It’s a question most locals, from newbie to vintage, have pondered at one time or another:
What, precisely, constitutes the essence of only-in-Vegasness?
There’s no single answer, of course.
But you can find more than a dozen, captured in clay, in the Grand Gallery at Las Vegas City Hall, where “Clay Arts Vegas: Vegas to a Local” continues through June 2.
“Las Vegas History Cocktail,” by Jeffrey L. Ramsey, toasts everything from atomic blasts to a Lake Mead intake tower. (To say nothing of the 99-cent shrimp cocktail that inspires its title.)
“We Are the People in Your Neighborhood” — by Constance Stotzer, Barbara Lenox and Jenny Shin — lines up ceramic jars, resembling nesting dolls painted as familiar characters, including a showgirl with a feathered headdress and “Viva Las Vegas”-emblazoned body.
The oversized red dice of Marge Link’s “Try Your Luck” depict contrasting scenic landscapes: Hoover Dam and the Mojave Desert.
Man and (slot) machine merge, meanwhile, in Thomas Bumblauskas’ “Bad Influence,” as a demonic one-armed bandit — complete with an actual devil’s head at the end of its pull handle — seems to take over the gambler operating it.
“Is the machine becoming me, or am I becoming the machine of Las Vegas?” Bumblauskas says of his whimsical City Hall piece.
Bumblauskas’ work may be on display at City Hall, but he spends his time several blocks south on Main Street at Clay Arts Vegas, the studio and gallery where “Vegas to a Local” took shape.
Decked out in a green CAV apron that bears more than a few traces of clay (as do his hands), the bespectacled Bumblauskas roams the studio he co-owns, offering helpful hints and demonstrating techniques as several regulars work on their latest projects during a recent “Catch-Up Night.”
Many of them are represented in “Vegas to a Local,” which was one of three themes Bumblauskas and CAV co-owner Peter Jakubowski submitted to Las Vegas cultural affairs officials for approval. (Business partner John Gregg also is represented by “Building Family,” in the shape of children’s blocks, which he created with Coby J. Lyons.)
The current exhibit marks the third time officials have invited CAV artists to create works for a city-run gallery.
Once “Vegas to a Local” emerged as the winning theme, CAV’s owners started to “mix people who’ve been here various amounts of time, mix people who have different styles,” Bumblauskas explains.
For example, Beth McLeod built the “Community Service” piece, and collaborator Carol Patterson decorated it after they exchanged ideas, McLeod notes.
Others worked to create individual pieces for the City Hall exhibit.
Brandy Dean “would get together” with team members Deb Bartoo and Jennifer Willich Greening to discuss “what we wanted to do” before shaping the clay.
Dean’s “Dichotomy” shows two sides of Las Vegas: one dominated by the Strip, the other by the desert.
“My idea of what Vegas means to locals” means “there’s so much more that” than just the Strip,” notes Dean, a computer literacy teacher who’s “only been doing ceramics” for about three years.
“In general, we’re pretty active in the process,” Bumblauskas adds. He and Jakubowski “check in with people,” asking “ ‘What are you doing?’ and ‘What do you need help with?’ ”
Of course, creating works for a City Hall show requires certain restrictions, Bumblauskas points out.
“No nudity, no violence,” he says. “We have to show the city and its people in a good light,” which means “we have to cover the boobies.” Even when the artist is Linda Le Bourveau, who danced in the Stardust’s long-running “Lido de Paris” in the 1970s, he points out.
(If you want uncovered “boobies,” CAV’s own in-house gallery offers an adults-only alternative: “Sweet and Slippery Slope: Sex, Sexuality and Sensuality,” which continues through Monday.)
The City Hall exposure for the “Vegas to a Local” pieces means “more people see it and become aware that we’re here,” McLeod says.
Psychiatrist Coni Kalinowski — who jokes that she was CAV’s first or second client when the studio opened five years ago — analyzes her “Cultural Triptych” contribution, noting that “Las Vegas is a recent city, but there’s still that presence of the cultures that came before.”
Ramsey’s “Las Vegas History Cocktail” reflects his own Las Vegas upbringing as a “military brat” — one who recalls “Fremont Street before it was an Experience” — and the tales of his teachers who “would sit on their front lawns and watch” above-ground explosions at the Nevada Test Site.
His “History Cocktail” creation emerged successfully, but “the shape could have collapsed,” he comments. “The kiln gods were kind.”
To health care consultant Bartoo, a “newbie” who’s been at CAV “a couple years,” discovering how a piece turns out is “like Christmas when you see the end result,” she explains. “You don’t know what to expect. It’s really fun.”
But the permanent nature of ceramics means “you have to critique your work before you fire it,” McLeod says. “I like the fact that you can take a lump of mud and make something that, once you fire it, it’s around forever.”
Read more from Carol Cling at reviewjournal.com. Contact her at email@example.com and follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.
What: “Clay Arts Vegas: Vegas to a Local”
When: 7 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays through June 2
Where: Grand Gallery, Las Vegas City Hall, 495 S. Main St., first floor
Admission: Free (702-229-1012)