Creative Pagosa: Gail Hershey

Photo courtesy Gail Hershey Pagosa potter and printmaker Gail Hershey working for a finished product at a raku firing. Hershey is a member of the Pagosa Arts and Culture Project and one of the area’s creative MAKERS. Photo courtesy Gail Hershey
Pagosa potter and printmaker Gail Hershey working for a finished product at a raku firing. Hershey is a member of the Pagosa Arts and Culture Project and one of the area’s creative MAKERS.[/caption]

The Pagosa Arts & Culture Project is building a web-based directory that includes the creative people and businesses in the community.

The website 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 ,cooperation and promotional efforts in 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

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

This week’s MAKER is Gail Hershey.

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?

A: I was born in Ponca City, Okla. My dad was a not very successful salesman and he moved our family of six around about every two to three years, usually to some god-forsaken place in the Midwest — Oklahoma or Kansas. I have fond memories of landscape and place, which still ends up in my artwork from time to time.

I started out my first year in college at Friends University in Wichita, and changed to Wichita State University for my sophomore year. There were hippies all over the place and anti-war protests and music and eccentric people and crazy artists. After a couple of years of Gen Ed, I started taking art classes and got hooked on ceramics. The ceramics department at WSU was its own world and that is how my creative life started. I had never taken an art class in high school, so I had plenty to learn. We had great teachers and a cohesive department. Eventually, I was given my own little corner to work in. WSU’s ceramics department is considered one of the top ten in the country and I lucked into that. I went to school on loans, grants and scholarships and worked four nights a week waitressing and bartending. I spent the rest of the time in the ceramics department and going to classes. It was a spectacular eye-opener for me to be around all those artists. They blew me away. There were the added elements of competition and pretentious behavior, which comes with the territory of an art department. It was all information for me. After that, I went back to school and out of practicality, got certified to teach art, then gifted ed, then language arts, but it all comes back to very first thing that I wanted to do which is still what I want to do.

Doug and I decided to move out of Wichita because we were teachers and knew we wanted to get our daughter out of that school system. In the course of looking for a smaller community with some amenities, we ended up in Pagosa Springs. That was 21 years ago. My entire adult life, living in Kansas, I wanted to move, and since I’ve been here, I have never wanted to move.

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

A: I am most skillful at making objects from clay, or ceramics. I worked very hard, early in my art training to be good on the potter’s wheel. I spent lots of hours on the wheel. There is a direct correlation between how much time you spend on the wheel and how good you are at throwing. It took a long time to get to a place where I could make the thing that I was visualizing in my head.

I gravitate to bowl forms and tend make that first when I get back on the wheel. I make stoneware pitchers, cups, teapots, tea bowls, lamps, jars and things like soap bottles. I just do what I am interested in.

My sculptural or non-functional ceramics are sometimes a combination of thrown and hand-built pieces. I make pieces that sweep up off the table, are graceful and require some interpretation from the viewer. My non-functional work is more abstract and inspiration usually comes from an experience that I have had out of doors that has impacted my heart and mind to the extent that something gets worked into an art piece.

Since I have an income and it is not necessary for me to just throw pots to sell, I tend towards lighter ware that pleases me. I work towards a piece that is so light it floats, is trimmed expertly, has a lovely foot on it and a distinctive signature that people can read. Having experimented with a number of glazes, I have the glazes down to some that I like and can be successful with on a regular basis.

I went through a fish phase, partnering with a metal sculptor and I thought we made some dynamite work together, but he moved to California. That was an exciting period! To make something and hand it over to another artist to do something with it. and I had no idea what he was going to do.

I got into printmaking with Michael Coffee (at SHY RABBIT) when I was getting seriously tired of ceramics and hadn’t done any work for quite a while. The printmaking process that I learned from him rejuvenated my art life. It brought the joy back into it for me, motivated me to learn more about that process. My prints are usually in a square format, but that is changing. They are abstract, but recognizable, especially after you read the title. I like bright colors and a large enough canvas to work out my ideas.

I alternate between prints and pottery and teaching school, and it is a very full life.

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

A: For ceramics, I just use the wheel and a few throwing tools. I recycle clay on a plaster bat in my studio. I am very low-tech. I use recycled clay all the time or I buy it fresh and use a variety of clay bodies with my chosen glazes so they all look different on the various clays. Sometimes someone will ask me what was that glaze and I will say, “Oh, that is just a Laguna glaze, blah blah blah,” but I don’t tell them everything because I have worked to figure out how to make my work unique. Because we live in Pagosa Lakes and I don’t think a big updraft kiln with a stack is even a little bit OK to build in my backyard, I have electric kilns in a shed and fire to cone 5-6. This has worked out OK because I have spent time on the problems of those glazes and managed to get some good results.

I love the smell of oil-based ink and mineral spirits. Since I am from a pottery background and get my hands into everything, I also get my hands into the ink and use any object that is available as a tool. This suits me and I enjoy all the accidents as well as the planned out parts.

Q: Do you have a regular routine or schedule?

A: I get up in the morning around the time that Doug is eating breakfast. I have to think the night before, “In the morning, I am doing art.” If I am focused, I do my artwork. About 10:30, I have to think about getting ready to go teach middle school art where I teach four classes grades five through eight, back to back. It is easy to get distracted around the house and if I let myself get distracted, it can be weeks before I get back to an art project. When you only have a couple of hours here and there to do your work, you have to be disciplined or you will never do it. When I get home from school, I am pretty much done for the day. Weekends I have the option of having full days to work, which makes a huge difference on how a piece turns out. Pottery is easier to do piecemeal and I can jump in and out of that a bit easier.

On a holiday break, or in the summer, my hours are not regular at all, I work until I realize it is 2 a.m. and then sleep. I go right back it to the next morning, in my pajamas. I eat bites of things instead of meals and get completely out of any kind of social interactions. I play music, dance as I work and have a wonderful time. These are my most creative and productive times.

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

I saw this poster once: It said, “Go to your studio and make things.”

I read part of a book called “The Artist’s Way.” The most important thing I got from that book was this:

“Dear Great Creator,

“I will take care of the quantity. You take care of the quality.”

Michael Coffee showed me a video once that was called: “Do Something, Do Anything.”

What this boils down to is: you have to do the work. Inspiration happens when you are doing the work.

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

A: There is plenty to do around here if you like the outdoors. My husband will hike with me and we have hiked all over these mountains. I also ride my mountain bike, but not so much over the rocks anymore. In the last 10 years, I have gotten into rafting with some women friends. I have a one-person fat cat and so does Doug. Rafting is hard work with a tremendous payoff. Cross country skiing appeals to me more than downhill because it gets me out into the woods in the wintertime, at a very low cost, is quiet and fairly safe. I am honored to say that I have some incredible friends. I can spend time with any of them and feel perfectly happy.

Q: What are your goals for the coming year?

A: I have learned just about everything that I can learn from being a teacher. Some folks think I am a pretty good teacher. I think I learn way more from the kids and the process of teaching them than they do from me. I am ready to move on and would like to quit teaching and be a full time artist, as soon as that is feasible, but I need to be able to make a reasonable amount of money from it, so I have some work to do to be set up for it. I hope I can be disciplined enough, in this paradise, to stay inside and do things I need to do to achieve that goal.

Q: What is your dream project?

A: To build a wood kiln and fire it on a regular basis. I would love to do that.

To learn more about Gail Hershey, go to,, or