Feats of clay
Call it destiny: Small-town girl or boy seeks fame and fortune in the big city and falls for an uptown opposite number, and the couple lives happily ever after. Lady Luck dealt a different hand to Gloria and Jerry Josserand, and they’ve parlayed that hand into considerable success as one of the most prolific partnerships in central Illinois.
“He was the art teacher on the third floor of Edison Junior High, and I was the seventh-grade social-studies teacher in the basement,” Gloria recalls. “He knew I was interested in art, and one day he asked me if I was going to take the U of I Extension watercolor course that was being offered. I said, ‘I’ll take it if you take it.’” From that class grew a partnership that has lasted 40 years.
Both artists are from RFD, Illinois: Jerry from Oakland, Gloria from Gerlaw.
“In college, I concentrated on painting,” Jerry says.
“I knew I was going to be an artist when I was a child. I remember telling my friends this,” Gloria says. “In college, I had three minors — art, English, and social studies — because I couldn’t settle on a major.”
When Jerry was asked to teach three-dimensional art at Lanphier High School and had to brush up on that medium, he took a class from Margie Emerson at the Springfield Art Association. “I probably learned more about throwing from her than anybody,” he says. “Bob Dixon at Sangamon State took me from just surface glazing to more decorative pieces, painting with clay.”
The Josserands work in separate studios that occupy a large part of their home’s basement.
“Initially I did fabric-appliqué wall hangings,” Gloria says. “I had done only one clay project in college. Jerry kept coming home from Margie’s class telling me how much I’d like clay, and I took the next class. Now I work exclusively in bas-relief.” Her art is essentially flat handwork from stoneware clay rolled out like cookie dough, only thicker and not as tasty. Subjects include buildings and homes, usually produced on commission, as well as fish and other subjects drawn from nature.
Jerry throws on a wheel. Early on, he developed a style that resembles what has become known as Prairie style of design. Several Jerry Josserand pieces have been purchased by the management of the Frank Lloyd Wright–designed Dana-Thomas Home. “When an official photographer comes around, my pieces are usually removed since, though they resemble the style of art when the Dana-Thomas House was in its prime, they were not produced during that period,” says Jerry. Even so, at least one book about the home shows his art in the background.
“I do several different techniques: wax resistance, stamping, incising,” Jerry says. “Some potters prefer a more defined specialty because they can become proficient at it and turn out more art in a given amount of time.”
The Josserands mix all their own glazes. As dry powder, the color is a far cry from the hue of the fired glaze, so when a new color of glaze is mixed, it’s fired on test tiles before being used on a project. “Where you position the piece in the kiln also affects the appearance after firing,” Gloria says.
Each piece is given a bisque firing at 1,700°F for about seven hours to bring out the chemically bound water. After cooling, the objects receive glazes and a second firing at 2,300°F, hot enough to melt aluminum, for about 10 hours. “Some potters do multiple firings, but we do only two.” Gloria says. “There’s not a great advantage to stoneware — it’s just what we learned. Many artists are working in earthenware because of the lower firing temperature and the need to conserve energy.”
“Colors aren’t as bright with stoneware because the chemicals can’t withstand the high temperatures,” Jerry adds.
Two years ago, Gloria began “painting” with pastels and sold her first pastel in spite of her best efforts to keep it. “Prairie Art Alliance requires that unless you’re the featured artist, anything you show there has to be for sale, so she added a little something to the price and it sold anyway,” Jerry says, smiling.
“With glazing, your colors are really limited,” Gloria says. “With pastels, it’s like getting a new pair of glasses. I’m using a new vocabulary.” She adds that she’s still committed to bas-relief.
“We make more work in fall through spring because firing down here in the summer really gets hot,” Jerry says. “We go to workshops, conventions, and classes. Some of what we learn, we incorporate into our work. A lot of it is just good to know.”
Gloria notes, “Art is a full-time activity with us.”
For many years, the Josserands spent a lot of time on the road attending art fairs. Today, with their names established, the Josserands offer their work at selected galleries and gift shops and galleries. They also accept commissions.
A confluence of two enthusiastic people who came together 40 years ago has transformed dedicated teachers into dedicated artists who tend to finish each other’s sentences when talking shop. Both have found unique niches, grooves, and a public that cherishes what they do.
For more information about the Josserands’ art, call 217-787-2467.