Ceramics Envy at the Berkeley Art Center — I Want to Get My Hands into that Earthy, Messy, Squishy Clay

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

I’m a writer, but whenever I visit my friend Nancy Selvin’s ceramics studio, I wonder whether I’ve missed my calling. Maybe I’d rather be working with something more tangible than words and sentences and ideas, something I can get my hands on — like clay.

Brown Bottle, 2007, ceramic by Richard Shaw. Photo by BF Newhall

“Brown Bottle, 2007,” by ceramic artist Richard Shaw. If I weren’t doing sensuous pots like Nancy, I might be going for humor, like Richard Shaw. Photo by BF Newhall

At Nancy’s place in West Berkeley there’s clay everywhere. Some of it is still soft and wet, waiting to be squeezed and rolled and pressed into something shapely or mysterious. Some has been fired and sits, dry and porous, on shelves, ready to be glazed. And some has met its destiny as a bona fide art object.

There’s beauty everywhere in Nancy’s studio, and she doesn’t mind if I wander around, taking it all in, wondering how things might have been for me if I’d ignored my father’s wishes and done what I wanted to do my freshman year in college — transfer into art school.

Instead of sitting at this computer right now, I could be digging my fingers into a tub of clay — wet, slippery, earthy, willing clay. I could be making something concrete. Something touchable. Something where you know when you’ve got it right because you can see it.

But Nancy tells me that switching from words to clay would not deliver me from my creative angst. Clay, paint, words, musical notes — I’d still be facing the  perennial challenge: What do you do with that blank page, that blinking computer screen, that tub of gray and shapeless muck?

Ceramicist Nancy Selvin's Small Pot with Markings, 2012

Nancy’s tactile “Small Pot with Markings, 2012.” Photo by BF Newhall

Whatever the medium, you still have to come up with an idea, Nancy tells me.

No doubt she’s right. And so, for now, I’ll be satisfied with the total fun I’m having here, playing around with the photos I took of a show at the Berkeley Art Center.

The show, “Local Treasures: Bay Area Ceramics,” includes Nancy’s work, as well as the ceramics of Clayton Bailey, Viola Frey, Ted Fullwood, Jon Gariepy, Mary Law, Annabeth Rosen, Richard Shaw, Sandy Simon, John Toki, and Wanxin Zhang.

Check it out. It’s pretty wonderful. You can’t touch it, but you can walk around it. You can look at it from above and below. You can see it.

Coming soon: The ceramics of Wanxin Zhang, Ted Fullwood and Clayton Bailey.

“Local Treasures: Bay Area Ceramics,” Sept. 22 – Nov. 18, 2012, Berkeley Art Center, 1275 Walnut Street, Berkeley, CA, 94709, (510) 644-6893.

Ceramic cake by Richard Shaw -- "Bride and Ship, 2003." Photo by BF Newhall

More droll cultural commentary from Richard Shaw: “Bride and Ship, 2003.” Photo by BF Newhall

Two Nancy Selvin ceramic wall hangings, Findings #012 & #014. Photo by BF Newhall

Two of Nancy’s recent ceramics, Findings #012 & #014. Nancy is trying something new here, recovering shards and artifacts she finds around her studio and home. For me, the glazes continue the sensual feel of earlier work. Photo by BF Newhall



  1. I am a potter & a friend of Nancy’s so she forwarded the link to me. I just saw the Berkeley Art Center show and then was up to her studio Fri. night, so the timing was perfect. I really enjoyed your story.

  2. Ann Weber says:

    Thank you for this wonderful thoughtful article about Nancy Selvin and the show at Berkeley Art Center. You are really helping to promote the exhibition. Best, Ann, administrative assistant

    • Barbara Falconer Newhall says:

      I recommend this show to anyone who likes art. But also to those who think maybe they don’t It’s full of surprises.


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