Hollomon.
Hollomon's use of a traditional Japanese raku firing technique lends her artwork a unique touch, and she credits the "raku gods" with the unexpected hues of each piece. After heating the kiln to 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, the flames infuse their unique signature in the form of unpredictable, iridescent shades. Copper converts to green and blue, while gold tones transform into every color in the rainbow.
"Most of my glazes are pretty unpredictable and I like that," Hollomon says. "I love the idea of giving up control once a piece that I've devoted so much time and energy to goes into the fire."
Each piece often possesses a whimsical element, achieved by emphasizing one feature that dwarfs the other elements, such as the oversized paws of a lynx, or a raven's beak.
"I like to think that I create pieces that show the spirit of the creature. There is a point where that spirit starts coming out when I'm working on a piece and after that point, I'm only moving the clay around so that the creature inside the clay can emerge," she explains.
Hollomon and her husband create and exhibit much of their artwork at their Anchorage home, which features both an art studio and what the couple calls the "Gray Shakes Gallery." The intimate gallery creates an informal setting for viewing artwork and a perfect landscape for the wildlife embodied in Hollomon's art.
Many of her displays feature a series of animals operating in tandem and frozen in motion. In 2006, Hollomon's one percent for art project materialized in a flock of Sandhill Cranes, Canada Geese and Pintail ducks soaring against a backdrop of windows as they ascend the staircase of a Fairbanks elementary school.
Hollomon revels in exploring the creative possibilities for unused spaces, like the high ceilings of many Alaska homes. "I've enjoyed making birds that soar and swoop and 'migrate' through that unused space. I can see extending that use of space to the sea, with otters chasing and fish swimming. The possibilities are endless."
Central to all of Hollomon's artwork is the distinct essence of nature reflected in each creation. "Each piece is truly unique. I might make 100 ravens, but no two are ever the same."