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Stella Luna – shaping and showcasing art in the UC

Bobbie Maynard
Friday, Sep 1, 2006

Artists of all professions can be found across the UC. From sculptors to painters to pottery throwers and more, these artists make up a unique, thriving community of creativity that enriches the quality of life for all local residents.

One pair of artists, who have called the UC home for more than 20 years, can be found tucked away in downtown Smithville on South College Street at Stella Luna Art Gallery. The couple's gallery, which will be celebrating its second anniversary this October, serves as a showcase for not only their work but that of other local artists as well.

"When I saw this place, I knew I wanted to go for it," said Louis Colombarini, who co-owns the gallery with his wife Christine. "Christine and I have been working in ceramics since the 1970s, doing shows and working in the wholesale market. I've always wanted a place of our own, so we wouldn't have to travel so much."

The Colombarinis possess an extensive background in Raku, which is a form of Japanese pottery characterized by low-firing temperatures. Jumping off that technique, they began experimenting with primitive pit-firing.

"We take bisque ware sprayed with a copper patina and place it into a sawdust fire," explained Louis. "As the sawdust burns and smolders, it creates fire-cloud patterns on the ceramic surface. It generally takes six to eight hours for the sawdust to burn down."

"We've always worked together on the Raku," added Christine. "Louis does the forms and firings, and I decorate. With our new art pieces, we wanted to get away from the Raku because it's a long process. That's when I started looking at creating straw-fired clay works."

The straw-fired pieces are created in the same manner as the sawdust technique, but with actual straw instead. The straw gives the pottery distinctive grass patterns, fire clouds and rich sepia tones. The straw burns away leaving an impression on the clay's surface.

"I enjoy the simplicity of the straw-fired pieces," said Christine. "I started adding colors to the finished pieces, using black, gold and some red. I've been doing them for two years, and they have been really well received."

So well received, in fact, that the Colombarinis earned a coveted NICHE award in 2005 in the hand-build ceramics category for the "Textured Leaf Pitcher." NICHE magazine is the exclusive trade publication for retailers of American craft. Judging for the awards is based on three main criteria: technical mastery and creativity both in surface design and form, market viability and a distinct quality of unique and original thought.

"We had entered that contest every year, hoping to win," commented Louis. "We were really pleased that our straw-fired, stylized pitcher won a NICHE award."

Opening Stella Luna Art Gallery in 2004 was the culmination of a lifelong dream for Louis, who worked on the building for 18 months prior to the opening. The gallery's unique moniker is based off its logo, which is the moon and stars. Paintings, sculptures, jewelry, clay, glass, wood and photography are all featured at the gallery.

"This place was a duplex when we bought it," said Louis. "We really liked its high ceilings and curb appeal. Investing in the actual building took up a lot of the funds for this project. We didn't have much left over to buy art at wholesale prices. So we started asking our friends to consign work to the gallery. That's how we continue to operate today."

He added that most of the gallery's customers are people from Nashville who have second homes on Center Hill Lake.

"In looking to attract more visitors, we've started doing theme shows," said Louis. "In fact, the gallery is currently hosting its first show – 'Catch of the Day' – which features the works of master fishcarver Jim Wiley. That show runs through Sept. 16."

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