Drawn to Clay

by Beth Weimer

Meet Natalie Zelman, the 2018 Fine Art Fair's Emerging Artist...

As the designated Emerging Artist of the Peoria Art Guild’s 56th annual Fine Art Fair, Natalie Zelman shows impressive talent as a burgeoning ceramics and sculptural artist, drawing inspiration from nature to create pieces that are earthy, elemental and textured.

Growing up in Naperville, Illinois, Zelman obtained her Bachelor of Fine Arts in studio art from Millikin University last year. Now pursuing her MA in ceramics at Bradley University, she continues to develop her technique while working as a graduate assistant in the ceramics studio and gallery. While her parents encouraged her interest in art from a young age, Zelman was drawn to three-dimensional media and the earthiness of clay. “I find something very grounding and transformative about working with clay,” she notes, “taking it from water and earth all the way to a finished piece of ceramic artwork.”

Zelman recycles old materials and mixes her own clay to create a medium that suits her intentions for the batch. After forming the base of the vessels and adding sculptural elements, the pieces are fired, glazed and fired again. Glaze is used sparingly because she prefers the salt firing method, adding salt to the gas-fired kiln when it heats to nearly 2400 degrees Fahrenheit. “The heat causes the salt to vaporize inside, and the salt in the atmosphere of the kiln adheres to the clay and creates that warm brown finish,” she explains.

The organic forms and earthy tones in Zelman’s art represent Midwestern prairies, rivers and maps, she says, as well as feelings of home and the various connections between people and places. After spending a month this summer working in Sitka, Alaska, she’s returned with a sketchbook full of ideas—inspired to integrate the experience and beautiful scenery into her ceramics.

The faculty at Bradley has helped Zelman evolve as an artist, and she intends to obtain her MFA there as well. “After that, who can say?” she muses. “I expect to do some combination of many things, when all is said and done.”

Be sure to check out her booth at the Fine Art Fair and look for her MA exhibition at Bradley’s Heuser Art Center this winter. View more of Zelman’s work at nataliezelman.com. a&s


The 56th annual Fine Art Fair takes place September 28-30, 2018, on the Peoria riverfront, featuring 130 juried national artists working in a wide range of mediums. “I Buy Art,” the grassroots initiative by Peoria-based textile company Collecture, is a central theme this year, and don’t miss the digital paintings of 2018 Featured Poster Artist, John Leban. Other activities include an interactive community mural, kids’ art festival, mobile pottery studio, live music, and food and drink. This year’s fair opens on Friday night—offering even more opportunities to enjoy this jewel of Peoria’s art scene. Visit peoriafineartfair.com or find the Peoria Art Guild on Facebook and Instagram to learn more.

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