By Holly O. Austin
For the Triplicate
Del Norte County has its first ever California Arts Council (CAC) Artist in Residence. Dubbed Sir Pots-a-lot by his daughter for e-mail purposes, artist Harley Munger is a longtime resident and one of the finest potters in the area.
"I have been a potter for 27 years, and a professional potter for the last 20," said Munger. "I am primarily self-taught," he continued, noting that he learned the basic skills in 1974 to 1979 at College of the Redwoods, Del Norte, where he took a pottery class every semester.
"Over the years, I have focused on the firing process and the chemistry of glazes," Munger noted. He has experimented with alternative firing fuels, including used motor oil, sawdust, scrap wood, propane and dung.
His specialty is unique glaze effects both in raku and stoneware, and his works include both functional ware and gallery pieces.
Of equal importance to the CAC's Artist in Residence Program is Munger's dedication to working with his chosen population.
"The students (ages 12 to 20) I work with include participants in adolescent day rehabilitation programs, continuation and community schools and alternative education schools," said Munger. "My successful history of 10 years (the 1980s) working with both the Bar-O boys and Del Norte County Department of Mental Health clients more than qualifies me for working with this sector of our youth."
The CAC's Artist in Residence program provides a professional stipend to the artist for 20 hours per week of long-term (in Munger's case, 11 months worth), in-depth work with his or her target population. It is expected that the artist will utilize the remainder of the work week creating his or her own work.
The grant monies (which come from both the CAC, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency) furnish 78 percent of the artist's stipend. The remainder must be provided by the local sponsor(s), in a cash and/or in-kind match.
The impetus for going through the lengthy and exacting grant application, peer review, and partnership agreement process required by the California Arts Council was born out of the desire by many residents and organizations to create a youth/community center for the county.
"The boards of both Rural Human Services and the Youth/Community Center are excited about the community-wide possibilities of this project," said Kathy Stephens, who is a member of the former and secretary of the latter.
In the absence of a physical site for the youth center, Rural Human Services, Inc. has stepped forward to provide leadership in sponsoring and housing the project, which is blooming in Suite C of 286 M Street.
"These youth . . . benefit from the tactile, visceral nature of expressing themselves in clay," said Dennis Conger, chief executive officer of Rural Human Services.
Strong co-sponsorship has been provided by the Del Norte County Department of Mental Health Drug and Alcohol Program, whose support includes providing furniture and the considerable equipment needed for the project. "Harley's unique capacity to relate to . . . young people and his dazzling ability to turn clay into beautiful objects of art is the perfect match for our undertaking," said Michael (Mick) Miller, director of Mental Health.
In addition to the Del Norte Youth/Community Center board, co-sponsors include the Del Norte Association for Cultural Awareness, who has provided its executive director as project coordinator, acting as a liaison between the CAC, the artist and the community.
"I love working with kids and I love working with clay," concluded Munger, with a huge grin. "For me, being an Artist in Residence . . . is like walking into a candy shop with a pocket full of pennies. I find it real motivating. I get wound up!"