published Sunday, May 4th, 2014

Art of a bygone era: Porcelain artists host two exhibits this month in greater Chattanooga area

Linda Rugina, center, director of the North River Civic Center, watches as Frances Rogers, left, and Virginia Skipper place porcelain pieces in the exhibit.
Linda Rugina, center, director of the North River Civic Center, watches as Frances Rogers, left, and Virginia Skipper place porcelain pieces in the exhibit.
Photo by Tim Barber.

  • photo
    “Roses,” a vase by Virginia Skipper, was painted and fired six times to achieve the depth of color she desired.

IF YOU GO

* What: Exhibits by Chattanooga Porcelain Artists Guild.

* Where: North River Civic Center, 1009 Executive Drive, Suite 102.

* When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, through May 30.

* Admission: Free.

* Information: 423-870-8924.

* Where: Catoosa County Library, 108 Catoosa Circle, Ringgold, Ga.

* When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday and Wednesday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, through May 31.

* Admission: Free.

* Information: 706-965-3600

Virginia Skipper shares a talent with her late father for intricate, detailed brushwork.

William Jones painted the gilt rosettes and complex, ornate trimwork in the Tivoli Theatre’s coffered ceiling, she says. Like her father, she’s also known for roses — “I’ve painted thousands” — but hers are painted in layers of rich color on porcelain.

A nationally accredited flower show judge, Skipper is able to transfer her eye for floral design to her artwork, which has built her reputation as one of the region’s top artists in china painting. She is a sought-after teacher.

Skipper’s work is among several pieces by members of the Chattanooga Porcelain Artists Guild on display through May 30 at the North River Civic Center in Hixson. A second collection of work by the porcelain painters is in the Catoosa County Library this month, says guild president Frances Rogers, and those pieces are for sale as well.

China painting is a process of applying color in multiple layers to porcelain. Working in overglaze paints, which Rogers describes as a thin wash of paint akin to watercolor, an artist sketches out a design on the piece of china, paints it in, then fires the piece in a kiln. Depth of color, shading and highlights are added by repeating the paint-and-fire process until the desired look is achieved.

“The beauty of kiln-fired porcelain is very striking,” says Rogers. Indeed, the misty, ethereal quality of its colors gives a finished piece a sense of delicacy even if it weren’t painted on china.

The two porcelain exhibitions mark the 40th anniversary of the local guild, which formed in June 1964 with 26 members. Although the local membership has remained steady, with meetings averaging 15 folks, according to Rogers, the art of china painting is not as prevalent as it once was.

Once considered “the proper thing for young ladies of quality to do,” according to Porcelain Art in America, the art form is not attracting a younger generation to keep it alive.

“I think there are several reasons younger people aren’t involved,” says Rogers. “The time involvement, it’s not instant gratification because you can’t just sit down and paint a piece. There is a lot of time invested in a piece. Young women are working and raising children. Also, people working don’t have access to teachers to get them started.”

“Second, you need to have a kiln; you can’t just put a piece in the oven and bake it. That can be expensive.”

Skipper says she has been a china painter for 44 years, Rogers for five. Neither had studied art nor had any experience in painting before picking up a brush to paint on porcelain.

“I don’t think I have a natural gift (for art),” says Rogers. “I think it’s just watching other people and sitting under other people’s guidance that prompts me to see the world in a different perspective. Looking at a flower now, I see colors and shadows that were never there before. Porcelain painting has given me a different way of looking at God’s gifts.”

Both credit friends for introducing them to the art form. Rogers hopes that through this month’s exhibits, as well as the guild’s ongoing educational meetings with guest teachers, members can encourage younger artists to join them.

The Chattanooga Porcelain Artists Guild meets the second Monday of the month at the East Ridge Community Center, 1517 Tombras Ave., at 10 a.m. The May meeting will be a business session for members only, according to Rogers. The next meeting open to visitors will be June 9.

For more information about the guild, call 423-894-0499.

Contact Susan Pierce at spierce@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6284.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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