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Solid Ground: New Works from the Ceramic Design Association at Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

Words by Penny Neef. Images as credited. Cover Image by Gayle Paul.

Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center (PAC) is a little gem of visual arts in Hampton Roads. Located in a stately 1846 Greek Revival building that housed the Norfolk County Courthouse until 1960, PAC is just a short walk from the High Street Landing of the Elizabeth River Ferry that leaves every half hour from Waterside in downtown Norfolk. It’s a breezy ride across the river without paying a tunnel toll.

If you’re lucky, like me, and live on the “other” side of the Elizabeth River, Olde Towne Portsmouth, where PAC is located, is an easy drive. Parking is free on the weekend in Portsmouth.

Portsmouth Art & Cultural Center is now a thriving center for the arts in Portsmouth. The two galleries have every-changing exhibits. The shaded courtyard holds concerts and art demonstrations. The Portsmouth Olde Towne Farmers Market wraps around the courtyard every Saturday with fresh produce, flowers, baked goods and artisans. If you haven’t visited Olde Towne Portsmouth in a while, you will be pleasantly surprised.

Right now, PAC is hosting two exhibits. Upstairs, through October 15 is “Color Outside the Lines”, paintings by contemporary Virginia painters.

Solid Ground Exhibit. Images by Gayle Paul.

On the main level, through October 8, PAC is presenting “Solid Ground: New Works from the Ceramics Design Association”. Ceramics Design Association (CDA) is a group of Hampton Roads ceramic artists and potters who create ceramic art from large scale, sculptural pieces to functional pottery of all kinds.

CDA was created in 1967 to educate and promote ceramic arts in Hampton Roads. The artists come together to share ideas, participate in workshops, show their work, and do community service, like the annual Empty Bowls Benefit held each year at Virginia Wesleyan University.

“Solid Ground: New Works from the Ceramics Design Association” at Portsmouth Arts & Cultural Center exhibits 58 works from 19 CDA artists. All the works are for sale. There is a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and styles. Most are sculptural, some are functional. It’s a treat to see so many different, local, ceramic artists in one place.

Bill Pinkham’s work is striking. The retired landscape designer and former owner of Smithfield Gardens Nursery creates large, organic shapes. I was lucky to visit his home, garden, and studio on 4 acres overlooking Batten Bay and the James River in Carrollton. Pinkham sold Smithfield Gardens in 2002, but he did not retire from landscape design. His four + acres are a hidden treasure, surrounded by an 8-foot-tall fence to keep out the hungry deer. It’s complete with his large ceramic sculptures, other artist’s works, beautiful rock formations he’s designed into the garden and a koi pond. There’s a Japanese influence with a similarity to the Japanese Garden at the Norfolk Botanical Garden. Turns out, Pinkham was the designer of that garden too.

Bill Pinkham's home studio. Images by Penny Neef.

Pinkham built a studio on his property. It’s full of his large, organic shapes, his “garden rocks” that he sculpts around real stone molds, his works in glass, empty bowls for the “Empty Bowls” charity, experiments in figurative clay, Ikebana vessels he makes for the art of Japanese floral arranging, big buckets of glaze, and a great big kiln for firing his large pieces. Retirement isn’t exactly retirement for Pinkham. He flexes his creativity in so many ways.

Ceramic artist Barbara Kobylinska also has a connection to the Norfolk Botanical Garden. She has two wildly whimsical bird houses in the current exhibit “Beakitecture” on display in the Enchanted Forest of the Botanical Garden. Kobylinska’s works on display at Portsmouth Arts & Cultural Center are also whimsical. “Glee Groundhog”, “Sheared Sheep” and “Red Squirrel” display her love of the natural world, especially plants and animals. “Common Myna” is anything but common. Standing tall and proud, this myna bird is sculpted from terracotta pipe used in sewer construction.

Kobylinska, who has a degree in fine arts from University of Warsaw in Poland was “young and stupid” (her words) when she and her husband, an engineer, built a sailboat and set sail from Gdańsk, on the Baltic coast, for a year-long adventure to the Caribbean.

That one-year adventure turned into years as the political and economic situation in Polish grew worse. Their daughter was born in the Caribbean. Communism collapsed. They never returned to Poland. Kobylinska’s husband was able to get an engineering job in Chicago. They settled there to raise their growing family.

Work by Barbara Kobylinska. Photos by Gayle Paul.

While Kobylinska was creating her art in the Chicago area, she heard about a sculptural clay workshop that was conducted each year at a sewer pipe factory in Ohio. Ceramic artists were invited to the factory each summer. They carved, pounded from the inside out, and decorated the tall, terracotta red clay pipes into forms and the factory fired them in the large, industrial kilns. Kobylinska says “I had always dreamt of big, clay sculptures. Big was my future.” She began by turned the tall pipes into her interpretations of flowers and other organic shapes. Then the pipes become birds and other animals.

She went to the pipe factory for years, creating 5 to 7 sculptures each year and hauling the fired pieces home to add heads, arms, wings and paint. Today, Kobylinska still works with clay, but adds other media to her work. The smaller sculptures on exhibit at PAC reflect her new interpretations of animals. Her husband, the engineer, often helps with the assembly. They still have a love of sailing and the ocean, and have lived in Virginia Beach for many years.

There are many more artists to see at Portsmouth Arts & Cultural Center. Enjoy the whimsy, the artistry, the political commentary, and the functionality of these works of ceramic art through October 8. Admission is $3.00 for adults, $2.00 for children under 18.

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