Mud into magic
Trudi Klinger specializes in fruit motifs for her earthenware.
The pottery creations of Trudi Klinger are inspired by the fruit orchards of Oregon¹s Hood River Valley.
Potter Trudi Klinger could be dubbed the unofficial ambassador for tree fruit producers. With each customer, she sends home a piece of the tree fruit industry.
Her unique, richly colored ceramic pottery pieces, inspired by the scenic orchards of Oregon¹s Hood River area, are practical and sophisticated, as well as treasured works of art. Popularity of her pottery has expanded beyond the Pacific Northwest. Her wares have been showcased at a buyers market for American crafts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and she has retail accounts in every state.
A varied clientele, ranging from art collectors to growers, enjoys Klinger's passion for art that she brings to life in the form of ceramic creations. Some of her pieces adorn the walls of key tree fruit industry supporters like U.S. Representative Greg Walden, who received a piece she created as an award from the Pear Bureau Northwest. The Pear Bureau also commissioned her to create a work honoring Oregon's state fruit, the pear, which was presented to Governor Ted Kulongoski. In addition to pottery collectors, local orchardists purchase her decorative bowls, pitchers, and other items for special-occasion gifts.
The story of Klinger's venture into fruit pottery is almost as intriguing as her work.
An art major at the University of Texas, Klinger thought that photography and studio art would be the ticket to earn a living in the art world.
"Sculpture and pottery were my love," she said. "I didn't know anybody who could make money and earn a living doing that. So, photography was my major."
Living like a gypsy in an old Volkswagen camper, she came to Hood River in 1992 for a wind-surfing vacation, with nothing more than a bicycle in her possession.
Klinger fell in love with Hood River and never left.
After working in a local hotel and restaurant for about a year, she decided to plant roots in the community. She wanted to live in the country where she could keep a dog. In her search for a country home, she happened to drive by a small homestead in nearby Odell that was surrounded by a small pear orchard. A homemade "For sale by owner" sign caught her eye. The six acres had a small home, pear trees, and shop that housed a pottery studio where ceramic classes were taught.
"I signed a makeshift sale agreement on a small scrap of paper that same day," Klinger said. "My home found me."
That afternoon, Mystic Mud Studio was born.
She ran the ceramics business for a year, teaching classes and learning about firing the clay at different temperatures. Klinger had been introduced to low firing in college, but she learned that firing the pottery in the mid-fire range produced earthenware and preserved the brilliant and rich colors painted on as under-glazes before the firing process. Fine china is fired at high temperatures. She also learned how to slip cast, in which an original is made and then a mold is cast for the piece to be reproduced.
"I then closed the ceramics business and reopened the shop as an operating studio," she said. "With the ceramics shop, I was supporting everyone else's hobby."
Her pottery is inspired by Hood River Valley's agricultural bounty. With the exception of sunflowers and Christmas motifs, all of her pottery is painted with deep rich hues of pears, apples, cherries, peaches, and grapes.
Though much of her inspiration comes from the changing orchard seasons and colors, she also uses Good Fruit Grower to help stimulate her creative juices. "Growers bring in old issues of the Good Fruit Grower magazine for me to use as inspiration," she said. "I¹ve taken many ideas for my artwork off its pages."
Her Harvest pattern, with its red and golden Bartlett pear motif on a black background, is her most popular seller. It was inspired by a suggestion from local Hood River orchardist Gordon Sato, who worked closely with Klinger to help her get the shape and color of the pears just right. For years, the oval bowl was known as the "Gordie" piece.
"Gordon wanted me to create a piece for a wedding gift using red and gold Bartletts," she said, adding that she also did a commissioned piece for an orchardist who wanted Bosc pears as the focus. He too, worked with her to understand the nuances and differences between Bosc and other pear varieties.
Since her first Mystic Mud pottery piece resembling classic Italian and antique designs, her style has evolved to elaborate, three-dimensional designs. She first incorporated small, 3-D pears on the top of canisters. Later, the 3-D fruit was incorporated on the outside and inside of her platters, vases, pitchers, bowls, and tiles.
Small fruit tiles retail for $9, with functional fruit bowls ranging in price from $75 to $135. The largest 3-D platters, which can take a week or more to make, sell for $3,500.
At one point, Klinger was so busy that she had two full-time employees in the studio, and she was spending nearly every summer weekend at an art show, attending seven different art festivals a year. The festivals require that participants be juried for acceptance and are not "small town" craft shows. Utah's Park City Arts Festival is one of the biggest in the West, bringing in more than 100,000 people to view the works of more than 200 artists. Other shows she attended were in Sun Valley, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.
The shows meant travel, hauling around cabinets and cases to showcase her wares, and hectic pottery-making schedules for Klinger.
"I was a pottery machine," she said.
Last spring, Klinger opened a small retail shop in downtown Hood River to broaden her public exposure beyond her Odell studio and increase accessibility. "So far, it's worked. My hope is just to have the store and then just do a couple of art shows each year."