By Pamela Brandt
Val Neumann, creator of “Stoneware Pottery by Val,” and winner of the 3rd place Artist Award during last year’s DubuqueFest, will return to display her pottery at the DubuqueFest Art Fair in Washington Park on May 19-20, 2012.With 20 years’ experience traveling to regional art fairs from her home in Williamsburg, Iowa, Val always anticipates DubuqueFest. “Your festival is one of the nicest ones. It’s friendly, it’s very easy to walk around, and I love the gazebo with the kids and the music.”
On display in her booth will be dinnerware, pie plates (with complimentary recipes), salsa bowls (which can also be used for soup), pitchers, mugs, butter crocks, vases, soap holders, cookie jars, and the easily recognizable stoneware pig/fish creatures, which she calls “attitude adjustments.” Some pieces of her wheel-thrown and one-of-a-kind stoneware pottery are adorned with whimsical dragonfly creatures.
In the past, her booth at DubuqueFest has been located next to the musicians performing on the Gazebo stage, and she has warm memories of kids with violins. She also reminisces about the children’s art activities typically planned during festival weekend. “I see the kids walking around with their little pieces of art. It gives the kids an artistic outlet.”
She enjoys being in proximity to other working artists during the art fair. “I’m always impressed and interested to see what people are doing that is new. I’m always trying to bring something new to what I do too.” She relishes their interplay of ideas. “Creativity is not created in a vacuum; it’s by seeing someone else doing something and then you think to yourself, ‘OK, now they did something really unique there.”
As she translates her new ideas into clay, Val tests each item for usability. “A lot of times, the things that I make are because ‘I’ wanted something, and I think, ‘Hmmm, I can do that in clay.’ So then it’s kitchen tested, and I think, ‘Oh, that really works nice,’ or ‘I need to tweak it a little bit.’” Her goal is creating functional pieces, meant to be used. “I try to keep my prices affordable too, so that people want to use my things, because I mainly make functional ware. I want it to be used, not just sitting on a shelf.”
Val’s wheel thrown pottery is grouped in her booth by glaze color: blue earth; mountain red and blue earth; sage and bone; purple and blue; cocoa bean and mountain red; sage and cocoa bean; and the newest color, Hey Girl yellow, proving to be so popular, she only had a cookie jar left when we spoke. She said, “Everything is stackable, it’s very cupboard friendly.” It’s also microwavable, and can go in the dishwasher.
Exploring boundaries as a self-taught artist, Val ensures that the items she makes can be used the way they were intended. For instance, after making a pitcher, she asks herself, “Why did this pitcher work without dripping?” She doesn’t make pitchers that don’t pour well. “Any spouted item that I make has that thought process. I really try to think of how things are being used.” Mugs and drinking vessels also go through this evaluation. “The lips aren’t too thick on my things, because when I’m drinking from it, I want it to sit nice in my mouth and I don’t want it to dribble off the sides.”
The pieces displayed by “Stoneware Pottery By Val” are thrown entirely by Val Neumann herself. Her son, Eric, a trained artist, works with her in the studio, designing and constructing the dragonflies that ornament her pottery. Since Eric will soon be leaving to attend SAW (Sequential Artists Workshop) in Florida, Val recommends, “If you want any dragonfly things, I would say, ‘Don’t wait.’”
Val works hard to produce quality stoneware. “I make everything as if I am making it for myself. I want to be happy with something that’s going to someone else. I want people to be satisfied.” She said, “I am proud of absolutely everything I make, or it doesn’t get sold.” In addition to the pieces on display at the art fair, she will take special orders for dinnerware, working with clients to meet their needs.
One thing she’d like her booth visitors to know is that it is OK to pick up the pottery. “If you do come into my booth, please do pick up the pottery, because you’ll realize that it’s not super heavy it all. Just because it’s stoneware, doesn’t mean it’s stone heavy. It’s very well balanced.”
About DubuqueFest, even if you have to drive a distance, she recommends a visit: “I think it’s a trip well spent. There’s good food, there’s good music, and a good caliber of artists too.”
To learn more about Val Neumann, visit Stoneware Pottery By Val online at www.valneumann.com, or look for her exhibitor’s booth at Washington Park during the DubuqueFest Art Fair in downtown Dubuque, Iowa, on May 19-20, 2012.