Local Artist couple share love for sculptures


Michael Fritz

On the corner of Nord and Bidwell Avenue is a house and garden built with love: The Art House. Artists and college sweethearts, Dave and Jana Lawton live there.

Dave and Jana met at Iowa State University. After they married, the two raised livestock on a farm. Their ambitions took them west with their two sons in 1985.

Jana’s father taught at Chico State, so the town was a familiar place to settle in. They bought a house on Bidwell Ave., and began calling their home “The Art House,” calling themselves “the artists and residents.”

frameforweb.jpg Ceramic frame at The Lawton’s Art House (Photo credit: Abigail Jones)

In 2000, the couple bought an empty lot by their house. Their first idea was to open a cafe, but the logistics were daunting. They then decided on a simple art gallery with their collection grew into the beautiful gallery they now have.

While they both enjoy creating statues, their individual style and inspiration differ from one another.

“When I took a ceramics class I thought, ‘this is it.’ Just getting your hands in clay and seeing how responsive it was to your touch,” Jana said.

What makes her pottery unique is her detailed decorations. She uses found materials like netting, metal grates, the plastic inserts inside keyboards and other found items. She sticks the material together with plaster to create a base and hand paints each one.


Doll made out of ceramic is displayed (Photo credit: Abigail Jones)

Jana likes her pieces to share a message. Previous themes circled around societal norms which constrain women.

“I grew up in the ’60s when women’s liberation was just starting. Men got higher paying jobs than women. Women were directed to jobs like nursing and teaching because that’s what women did,” Jana said.

Some of her pieces offer social commentary on a variety of social constructs which may be considered harmful to disparity groups.

Dave uses a combination of fabricated metalwork along with naturally found items such as stones. He uses pieces of metal he finds and re-appropriates them for new use.

The hardest part of his job is trying to figure out how to finish a piece. “If I learned one thing in sculpting, it would be how to edit my work,” Dave said. “Many artists struggle with finding a way to make it as concise as possible without going overboard.”


Sculptures consisting of unusual materials sit outside of the house (Photo credit: Abigail Jones)

“You don’t know a lot of times when it’s finished,” Dave said. “It’s based on feelings, you might start on something and feel good about it, but later feel like it needs something else.”

Dave says most of his work isn’t premeditated. He doesn’t usually put a lot of thought into meaning. But occasionally he’ll build a piece that he ascribes meaning to.

The Lawton’s Chico Art House is located at 1112 Bidwell Ave. Open Sundays 1-5 p.m.