The integrated art of Lucia Hand

Article by Lynda La Rocca

Local Artists – June 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

FOR POTTER AND LINGUIST Lucia Hand, the visual arts and the art of communication go, well, hand in hand.

“They’re all about the same process of learning and testing and having the courage to try new and different ways of expressing yourself,” Hand says.

Hand’s life mirrors her philosophy. For 15 years, she has successfully combined these seemingly disparate disciplines as smoothly as she shapes mounds of wet clay on the potter’s wheel in her Leadville home studio.

All roads lead to art for Hand, although she’ll be the first to say that it’s been a rather circuitous route.

The career path of this Colorado native has led her from Colorado College, where she earned a degree in Spanish and minored in French and psychology, to positions as a program developer for the Washington, D.C. Institute for International Education, a Spanish instructor at Colorado Mountain College, and a pastry chef in Beaver Creek.

“I knew nothing about pastry when I was hired,” Hand cheerfully admits. “I’d decided to take a year off and be a ski bum, but I quickly discovered that I needed a job. I saw an ad that read, `Pastry chef. Will train. Call Pierre,’ and I thought, `Well, I love pastry, and I love French men. How can I lose?'”

“When you think about it, pastry is a lot like clay,” muses Hand, who spent seven years crafting sweet treats. “They’re both very tactile, and they allow you to produce something from nothing in the sense that you start out with basic substances and end up with beautiful, artistic creations.”

Hand’s current balancing act includes teaching ceramics at Colorado Mountain College’s Timberline Campus, studying for a master’s degree in psychology at Regis University, and helping husband Gary, a self-employed custom builder and furniture maker, transform their former Climax company-town house into a two-story dream home complete with hot tub and soaring cathedral ceilings.

She also finds time to exhibit her ceramics at The Women’s Arts Center in Denver, and sell her work at local craft shows and by commission.

Hand will wear yet another hat this fall when she begins teaching Spanish and French at Leadville’s High Mountain Institute, where nearly three dozen high school students from around the country will spend a semester immersed in academics and wilderness adventures.

But Hand’s primary focus is her art. “If I’m away from my clay, I get cranky,” she confesses. “My life wouldn’t be the same without it.”

HAND CREDITS an eighth-grade art teacher in the Jefferson County school district with sparking her passion for clay — and showing her the importance of being considerate of others’ feelings.

“With a single word or sentence, a teacher can change your life forever,” Hand points out. “My art teacher changed me for the better. She was always enthusiastic and supportive. She never said, `You can’t do that.'”

Now Hand follows her instructor’s example in her own classroom by fostering “an environment of respect, for me, for the students, and for each other.

“It’s like raising a child in that you have to set clear and strong parameters, while also recognizing the need to be flexible,” she explains. “And you have to have consequences. My students know there will be consequences if they don’t do what is expected of them.”

Hand is exquisitely sensitive to the apprehensions that emerge when beginning a new field of study.

“It’s particularly difficult with both art and language because you’re putting yourself way out there, you’re exposing your soul and really going out on a limb while trying to learn something new,” Hand explains.

“How many people give up on learning another language or quit making art because they feel they’re not good enough, or because someone actually tells them that they’re not good enough?” she asks.

Working with clay, however, strips away some of the inhibitions generated by the unfamiliar.

“Clay is very forgiving and non-threatening,” Hand says. “If you don’t like what you’ve done, you just squash it down and start over again.

“It’s also very therapeutic,” she continues. “Squeezing the clay, shaping it, using your hands and feeling your body interacting with something that’s natural, is totally absorbing. As you let yourself go into the clay, you lose all track of time. And because clay is so tangible, so earthy, you can allow yourself to get muddy and dirty and be a little crazy with it.”‘

Hand describes her work as “both utilitarian and decorative, conventional in form, but with surface decoration that’s unconventional.” As examples, she points to a tall, graceful, yellowed-ivory glazed vase covered with whimsical, dark blue swirls, and a set of bowls ornamented with bright, multicolored glazes applied using bits of ordinary kitchen sponge to create patterns resembling blooming flowers.

Although Hand employs many different methods in making her pottery, her adventurous spirit is particularly drawn to the ancient Japanese technique of raku firing.

Most raku ware is previously fired, unglazed pottery which is covered with a lead-based glaze, and placed in a pre-heated kiln using tongs.

When the piece is glowing hot, it is removed with tongs and transferred to an air-tight or nearly air-tight enclosure containing dry combustibles like shredded paper, sawdust or straw. The Japanese, who favor raku ware for the Cha-No-Yu, the 400-year-old Zen tea ceremony, traditionally used tea or water in place of dry materials.

This process, called reduction, induces thermal shock, which in turn creates a “crackling” effect in the glaze, along with striking, widely varying color patterns produced by the kiln smoke and the combustibles themselves.

The tremendous differences in the resulting surface appearance depend upon such factors as how quickly the piece was taken from the kiln and placed in the combustibles.

“Raku is risky because the results are variable,” Hand explains. “But that’s what makes it so exciting.”

While Hand also draws, creates batik fabric art, and dabbles in watercolors, clay will always be her first love.

“Clay is beautiful, but it’s also functional. It has such a deep, rich history. It’s as ancient and mysterious as the earth itself,” she declares.

Hand holds firmly to her conviction that all art forms have life-enhancing qualities. “I believe in the power of art in so many ways — to express yourself, increase self-confidence, make you feel happy, and just to play,” Hand says.

“Art is a tangible form of communication,” she adds. “And all communication carries with it an element of risk.”

But for Lucia Hand, life without art — and risk — wouldn’t be worth living.

For more information on Hand’s commission work or to view her ceramics, contact her at 719-486-3782.

A freelance writer and poet, Lynda La Rocca engages in the art of communication at her home south of Leadville.