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Community Portrait: Ceramics artist relates to healing power of the wheel

Community Portrait
By: Story and photo Michael Kirby
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Forty-seven-year-old Pierre Butler has finally found his niche, found what he’s been searching for, something that makes sense for him. Butler landed at Auburn’s Placer Arts 360 as a resident artist, but the road there was not one built on certainty. Butler moved to California from Brooklyn and graduated from Valley High in Sacramento in 1982.In college and on his way to becoming an architect, Butler was sidetracked by a mandatory culinary arts class that was part of his major. “That one class changed my whole life and direction at the time,” Butler said. He went on to become an executive chef for several restaurants, positions he held for 25 years and eventually owned his own restaurant in Sacramento. “Being an executive chef was hard and the hours long, but being a chef/owner was really demanding,” he said. Switching gears, Butler worked as a stockbroker, day trading, and as a wireless analyst for AT&T, taking breaks from restaurant work. “I always had some kind of artist flavor in just about everything I’ve ever done,” Butler said. “That’s what led me to culinary arts to begin with.” Out of nowhere a chance viewing of a movie would play a part in altering the course of his life and pique his underlying interest in art. In the movie “Ghost,” the scene involving the sensual throwing of a clay pot on a potter’s wheel by the main characters intrigued Butler. “This interested me. I had never seen clay or a pot thrown on a wheel,” he said. He didn’t really think about it much until he was at an art gallery tour and saw an elegant vase. He inquired where the vase came from and the artist told him she made it. “I didn’t think anyone could make something so perfect, and from that moment on I was interested in doing ceramics,” he said. Butler took ceramic classes at American River College, hand building clay pieces. The pottery wheel was next. “The wheel was challenging and intimidating for me, but I was determined to master it and finally did,” Butler said. “I’ve been on the wheel ever since and I’ve made hundreds of pieces similar to the one in the movie.” In 2005 Butler got really serious about ceramics, cutting back on restaurant work and doing ceramics full-time. Butler was directed to Auburn ceramic instructor and master potter Larry Ortiz by friends and this was a turning point in Butler’s ceramic career. Ortiz took on Butler as an apprentice and became his mentor. In 2008 Butler began sharing a studio with Ortiz in Auburn and teaching his own students at Placer Arts. “At that point I realized that I could really do something with ceramics,” Butler said. Butler turns out personal ceramic pieces and is currently showing at the Placer Arts 360 Juried Membership Show in progress, but he really enjoys teaching. His students are in group classes or private sessions and are of all ages. “I like to say from 7 to 70,” he said. But even more rewarding is his work with the at-risk students he instructs at area schools. “Seeing these kids blossom and open up in this artistic environment is what really drives me,” Butler said. Himself an at-risk kid growing up, Butler knows how hard it can be sometimes. “I was in and out of a lot of stuff, looking for someone to extend a hand or just listen,” he said. Beyond the ceramics he really enjoys the personal relationships he builds with these students. He really cares and wants to help. Reggae, blues and jazz music plays on the stereo, ceramic pieces sit on tables awaiting finish and Butler is comfortable in the studio. He gets his mail in Citrus Heights, but he calls Auburn his home. He works here six days a week in his ceramic studio. Butler can be contacted at thehandsthatspeak@hotmail.com.