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Creative Pagosa: Courtney King

Photo courtesy Courtney King Pagosa Springs artist Courtney King is listed in the Pagosa Arts and Culture Project directory. King was trained by numerous Pennsylvania tile makers in Henry Mercer’s Moravian Tile Works tradition, where she learned old world tile-making techniques including plaster mold making, tile pressing, slipping and glazing.

Photo courtesy Courtney King
Pagosa Springs artist Courtney King is listed in the Pagosa Arts and Culture Project directory. King was trained by numerous Pennsylvania tile makers in Henry Mercer’s Moravian Tile Works tradition, where she learned old world tile-making techniques including plaster mold making, tile pressing, slipping and glazing.

The Pagosa Arts & Culture Project is building a web-based directory of all the creative people and businesses in the community. By creating this website, it will make these MAKERS easier to find in online search engines and help share the wealth of innovative and talented individuals that call our small town home.

This sort of database is called “cultural mapping” and is being done by communities around the country in order to realize and recognize the value of their creative assets.

The Pagosa Arts & Culture Project is establishing the groundwork for continued collaboration and cooperation and promotional efforts of the combined community. The goal of the project is to establish a solid foundation of cultural and creative individuals and businesses, to create a viable plan for promoting these assets and to promote the Pagosa area as a worthy place of residence for creative people, a productive place for creative business ventures and a desirable destination for arts tourism.

At present, the PACP is also planning an event for fall 2013. The event, the MAKERS Expo and Tour, is set for Oct. 12-13.

To register and be listed in the database, go to http://pagosaacp.org/Register.html.

To register for consideration as a participant in the expo and tour, go tohttp://pagosaacp.org.

In order to highlight the MAKERS in Pagosa, the PACP will profile its members, giving readers of The PREVIEW a sense of the depth and breadth of the creative community.

This week’s MAKER is Courtney King.

Q: Tell us a little about who you are, where you were born, educated, your family, growing up and how you came to be doing your creative work?

CK: I was born and raised in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, an area rich in historic architecture including 18th century towns and villages made up of farmsteads, schoolhouses and covered bridges. My parents raised my brother and I in a 200-year-old stone farmhouse, with a 300-year-old, three-story timber framed barn that was a historic peach depot. We learned about building from my father, who designed and build numerous additions on the house, and repaired and maintained the barn and outbuildings.

My love of great architecture and ceramics was further ignited by the legacy of Henry Mercer, a Renaissance man of the early 20th century also born and raised in the Bucks County. Mercer was an archeologist, artifact collector, tile maker and designer of the distinctive poured concrete structures that I grew up exploring. Each of his castle-like structures was cast in concrete, with their interior surfaces covered in his original decorative handmade tiles. In addition to designing, building and collecting, Mercer undertook a revival of the native Bucks County craft of pottery-making from the late 1800’s, by producing hand-crafted tiles, becoming a leader in the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th century.

During my high school and college educations, I was trained by numerous area tile makers in Mercer’s Moravian Tile Works tradition, where I learned old world tile-making techniques including plaster mold making, tile pressing, slipping and glazing. I studied both architecture and ceramics at Bennington College and Rhode Island School of Design. Bennington really offered me the flexibility of working in both mediums. It was there that I was making full-size ceramic furniture, tile installations and designing/building large scale arboreal architectural installations, one of which is on permanent display on the campus.

Q: Describe the objects you make or the creative work you do.

CK: The creative work I do to this day includes architecture and ceramics. I am a licensed architect with over ten years of extensive experience in sustainable design and construction in southwest Colorado.

I make a variety of ceramic tile and work, including flat field tile, decorative trim pieces with heavy relief and architectural details. My deco work is made with the use of handmade plaster press molds. I use a variety of clay bodies and custom recipe glazes that offer subtle color variations, and a variety of textures. Many times inspiration drawn from organic forms and patterns found in nature is combined with modern influences to offer decorative and functional tile.

Most recently, I have been collaborating with a Tibetan master artist, Lama Gyurme Rabgye, on a new collection of tile. We met while working together on the Tara Temple at the Tara Mandala Buddhist Retreat Center, outside of Pagosa Springs. We subsequently worked on a couple of other projects together, including the design of another Buddhist temple to be built in Santa Fe, N.M.

Our collaboration, the Tibetan Tile Collection, is a unique hybrid of Old World American tile-making techniques with traditional Tibetan imagery. The collection makes the ancient, traditional art and sacred symbols of Tibet accessible to the modern home through a distinctive collection of decorative tiles and wall pieces, including the Eight Auspicious Symbols Series and the Four Direction Animals. For more information, visit our website, http://www.tibetantilecollection.com.

Q: What is your favorite tool or material used in making your work? Why?

CK: For working in clay, my favorite tools are my fingers. I find they end up making the most interesting textures and patterns. For mold making, old dentist tools really do the best job for carving and shaping hard plaster. The computer program SketchUp is my favorite tool for architecture. It allows me the freedom of simple sketching in the three dimensions, and allows me to quickly see the forms that I envision for structures.

Q: Do you have a regular routine or schedule?

CK: The nature of clay and the dry southwest weather definitely drives a specific routine for my tile-making process. When I am in the midst of a big tile project, the moisture content of the work creates the schedule. Whether it is wedging clay, rolling slabs, pressing, cutting and smoothing or flipping and drying, timing is everything.

Q: What’s the best advice anyone has ever given you?

CK: Ask questions and listen.

Q: When you’re not making art, what is your favorite thing to do in Pagosa Country?

CK: I enjoy gardening, cooking and yoga. My husband and I spend a lot of time exploring Pagosa Country with our dogs. Together, we enjoy time in the high country, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, snowmobiling, and backcountry skiing and snowboarding.

Q: What are your goals for the coming year?

CK: My goals for the rest of this year are simple — to finish two large tile installations in my home. The first being the completion of a complete bathroom renovation with a custom tile shower and the second, a tile installation in an attached greenhouse/sunroom.

Q: What is your dream project?

CK: I feel as though I am living my dream. I have been very fortunate in having the opportunity to work on some incredible, once-in-a-lifetime type projects here in Pagosa. Architecturally speaking, I worked with Tara Mandala in designing the Tara Temple, at their retreat center. What a unique and honored experience it was — bringing together traditional Tibetan architecture and contemporary green technology in temple worthy of pilgrimage. More recently, I was a part of the design team for the new hotel at the Springs Resort, which was the first LEED-Gold rated hotel to be built in Colorado, a true dream for me.

On a regular basis I work with my husband on the renovation of our home, the Warr House, a local historic landmark which turns 100 years old this year. This project continues to bring together my love of architecture and ceramics, with design-built renovation work, additions, and numerous tile installations!

To learn more about Courtney King, visit her website at www.courtneyking.us.

This story was posted on June 13, 2013.