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Ceramic artist Rimas VisGirda's Dog Life

Lithuanian born American ceramic artist Rimas VisGirda has always had dogs in his life and his ceramics have been influenced by them. For those of you not familiar with his work, please see also An Introduction to Rimas VisGirda.

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SisGirda, who now lives in Champaign, Illinois, was born in Lithuania. His family arrived in the United States when he was seven, first going to Boston, then to LA, then Sacramento. To him, looking back, it seems like his family always had dogs - they were generally small ones, including a varied assortment of cocker spaniels as well as mixed breeds.

Ceramics wasn't VisGirda's first choice of profession, initially choosing to do study Physics at Cal State Uni, Sacramento. During this period he took an elective in ceramics there. However, it wasn't until VisGirda had spent some years working as an Associate Physicist in the aerospace industry developing rocket propellants, that he realized that his true passion lay with ceramics. He decided to move to the Sierra foothills to set up a studio pottery with his friend Richard Hotchkiss..

How Come MY Dog Don't Bark When You Come Knockin' on my DoorVisGirda's first own dog wasn't really his, but rather his girlfriend's at college. She wanted them to have a dog and when she saw an ad in the paper for cute puppies they bought a black one with white toes and a white stripe on his chest. The mother was a German Shepherd. The father wasn't known. They paid $7.50 and took him away. He was about the size of a football. They named him Boston Blackie, (but most people knew him as Boston) - after a 1950's TV series about a detective that drove a hot sports car and had a beautiful girlfriend. Boston wound up being more VisGirda's dog than the girlfriends - he went with VisGirda everywhere, but he always preferred the girls and if given a choice would hang out with them until it was time to go, then he went with his master. He was a handsome dog that grew tall and lean and had the head of a Shepherd with the body of a chunky greyhound. He stayed all black with white toes and a white slash on his chest.

BackBoston accompanied VisGirda to graduate school and got to know all the other students and professors. One day after a Christmas vacation, VisGirda came back to campus to find signs posted on the doors of the art building that read "Boston is a dog not a city" - VisGirda thinks that's when he started using dogs in his work - but it was difficult because Boston was black, so VisGirda used his "artistic license" and changed Boston's color to be appropriate to the situation. Artist and dog lived and worked together for 16 years.

Many of VisGirda's pieces carry titles inspired by blues and country & western music that he listens to in the studio. For him both types of lyrics tend to expound on the simple, basic things in life and coincide well with the common experiences in his own life, so he often uses song lyrics as titles as they fit in to the visual situation he's depicting.

Some years passed and in the meantime VisGirda broadened his ceramic knowledge base by doing a Masters program back at his old university of California State. One of his main influences at the time was Robert Arneson, who was teaching just across the river at the University of California. Arneson taught VisGirda the importance to the artist of ideas and concepts, and how artistic expression needs to surface from deep within. Soon after that, VisGirda went on to do an MFA at Washington State University. It was here that VisGirda realized the possibility of expressing narrative on ceramics, in contrast to uniform glazing, e.g. as it was done in Renaissance maiolica. It was also here that VisGirda started teaching a drawing class, that -- of necessity -- honed his own drawing skills. It was from these and other influences of the time that VisGirda developed his current narrative, caricature style decoration.

In 1997 VisGirda and his wife Billie Theide participated in an international porcelain symposium at the Leander 1946 porcelain factory in Loucky in the Czech Republic. They lived in the village, which has a population of about 200, and would walk from their hostel to the factory. It seemed like every house in the village had at least one dog. The dogs that weren't inside would gather early every morning on the dead-end street in front of their hostel where they would meet for about 30 minutes, then go their separate ways for the rest of the day. This experience led to a number of porcelain pieces produced during the symposium, as well as pieces VisGirda made when he got back to his own studio. The porcelain factory owner was also a dog lover and really enjoyed the pieces...

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