There has long been a theme in Davis artist and teacher Linda S. Fitz Gibbon’s ceramic artwork: the juxtaposition of beautiful and grotesque things.
But the former is a descriptor most fitting for the functional artwork that has become an ornament on the exterior of more than 10 Davis abodes. The recent project she’s dabbling in is creating ceramic address numbers for houses.
Even her residence is adorned with a clay-made creation out of which her address numbers spring. The whole thing is aglow with LED lights that outline its border, a feature unique to her own ceramic house numbers.
Each number is represented by an object: A musical note and a paint brush are used for ones, a curled herb makes a three, and a bird’s sweeping wing decorates the five.
This is stylistically similar to what she has been commissioned to do for other Davis homes. In each creation, she conveys the family’s interests through these representational numerals.
“I’m sure the Davis Fire Department hates me for it,” Fitz Gibbon said with a laugh. “I think it adds a lot of color to the neighborhood. It’s certainly a way of giving distinction to your house.”
The art of arranging type was an interest she took up early on, partially due to the fact that she was a graphic designer before becoming an artist.
Fitz Gibbon also attributes her fascination with type to her father; he was a commercial artist who often kept books on typography lying around the house.
“Every year I’d look forward to the birthday cards that he would make for me,” she said. “He’d take drawings of people and twist them into shapes to make the numbers.”
And when the local artist’s interest in typography first led her to mold clay into house numbers, neighbors began to notice.
Fitz Gibbon was approached for commission work not long after displaying her first work outside her former home on Picasso Avenue.
“I’d get people knocking on my door and saying, ‘Can you make one of these for me?’ ” Fitz Gibbon said. “I wound up doing a whole bunch in that neighborhood.”
Cathy Reinhard was one of the locals who was intrigued by the colorful ceramic plaques, and she wanted one of her own.
As with Fitz Gibbon’s other customers, the first order of business was allotting time to talk about what would best represent Reinhard’s interests.
“It’s a nice way to work, to have that back-and-forth,” Fitz Gibbon said. As far as the sketches she produces from the brainstorm sessions, she’s “done many, and (has yet) to be sent back to the drawing board.”
After Fitz Gibbon consulted with Reinhard, whose background in science and natural history informed the theme of the project, the extensive and seemingly exhausting task of creating it began.
Rolling out the clay slab, building it up, letting it set, detailing, drying, firing, glazing and more firing can take more than 20 hours of careful labor.
The final product — in the case of Reinhard’s piece — was a purple-bordered blue box from which a hawk’s feather, an Earth, a fern and a blooming daisy jut forth.
“The detail was just incredible,” Reinhard said. “Instead of hanging it outside, for the first few months we just had it on display inside our house so that I could just enjoy all the detail that would be hard to see from the street.
“For example, you wouldn’t be able to tell that she put individual little hairs on the feather, or that she actually included each tiny vein on the flower’s petals. It’s simply beautiful, and I feel fortunate to have a piece of her art.”
More information about her house numbers is available on her website, lindasfitzgibbon.com.
But Fitz Gibbon said her goal at the moment is not to make a business out of it. On occasion, she’s even taught others how to do it themselves in the adult sculpture courses she teaches at the Davis Art Center.
She hopes more locals will enroll in Art Center courses, and possibly learn how to brighten up the neighborhood in their own way.
“My heart is both in my artwork and teaching in the community,” Fitz Gibbon said. “I strongly believe that everyone has the ability to create, and that there’s so many valuable things connected to the process of creating.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett