Art People: Angela Fina | potter, 1937-2013

Last modified: Thursday, March 06, 2014

In her last two months, after the last drug trial failed to stop the spread of her ovarian cancer and there was nothing left to try, Angela Fina, a potter who lived in Amherst, asked a friend for help.

“I’ve got to get my things in order,” she told Connie Baugh. She asked Baugh to help her organize the knowledge she’d acquired as a potter — such as the formulations for the rich glazes she was known for — so that it could be used by others.

Tape recorder in hand, “I’d go to her house every week,” Baugh said. Fina, on the couch, would elaborate on the notes she’d kept about making and applying glazes, how certain colors worked together, how materials interacted.

“It was her last generous act on Earth,” said Baugh, who plans to compile the information into a resource book for potters.

Fina, 76 when she died on Nov. 10, 2013, was a fixture on the local art landscape, with a reputation that spread far beyond. After her death, an essay in Studio Potter magazine noted her “consummate craftsmanship, attention to proportion and detail, and elegant, lush glazes.”

She taught at workshops around the country, wrote articles for art journals, and co-edited two books about pottery. She became, as Michael Cohen, a potter who lives in Pelham, said at her memorial service, “the go-to person for all ceramic questions” who was never stingy with her know-how or her time.

Fina’s accessibility, warmth, smarts and humor earned her a huge circle of friends and acquaintances. Those who loved her, and they were many, knew her as a potter — and a devoted Red Sox fan, a gardener and cook, a regular at dance performances and classical music concerts, a fierce Pictionary player, a spirited conversationalist, a compassionate friend who kept up with her friends’ triumphs and reverses, no matter how small.

Her career started young. After Fina’s death, Doris Fina found a box of her sister’s earliest pots: It was labeled K-12. A native of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., Fina studied art at Nazareth College and earned an MFA in ceramics at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Her career path took her into academia until 1977, when she left a tenured position teaching art in Canada to pursue pottery full time.

“I figured life could be short,” she said in a 2010 Hampshire Life feature, “and I ought to do what I really wanted to do.”

She always knew, she said, that with no spouse, no trust fund, no cushy divorce settlement to fall back on, she needed to sell enough work to survive — and she did.

In a 2008 essay for Julia Galloway’s “Field Guide for Ceramic Artisans,” Fina wrote, “The life of being an artist will involve a lot of compromise. But the question is, how important is being an artist to you? Are you willing to find a way, even if it’s not the ideal you wish you had?”

Near the end, she told Tom White, a close friend and potter who lives in Northfield, that she wanted to make a last batch of pots, focusing on shapes and glazes she hadn’t used in awhile. White fired the pieces for her — she was getting too weak to do it herself — and brought them back to her in Amherst. “She was thrilled,” he said, “looking at each one.” She chose one with a black glaze and gave it to White. “I’m so glad this one came out,” she told him. “This was the last pot I made.”

“Angela Fina, Ceramic Vessels: 1960s — 2013” is on view through Feb. 24 in a retrospective exhibit at the Salmon Falls Artisans Showroom in Shelburne Falls. A reception will be held Feb. 15, 2 to 4 p.m. at the gallery, 1 Ashfield St.

— Suzanne Wilson


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