Artist finds success with first attempt

Release Date: 3/7/2011

To say that Elizabeth di Paola's first venture into pottery was a success would be considered a significant understatement.

The junior art education major from Piggott, Ark., took home first prize recently in The River Valley Arts Center Collegiate Competition and Exhibition in Russellville. Her horsehair ceramic vessel, Untitled, was one of the top awards given during the annual February competition among college art students in the River Valley.

It was the first major ceramic piece di Paola had ever made, and she didn’t decide to enter the competition until the night before the deadline.

“I never thought I could win a competition, especially since it’s my first time working with pottery,” she said. “While I was making it, I was just happy it didn’t explode. When it turned out OK, I decided at the last minute to enter it into the competition.”

Horsehair pottery is a Native American art form that dates back years. It is made using a special technique that creates fine lines by burning in the hair from the mane of a horse and thicker lines from the hair of the tail. The horse hair is applied by hand, creating original, one-of-a-kind designs.

“It took about a week and a half of working on it several hours a day,” di Paola said of her winning piece, which stands 21 inches tall. “It was quite a learning experience.”

She drew inspiration for the artwork from a class she took last semester, Contemporary Art, taught by Dr. Bill Eakin. In that class she was introduced to African-American sculptor Martin Puryear.

“In that class we picked an artist and wrote about him or her,” di Paola said. “Martin Puryear was an artist that I learned about and that I really liked. He creates traditional pieces that are not functional, like a ladder that is not climbable.”

di Paola praised U of O art faculty members Blaine Caldwell and Tammy Harrington for encouraging and pushing her as an artist.

“I went to a high school that had a good art teacher, but she was trying to teach 30 kids and there was no one-on-one interaction,” she said. “Here you get a lot more of that one-on-one work, which has really helped me grow and develop as an artist. Tammy encourages us to get involved and she’s a great mentor. Blaine is always willing to help with techniques or anything else. Even the office manager, Debbie (Eldridge), helped us get the piece out of the mold. That’s the great thing about Ozarks; everybody really helps the students do their very best.”

di Paola hopes to one day teach art to both college students as well as younger children.

“There’s nothing more satisfying than watching young kids getting introduced to art and watching them take off,” she said. “I think I would also enjoy working with college students and helping them develop as artists. That would be the best of both worlds.”

Ozarks art professor Blaine Caldwell and student Elizabeth di Paola with her winning ceramic vessel.

Ozarks art professor Blaine Caldwell and student Elizabeth di Paola with her winning ceramic vessel.