Way of the dragon

Roaring and looking wickedly creepy is just how Viva Jones wants her art to look.

Jones, 78, of Sequim, has built 25 clay dragons of all shapes and sizes.

"People like the idea of dragons," she said.

"It's definitely not someone's cat or dog sitting around in their home."

She has enjoyed mythical creatures her whole life, but dragons sparked her creative interest when a friend gave her a clay Welsh dragon.

"I enjoyed the concept and design and began experimenting with my own," Jones said.

She started with five smaller dragons, which sold immediately at Blue Whole Gallery in Sequim where she has been an exhibitor for seven years.

After that success, she built more complex and bigger dragons.

Recently her dragon "Tight Squeeze" won Best in Show at Sequim Arts' annual juried show. In 2005, she won the same award for "Feeling Chili," a giant chili pepper.

Jones grew up drawing and painting rather than working in clay. Her earliest art memory is going to a park with a sketchbook, people-watching at the age of 12.

"The limits of my drawings now are sketching plans for my next dragon," Jones said.

In high school, she drew and painted portraits.

"I'm toying with the idea of oil paintings again," she said.

"I have maybe 12 years left to manhandle clay, so I need something to do at age 90."

Jones didn't start crafting in clay until she moved to Sequim 14 years ago.

"When I retired I thought, 'What am I going to retire to, not from,'" she said.

She decided to take every hands-on art course available through Peninsula College.

Clay didn't appeal to her at first.

"It's gross, dirty and gets in your nails. But within three weeks, I was in love," she said.

Jones attributes her skill to art professor Bill Merrill, from whom she took the majority of classes.

"He really taught me how to mold clay and gave me a thorough understanding of it," she said.

"I don't think my abilities would have been as good if I retired elsewhere."

Clay stuck because it kept her hands busy, she said.

"With clay, I felt a part of it, but with other art forms I felt unattached," Jones said.

Most of her bigger pieces are built up over time. She will start from the bottom and work her way up. Larger dragons and other pieces take her a few weeks to shape, fire, glaze and/or paint.

"Usually my favorite piece is one I've just completed," she said.

Starting fresh

Jones helped raise four children in Orange County, Calif., where she taught and led elementary education for 32 years.

"I opened a school in Lake Forest, California, that within three years became a 'California distinguished school.' I know it was the staff that made it special, but it meant a lot to me, too," Jones said.

In Sequim, she has been president of Sequim Arts, Sequim Newcomers Club and American Association of University Women.

As president of Sequim Arts 10 years ago, she began a studio tour that featured artists wanting to show their work to a wider audience. The event turned into an ongoing fundraiser for aspiring high school artists.

Students have received three $1,000 scholarships each year since it started.

"I wanted artists to show their work to the community and to raise funds for the students somehow," Jones said.

"It was win-win-win for the community, artists and students."

Jones caught up on her creative endeavors while in Sequim, but on June 16, she will move to Austin, Texas. She will begin a studio with some of her family members there.

Before she goes, she will be presenting her work at the Potters' Council show at the Inn at Port Hadlock, June 12-14, which has sold out.

Some of her pieces are on display in Webster's Woods at the Port Angeles' Fine Arts Center.

Her "Leaners" - three tall, human-like statues in the window of Blue Whole Gallery - will go to Webster's Woods after it's finished showing in Sequim.

Matthew Nash can be reached at mnash@sequim

Viva Jones' Clay Basket studio

555 Evans Road, Sequim

50 percent off all work

Call 681-0101 for availability

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