Friends, students, and colleagues of Aria Finch mix and mingle at reception for Finch’s art show, Tweeting Elations, Saturday. (Tess Townsend Pho to)
A cluster of women chatted with raised voices in the lobby of the Roswell Museum and Art Center.
“I’m 2009,” says Shirly Myers, 71, a past president of the Pecos Valley Potters Guild founded by Finch. She calls herself a “baby.”
Wanda Dent, 70, who also previously served as president of the guild, says she started in 1987. Geneva Bailey, 64, refers to Dent as “old as water.”
The women are referring to the years in which they began studying pottery under the tutelage of Roswell ceramic artist and educator Aria Finch.
They were among hundreds of friends, students, colleagues and family members of Finch attending the reception of Finch’s show Tweeting Elations at the Roswell Museum and Art Center and ensuing dinner held at the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art Saturday evening.
The dinner celebrated Finch’s receipt of the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. The award recognizes Finch’s work in art education in Roswell. The award is granted by the New Mexico Arts Commission to honor the lifetime achievements of artists and supporters of the arts in New Mexico.
Finch says receiving the prestigious award is “humbling” and “amazing.” She describes how the honor contrasts with the low-key nature of pottery.
“The medium is dirt, it’s clay,” she says. “The craft is humble and functional.”
Laurie Rufe, who retired from her role as director of the RMAC, nominated Finch for the award.
“I think Aria is probably one of the most gifted artists in our community,” said Rufe. “I think she’s changed people’s lives. I really do think that’s a major outcome of having her as an instructor.”
According to Anderson and Roswell museum sources, about 140 people attended the dinner, and 200 attended the reception for Tweeting Elations, a display of Finch’s art centered around ideas of communication.
The show was reviewed in the most recent edition of Vision Magazine, a Daily Record publication.
The Anderson Museum event was sponsored by the Roswell and Anderson museums, the Potters Guild, the Roswell Artist-in-Residence Foundation, and members of the Anderson family, including Anderson Museum founder Donald Anderson, his wife and nephew.
The dinner included music performed by Roswell-based vintage rock and easy-listening duo David Hett and Tina Williams. Tinnie Mercantile Store and Deli catered.
As she introduced a toast to Finch, Anderson Museum Event Coordinator Sue Wink said she knew Finch preferred not to be the center of attention, but that everyone present wanted to congratulate her anyway.
“This is long overdue,” she said of the award.
Finch has been involved in bringing art to the masses for little or no cost since she first came to Roswell in 1979 to work as the manager of the Roswell Museum’s ceramics program. She says she has taught art to more people than she “can even begin to guess.” She currently teaches up to 85 students per term at the Roswell Museum. The museum holds four terms of classes each year.
In addition, Finch and her students and colleagues in the Pottery Guild teach pottery to just under 800 students in the Roswell Independent School District each year.
Finch says she started teaching to support herself, and that a symbiotic, cyclic relationship soon developed between her role as an educator and artist.
She says teaching helped her develop greater patience. This patience, she says, leads to her taking on the role of student as she researches new concepts and techniques to teach to her students. As she teaches what she learns to her students, she identifies new material to explore, and renews the process of learning and teaching.
Many of Finch’s students stay with her for decades.
Finch’s student Bailey says she did not think of herself as an artist before taking the classes with Finch. The physician’s office employee took her first class at the insistence of her daughter 15 years ago. She has continued with the classes and joined the Pottery Guild 10 years ago.
She credits the emergence of her passion to Finch’s patience and encouragement.
Finch “let’s you make mistakes,” says Bailey, adding that she can pick attractive details out of any work.
“She always, always has something positive to say about what you do.”
Bailey will have art pieces for sale at the guild’s annual show in November, to whoever “is kind enough to buy it,” as she put it, playfully.