“What means most to me in life is quality time with loved ones.”
“My Granny taught me how to weave baskets, crochet, cook a whole meal in a cast iron skillet, and tend a garden. Moments with her fundamentally shaped the human I am today. Weaving clay all began from a hope to preserve the craft practices and time that my Granny shared with me.”
Growing up in a family of creatives provided artistic stimulation and interesting ways to think about everything. Anna’s mechanical engineer grandfather was forever creatively solving problems by jerry rigging this or that. Her mother was always busy playing with architectural design and space.
Working beside her granny, Anna became interested in the soil, plants and roots, and the art spaces inspired by the garden. She enjoyed courtyards with their cool shade, and the patterns of the breeze blocks enclosing the space reminded her of basket weaving. These family influences fostered her interest in the weaving patterns of Italian and Lithuanian basketry and in the Mid-Century architectural design movement.
It naturally followed that Anna’s work relates to human connection and the gathering spaces that bring people together. “I want to create ceramic work that fosters belonging and facilitates togetherness. I reflect constantly on courtyards as spaces of connection and solitude. I look at garden structures such as pergolas, lattices, woven hurdle fencing, and even tomato cages for inspiration.”
The Love of Clay
In a high school sculpture class Anna worked first with plaster and then wood, but when next she was introduced to clay she said “a fire was lit within” like she’d never encountered before. Thus began her love of clay and she couldn’t get enough of it.
Adapting her granny’s instructions to an unusual medium, Anna uses coiling, wicker, and twining methods for weaving clay. “My process involves carefully weaving individual fiber clay coils over and under each other to create a unique form. I love to use old wooden bowls or found objects as supports to weave over. I look to family tchotchkes for inspiration.
Anna likes to create work that is soft, gentle, and inviting. “I evoke these feelings through my surface treatments of color and pinching the coils leaving evidence of the hand. My colors evolve with the seasons. Right now I’m very much into shades of green, jade blues, and mauve.”
Innovation and Research
Development of Hemp Fiber Clay:
Weaving clay is dependent on a clay body that is plastic and doesn’t crack easily. In her undergraduate program, Anna was introduced to paper clay to help support woven ceramic forms. Paper clay has cellulose fibers of short length and a shelf life of about two weeks. After that the fibers rot and break down. Often the paper clay forms slump in their wet stage, are difficult to handle, and even crumble once fired in the kiln. “Over time I felt limited by my material and in need of a more structurally supportive fiber clay body as my work was developing into thinner and larger scaled forms.”
Seeking a new fiber to mix with the clay body, Anna’s partner, who is a hemp lime builder, introduced her to hemp fibers. For the past three years Anna has been researching hemp fibers to define its structural support and reinforcement for ceramic forms.
The hemp plant takes 3x less water to grow than trees that provide paper fibers. Hemp goes through different processes to attain the various varieties of hemp fibers. Degummed cottonized bast fibers were found to work best for the ceramic forms Anna was making. These hemp fibers are soft and hair thin and the fiber length runs up to 4 inches. Anna utilizes these fibers most often because they make clay coils much more structurally sound. With a melting point of over 1500*F, hemp is one of the most durable of all natural fibers.
World View: What Art Can Contribute
Anna feels art informs every corner of her life. It helps her communicate better and clearer. She feels if she didn’t have art, nothing would make sense. Art inspires different ways of thinking, and offers endless creative possibilities. It also brings joy and collaboration with other artists. Anna believes that art allows one to see different points of view through the eyes of others. “Educational and informative aspects of art are woven into everything – like how I connect with someone I’ve never met before, how I share a meal, how I treat my home. Almost everything I do is connected to some type of artistic expression.”
“Art as a tool can illustrate and express very important life experiences. It can elevate voices that haven’t been heard and it can amplify the vital stories of others that need to be celebrated. This long overdue work needs to happen. Racial disparities, the inequality of women’s rights, transgender rights, non-binary education, treatment of immigrants, refugees, and more – these are all pressing experiences that need to be brought to the table.”
The Color Network is an incredible organization with a mission to build community by supporting artists of color in the ceramic arts. Their database is filled with stunning artists.
Some contemporary artists whose work Anna loves are Gerald Brown, Gabo Martini, Marissa Y Alexander, Shea Burke, Ashley Page, Stephanie H. Shih, Bukola Koiki, Christina Erives, Aaron Caldwell, Alejandra Cuadra, Jennifer Ling Datchuk, Sharif Farrag, Raven Halfmoon, Jose Villalobos, Maya Beverly, Amelia Lockwood, Magdalene Dykstra, and Jazzy Fetterman.
“There are many roles art can play today that move the world forward in a more supportive and equitable way. We need to do the work and show up for one another.”
*Anna Valenti is a ceramic artist. Her work centers around gathering spaces and the domestic objects that foster belonging. She weaves and pinches clay vessels from baskets to chairs to screens. Anna received a BA in Psychology from University of Colorado at Boulder and a MFA in Studio Arts from Maine College of Art. She has exhibited nationally and is the recipient of 2020 NCECA Student Fellowship and 2021 Colorado Arts Grant. Anna is a Ceramics Instructor at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design in Denver and currently maintains a studio in Longmont, CO.
Anna Valenti is ESAI’s Featured Artist October – November 2021