OCEAN PARK — Danni Pederson is equally comfortable sitting at a potter’s wheel or on a sofa in either of her Klipsan or Kalama homes. She is one of those adaptable, easy-going people who doesn’t seem to become rattled at much of anything.
Maybe that patience is what allows her to be successful at trying a multitude of techniques with the unique pottery pieces she creates. And that same patience works in her favor as she teaches clay classes, both private and group, at Bay Avenue Gallery. Pederson survived years of teaching junior high school art. She has teaching all figured out, regardless of the age of her students.
Pederson and her husband, Pete, call themselves “half-timers.” They come from Kalama regularly to spend time on the Peninsula. She explained, “We’re down here roughly every two weeks.” When she’s here, you can generally find her at the gallery and its studio three days a week or more.
“I’m just one of the pottery people that teaches here,” she said from the gallery’s studio last Thursday, which just happened to be her birthday. But like so many dedicated artists, she was concentrating all her efforts that day or working on several projects of her own. She would be instructing a young student the next day, but Thursday seemed to be reserved for finishing up several of her own pieces.
Sporting a blue work apron with “Baskin Robbins” lettering on the front, Pederson casually leaned back in a studio chair, her fingers loosely laced in her lap. On the tables surrounding her were several works in progress. She went on to explain more about her teaching, how when she’s “down here from Kalama,” she is usually in the studio on Fridays, able to work with anyone who needs instruction or advice on something they’re making with clay. “If somebody wants to throw (on the potter’s wheel) or wants to hand build, I’ll work with them.”
Sometimes, gallery owner Sue Raymond is also there. Other times, it’s just Pederson, who said that while she does set up group classes now and then, “I also teach drop-ins.”
The drop-in she was expecting the next day was 14-year-old Becca Sharp, who is home schooled by her mother, Jennifer. Sharp just started working with clay. Pederson spent a couple of hours one day in the previous week, explaining some basics. Sharp had started working on a frog sculpture, using a basic pinch pot method.
Pederson’s teaching isn’t just one-on-one. She also holds organized group classes.
“Anything that anyone wants to do and wants a class on, if they call the gallery and ask, we’ll do a class,” she said.
She recalled some of the past. “I’ve taught classes on making wall pockets, bird houses, handmade bowls and I did a mug class.”
Most of the students were adults, but if younger students showed up, it didn’t bother her and never will. “Usually, the kids that come in and do this kind of thing on their own time are kids that are really interested. I’m a former teacher, so I work with adults and kids.”
As far back as she can remember, Pederson was always doing something artistic. But when she was 22, she recalled, “I started taking toll (painting) classes.” She smiled as she recounted the fact that, “I had three little kids. I needed something I could do that was not tied to housework.”
One day a week, her grandmother would take charge of the children long enough for Pederson to go to her painting class. “And then, I’d come home and paint there. I decorated everything in the house with toll painting.”
That, she said, is what established her love for painting and that in turn, “is what led me to get my art degree. I went to Portland State and got my Associates in Art and then I got a split Bachelors in art and education.”
Over the years, she’s painted in oils, acrylics and watercolor. “If I decide to paint now, I just do whatever I have the materials for,” she said. “But mostly now, I do my painting on pottery.” For Pederson, the glazing of pottery is like painting and is a quite a creative outlet.
While she had intended at first to teach elementary school, she was hired by Vancouver’s Evergreen School District as a middle school art teacher at Wy’East Jr. High. Later, she also taught a year of high school at Heritage High “when they opened up.” But looking back at those first eight years, teaching junior high students, she said, “It was so much fun! I loved it.” She said she always looked at herself as, “just as crazy as those kids were. I’ve always said I was pre-adolescent and would just stay that way.” She laughed at this recollection.
When she was first hired, she didn’t have quite the pottery background she wanted. She’d only taken three quarters of pottery classes at Portland State when she was working on her teaching certificate. So, she kicked into action and enrolled in night classes in clay at Longview’s Lower Columbia College. “I took every pottery thing that they had. My main night instructor was Richard Roth. We remained good friends and he’s still my buddy.”
Pederson is a member of Peninsula Clay Artists and was instrumental in bringing Roth to one of their shows as guest artist, where he did several demonstrations both on and off the potter’s wheel.
When she was teaching school, she realized that even though art is an elective, “It isn’t an easy subject to take.” She went on to explain that there is a curriculum for teachers to follow and as for the students, there are many concepts to learn. “And there are responsibilities they have to follow through on. Students don’t become successful with their grades or themselves if they aren’t willing to put in the effort to learn the process and actually to expand that process and grow with it. That part of creativity is really important.” So is, she stressed, doing the work themselves.
She would carefully demonstrate every step in the process of each project. “Students needed to look at what I was doing and listen to what they were being taught and then try it on their own.”
After they tried it, if something didn’t work, she said she would, “go back to my own paper or product and show them again.” But as a teacher, she said, “You don’t do it on their work. It has to be completely theirs.”
She still uses this philosophy as she teaches both youth and adults today. “I can show them how to tweak it, to change it or to fix it, but I don’t go over and do their work for them.”
Jennifer Sharp, who home schools Becca, picked up on this right away, as she watched Pederson instructing her daughter last week. Later, she said, “I like the way Danni showed Becca how to do something and then sat back and watched.” That, Sharp said, is “how I do it” with her home schooling.
Pederson is fearless in trying new techniques. Bowls, mugs and plates were eventually joined by big platters and other pieces. On the platters, she collaborates with her husband, Pete, who does decorative iron work to build frames. She said that the platters are to sit on frames, rather than directly on a table surface.
On the table last Thursday, in the gallery studio, were two ornate deep dish pie plates which had been bisque fired and were ready to be glazed. In making them, she had used what she calls her “quilt” method, doing different areas of design varying from carving (the Sgraffito technique) to sculpture, and using stamps for imprinting texture. She strives to produce depth, detail and texture in her pieces. Whether it’s a plate, bowl, mug or something as intricate as these pie plates, “I want to see the texture in them and I want them to look really pretty.” And, of course, color is right up their in producing a unique piece.
And that she’s done — over and over again.
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Danni Pederson said that through individual instruction, group classes and representation of local artists and sales of their work, “This gallery does a lot for this community.”
Bay Avenue Gallery, owned by Sue Raymond, is located at 1406 Bay Ave. in Ocean Park. Phone is 360-665-5200. Days and hours have recently varied a bit, when Raymond was on vacation and also because of fewer open days during winter months. Call for information. Also check the gallery’s Facebook page.