Billy Ray Mangham would like you to know about a not-so-secret rendezvous of potters and clay sculptors in the village of Gruene every year the weekend before Halloween.
It's not that the organizers of the Texas Clay Festival intend for the gathering of regional artisans to be secret, it's just that they have relied on word of mouth and the artists' mailing lists to let the world know about the event. The festival's reputation seems to be enough to keep it growing over the last six years from 12 craftsmen the first year to almost twice that many this year.
Mangham says the festival will be "all clay, all day." There will be demonstrations of throwing clay, potters wheels, and kilns along with lots of entertainment and refreshments. The gathering has become such an event that shoppers come from all over the state for this once-a-year chance to see so many potters in one place.
Most of the potters at the show have galleries scattered around Texas. One, Michael Biechlin, runs a landscaping business for a living. Six of the artists, like Mangham, travel around the country to shows and fairs to sell their wares. "All of us have studios alone, so it's real nice to get together with others (in the same profession) and swap war stories," Mangham says. "This is really something special."
Mangham attends about 20 shows a year from Chicago to South Texas. "My sense of humor seems to work better in the South," he says.
Billy Ray arrived in Nacogdoches right out of the Navy ready to learn to be a forest ranger at Stephen F. Austin University. The forestry courses didn't start for another five months, so he took an art class. Although he had not studied art since the ninth grade, that summer class changed his life's focus from wearing a Smokey Bear hat to spinning a potter's wheel.
After getting an art degree in California, Mangham moved back to Nacogdoches to get a master's degree in sculpture. In 1980, he moved to Austin, where he built the pottery programs at Laguna Gloria Art Museum's Art School and Austin Community College. "I loved (teaching), but it came down to doing my work or teaching," he says. In 1989, he took the leap and started his own studio.
Most weekends find Mangham and his wife Beverly working at one of the many shows they attend. Their schedule includes working with two assistants Tuesday through Thursday, driving to the next show on Friday and driving back home on Monday. It is a pretty hectic pace, but they try to find time for themselves like a weekend in New Orleans on the way from Houston to Memphis.
Mangham's art borders on the decorative and the functional. His whimsical sculptures of animals and people reflect his off-the-wall sense of humor. His vases and cookie jars are most often decorated with one of his five dogs. His signature pieces are decorated with a silly dog with either pointed ears or a round head sporting a goofy grin and a large bone. "People come up to me and say, 'That's my dog on that vase,'" Mangham says with a laugh.
At his workshop in the hills north of San Marcos surrounded by the thick shrub brush, his five dogs have the run of the place. Of the dogs, Oscar has appeared on more of the pottery than the others, probably because he has been around the longest. The other dogs, Bugger, Buzzer, Chito, and Pearl live the dog's life of ease and contentment on the Mangham ranchette.
Besides being at the Texas Clay Festival, Billy Ray and Beverly show their work in the Austin area at Clarksville Pottery and the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. Beverly is an accomplished sculptor in her own right working with found items. The weekend after Thanksgiving, they open their home and studio to the public for one weekend a year. To receive an invitation and directions to Mangham studio call 512/754-8171 and leave your name and address (don't forget to mention that Capt. Day Trips said to call).
There is no invitation necessary for the Texas ClayFestival in Gruene, one of the largest of all clay shows in the state. The Festival is 10am-6pm on October 24 and 10am-5pm on October 25. For more information, call 830/629-7975, 830/620-4219, or visit their Web site at http://www.nbtx.com/texasclayfestival/.
Coming up this weekend ...
Plum Creek Jamboree in Lockhart brings the fun to the courthouse square with arts & crafts, lots of food, games for the kids, and two stages of live music, 10am-11pm, Oct. 17. 512/398-3461 ext. 233 or http://www.lockhart-tx.org/funstuff.html.
Cowboy Jubilee in Round Rock's Old Settlers Park pulls up the chuckwagon while the stages fill with cowboy poetry and music, Oct. 17-19. 512/244-7445.
Heritage Antique Show at the Community Center in San Gabriel Park in Georgetown showcases more than 30 dealers with furniture to jewelry, Oct. 17-18. 512/869-8597.
The Gathering at the HC Carter Longhorn Ranch on County Road 190 outside of Dripping Springs celebrates the arts with selected works of art, music, refreshments, and art activities for the kids, Oct. 17-18. 512/894-0499.
Coming up ...
Texas Jazz Festival in Corpus Christi features more than 40 local and national bands on stages around town and on the shoreline parks. This is one of the best outdoor jazz festivals in the state, Oct. 23-25. 512/883-4500.
Czhilispiel in Flatonia combines a Czech/German festival with a chili cookoff and the world's largest covered biergarten for a weekend of fun, Oct. 23-25. 512/865-3920.
Early Texas Art exhibit at the Museum of the Big Bend in Alpine on the campus of Sul Ross University showcases over 100 years of rarely seen regional art from private collections through Nov. 29. 915/837-8143.
Day Trips, Vol.2, a book of Day Trips 101-200, is now available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, P.O. Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704. 386th in a Series. Collect them all.