Clay Artist Thinks Big - Page 6

Once Fresno's best-kept secret, visionary Stan Bitters finds newfound popularity with dazzling grand-scale art he calls 'environmental ceramics'
Bitters
This impressive Bitters mural, installed at the First Federal Credit Union in Fresno, starts outside the building and continues inside, then seamlessly takes a right turn.
Bitters
Bitters
Bitters uses a couple part-time assistants in his studio, mostly to turn out his production pieces—hanging lamps (top), pots, and his popular birdhouses (above).

He is, however, a bit of a legend in Fresno, so much so that when Linda Zachritz, who hoped to restore the sculptures on the deteriorating Fulton Mall, thought to approach him, "People said, oh, he won't help you. He doesn't talk much to anybody."

"I think maybe people were intimidated," Zachritz says. "But we just got along. I found him to be very nice, and we got along."

For 15 years Bitters has been trying to restore the Fulton Mall, first proposing the addition of more sculpture and restoration of existing ones, then fighting plans by city officials to destroy the mall by their bringing back auto traffic.

Since much of the art and most of Garret Eckbo's sculptural creek, trees, planters, seating areas, and other landscaping are in what used to be the street, it would all have to be removed to make way for traffic. The city says the sculptures could be moved onto the sidewalk.

Bitters helped raise much of the money that is paying for a lawsuit to halt these changes, offering his sculptures in exchange for donations, donating himself, and speaking before several city bodies.

That battle continues.

Bitters did have a show of his work in a building along the mall, Zachritz says, and city leaders in attendance treated him like a celebrity. When the Fresno Arts Council gave him an award, his talk was funny and well received. His ex-wife, who has since died, gave the introduction.

Bitters came up with an imaginative proposal, complete with a bathing beach, for a park at a little-used downtown site, Eaton Plaza. "Some people considered it way out there," Zachritz says. "But there were some city people who said, 'That's brilliant. [But] there's no way we could really do it.'"

Between residential, restaurant, and hotel jobs, Bitters is creating work for a gallery show planned for next year in Los Angeles, and he expects to do annual shows from now on "to keep in the spotlight."

'Bigness' will be part of the exhibit, he says. While Bitters enjoys his current projects, he does find it frustrating that most of his new clients ask him to create variants on the work shown in his two books. He'd just as soon try something brand new.

About the Los Angeles exhibit, he says, "It's going to be the place to introduce new things."

• For more on Stan Bitters, his art, and his two published books, visit StanBitters.com