Ozark Folkways remembers potter Rae Dunn with retrospective exhibit

Ozark Folkways remembers potter Rae Dunn with retrospective exhibit

“A good pot makes you want to dance with it,” Rae Dunn once said. “My hope is that all my pots find dancing partners. It’s a joy knowing that someone takes pleasure in using a piece that I took pleasure in creating.”

Dunn’s pottery is dancing again in a memorial exhibit through June 16 at Ozark Folkways in Winslow. Dunn died from complications of leukemia in 2017, after eight months in hospice. But it wasn’t until the passing of her husband, James, in November 2023 that her children sought a place for a retrospective exhibition. Daughter Katherine Parsons, who lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, says she and her brother, Eric, who lives in San Jose, Calif., wanted to remember their mother with the best pieces that had been preserved in her home. The exhibit also includes many of the Ozark arts and crafts Dunn collected plus handmade works she found on travels to Italy and Denmark.

Parsons wrote a biography of her mother for the Folkways show, and she shared snippets from it with The Free Weekly.

Growing up in a military family, Dunn drew and painted but said she “wasn’t very good at it.”

“I knew there had to be some kind of artsy thing I was good at, though,” Parsons quotes her as saying. “It just took me awhile to find it.”

As a student at Fayetteville High School, Dunn played the French horn and took up clothing design and sewing, pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in home economics at the University of Arkansas. Settling in Fayetteville with her math professor husband, Dunn also earned a master’s degree in botany and was an avid gardener.

“It wasn’t until 1981, when her two children were teenagers and her husband was on sabbatical in North Carolina, that she discovered pottery,” Parsons writes. “She admired that state’s traditional pottery, which is functional, simple of line yet classic in design. From then on, recounted Rae, ‘I was hooked.’”

Dunn and her father built a pottery studio out of a “derelict” milking barn in Farmington, she built a kiln with son Eric, and Dunn opened the Clay Castle in 1983.

Dunn soon became known as a favorite exhibitor at the Bella Vista Arts and Crafts Festival, the Prairie Grove Clothesline Fair, the Tulsa International Mayfest, the War Eagle Fair, and the Arkansas Arts Craft and Design Fair in Little Rock. As Parsons puts it, “one-woman shows, awards, and juried exhibitions followed.”

In 1987, she won second place at the WVA Bluegrass Festival in Winfield, Kan., Parsons writes. The Arts Center of the Ozarks in Springdale presented Rae’s one-woman show, “Totally Teapots,” in 1990. At the 1992 National Biennial Art Competition in Washington, D.C., Rae’s pot, “Kilauea Jar,” won an Award of Excellence. Juried exhibitions in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Springfield, Mo., and Fort Smith featured her pieces. In 1995, the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum acquired her large glazed stoneware vessel, “Deer Bowl,” for its permanent collection.

Dunn was inspired by “Asian ceramics, Italian architecture, Native American pottery, cell mitochondria, a cabbage from her garden, a lizard in the yard,” Parsons says, sometimes whimsically hiding “a bear as the handle of a canister lid, a tree frog clinging to a coffee mug, ripe wild blackberries encircling the neck of a vase.”

“A pot that does not attract the hand to follow its swells and hollows as well as savor its texture and edges is mediocre,” her daughter quotes Dunn as saying. “Because so much of modern life is anonymous, an item created by hand is meaningful.”



Rae Dunn Memorial Exhibit

WHEN — Through June 16; gallery hours are noon-4 p.m. Friday-Sunday

WHERE — Ozark Folkways, 22733 N. U.S. 71 in Winslow

COST — Free

INFO — ozarkfolkways.org; 634-3791

Categories: Galleries