Thu, May 23

One of a Kind<br><i>Each of Molly Heizer's totem poles has a unique story to tell</i>

Staff photo by Paula Blankenship

Respect and levity in a native sense are important to the creation of Heizer's terra cotta sculptures.

"My father wouldn't have dreamt of me becoming an artist," said Heizer, a prolific ceramic artist whose animals, Kachinas and totem poles are now on display at James Ratliff Gallery in Sedona.

Although a career in art wasn't considered a viable employment option in the Heizer family, supporting their daughter's passion for drawing on such unlikely canvases as her bedroom floor was certainly a priority.

A family member provided a potter's wheel before she hit age 9 and a nearby college even saved the young sketcher a place in its drawing class.

As an adult, Molly exudes excitement and energy, as well as a ready sense of humor. Today's hand-shaped terra cotta clay sculptures reveal the artists' temperament as her artwork has done from the very beginning.

As a young sketch artist in a college classroom, Molly tells the story of the portly Native American woman who generously posed as the class' model. "I had never seen a nude person in my life. I was a little kid," she laughs. "I was so embarrassed, I drew her thin."

And remaining integral to her creations are a sense of respect and the infusion of levity. Two of the primary qualities that delight galleries fortunate enough to showcase her animals, Kachinas and totem poles.

"Her work is elegant and whimsical, that's what stuck us about it," explains Katherine Murphy, director of the James Ratliff Gallery in the Hozho Center in Sedona.

Molly's transition into Southwestern designs emerged after she became fascinated with rock art inside Wyoming's Dinosaur Park "I just thought there work was beautiful," she explains. I then began reading about Native Americans."

It was then she moved from wheel throwing to hand building pots and three-dimensional rock art. But Molly didn't stop there. She wanted to go bigger.

"I was having a hard time," she said of her first attempts at the larger clay structures.

It was then that Molly was inspired to reshape her designs to fit a more totem pole structure such as those featured in the artwork of tribes in the Pacific Northwest. The result was hand-built sculptures using earthenware clay, incorporating slab and hand-coiled construction. Molly then decorates by carving into the clay and hand painting with terrasigulata, underglazes and glazes. Finally, each piece is fired to 2,100 degrees within her studio kiln and comes complete with a card that provides insight into the totem's creation, history and symbolism.

"Each figure on the totem tells a story," says Molly.

The first totem was completed at the Anderson Ranch Art Center in Colorado and some of her latest pieces decorate the entry of the James Ratliff Gallery and range from 5 to 7 feet in height.

But smaller pieces like her hand painted, decorative animals of North America also deserve attention, says Murphy who currently has a raccoon, owl, frog and turtle on display, each with their own unique and often humorous story to tell.