Paul "Bear" Bradford, Artist

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"Ceramist creates art from earth"

TEACHER: Talent, an Indian heritage and years of experience go into his clay products.

10:00 PM PDT on Sunday, July 30, 2006

Special to The Press-Enterprise

At the Los Angeles County Fair last September, a young boy approached Paul "Bear" Bradford during a ceramics demonstration.
Penny E. Schwartz / Special to The Press-Enterprise
Paul Bradford, of Banning, will be the official potter for the Los Angeles County Fair this year.

"He said he'd made a pinch pot with me the year before and now he was taking a clay class and wanted to become a potter," Bradford said. "It is so rewarding to make a difference in a young person's life."

For the second consecutive year, Bradford, a Banning resident, will serve as the official potter of the LA County Fair, to be held Wednesdays through Sundays, Sept. 8 through Oct. 1, in Pomona. It will be his fourth time demonstrating and teaching the art of ceramics in the fair's Heritage Square, where a blacksmith, rope maker, broom maker, adobe brick craftsman, quilter and other artisans also will be on hand.

Some 96,000 schoolchildren and countless adults will attend the fair, Bradford said. Visiting student groups will spend about 20 minutes in Bradford's mini-class, learning the history of clay and watching a demonstration of hand-building and wheel-throwing techniques.

Students with more time and adults who attend during late afternoon and evening hours will have a chance to make an object out of clay, Bradford said.

Aardvark Clay Co., of Santa Ana, donates 4,000 pounds of clay to the fair for Bradford's use. He will be on duty at the fair for 12 hours each day.

Teaching young people motivates Bradford, 57, to return to the fair each year. He sees himself as a conduit, passing on traditions from his Indian heritage to the pottery makers of today.

Born in Colorado with Nez Perce ancestry, Bradford has lived in Southern California since he was 8. After earning a degree in construction management and engineering from UCLA, he worked in corporate construction for a number of years.

An interest in gourmet cooking then led him to focus on food presentation, centering on attractive and interesting dishes and platters. He visited Acapulco, seeking ceramic serving dishes. So many of them broke that Bradford decided to learn to make his own.

While living in Encino, he started taking ceramics classes at Every Woman's Village in Van Nuys.

"One year later, I was teaching there," Bradford said.

Soon he opened a studio at home and began teaching classes for children and adults. His quest to learn more about the origins of Indian pottery led him to study at six different southwestern pueblos, including Taos, N.M., and the Hopi Mesas of Arizona.

"I liked learning their techniques and listening to their stories," Bradford said of his teachers.

He also studied under modern ceramists Beatrice Wood and Otto and Vivika Heino.

About five years ago, Bradford found that he was outgrowing his home studio and began looking for more space. While considering a move to New Mexico, he happened upon Banning.

"The old Banning Feed Store was vacant and available, with a bungalow on the property," said Bradford, who bought the property and divided the 3,000-square-foot store in half to accommodate work and gallery spaces.

Bradford found himself at the forefront of a wave of artists moving into Banning. He helped found the Pass Cultural Arts Foundation and the Artists in Residence program, which led to the formation of the Banning Center for the Arts.

"Most of the downtown stores were vacant when I moved here," Bradford said. "Our group of artists got permission to clean and paint the windows and now most of them are rented."

Bradford is a member of the Southwest Association of Indian Arts, First Americans in the Arts and is on the board of directors of the Riverside Arts Council. He established the ceramics program at Monart School of Art in Tarzana and teaches adults in a San Bernardino city program. His work has been displayed in New Zealand and the Edward-Dean Museum in Cherry Valley.

"What I like about working with clay is that I am working with the earth," Bradford said. "It tethers you, like an embryo cord back to the mother."