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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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For Ginger Oakes sculpting is ‘instinctual’

Artist Ginger Oaks is a sculptor who works in clay. Her art is driven intuitively, with each piece having a story behind it. (Colin Mulvany)
Artist Ginger Oaks is a sculptor who works in clay. Her art is driven intuitively, with each piece having a story behind it. (Colin Mulvany) Buy this photo
Jennifer Larue

For sculptor Ginger Oakes, her artistic journey began like the main character in the 1977 Steven Spielberg film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

Who can forget the scene where Roy Neary, played by Richard Dreyfuss, plopped huge spoonfuls of mashed potatoes on his plate in a feverish attempt to sculpt a mountain? About 13 years ago, instead of mashed potatoes, Oakes felt an urgent need to dive her hands into lumps of clay – and so she did.

Creating intuitively, like Roy Neary, Oakes builds her own “mountains.”

“When beginning a piece I have no idea what will emerge out of the clay, I also have no idea what will emerge out of me. My work is a result of taking in things that inspire me, and then allowing my work to come out,” she explained. “I tell people I must create and let it out or I could explode.”

When the urge to play with clay hit her, Oakes jumped right in. She called the University of Oregon and asked when their next clay class was. It was the next day and it was a clay sculpture class with a live nude model. “I got right into it,” she said. She has also taken classes at Lewis-Clark State College, Spokane Art School, and at various workshops.

Oakes uses many types of clay and glaze and firing techniques. Her finished products are all hand-built and never the same. They include faces and figures emerging from the earth or the bark of a tree, mermaids and other sea-inspired pieces, spirit shakers, masks and vessels. To Oakes, the pieces are not complete until someone connects with them.

“I am a simple storyteller, so I put a few words or stories about my work on cards. My love for creating grows when I watch people read those cards and have a personal connection to the sculpture. The fire in their eyes finishes my work.”

She has showed her sculptures in a gallery in Hood River, Ore., and, since moving to Spokane six years ago, she has been busy. She works on her sculptures as often as she can at her South Hill home and at the Clay Connection, 714 E. Sprague Ave., where she also exhibits her work. In the near future, she will have a workshop on her property, and so will her husband, who builds guitars.

She has shown at the recently closed Studio 66, and consigns at Avenue West Gallery and Manic Moon and More Artisan Emporium, 1007 W. Augusta Ave., where Saturday she will display new works alongside other creative individuals during an open house.

“I don’t make a choice to create, I have to,” she said. “Sculpting in clay was instinctual like a survival skill coming out.”

Like the mountain that Neary so desperately had to find, it is where she has to be.

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