By Valerie Vinyard
The first detail you notice about artist Chris Bubany are her striking blue eyes.
Their distinctive shade could be one of the colors that she uses in her fun and colorful plates, bowls and other tableware seen throughout Southern Arizona.
In her art, Bubany revels in anything Southwest – whether it’s javelinas, cactus, hummingbirds or even bats.
And the 58-year-old has made quite a successful living at it.
“Her art speaks to me,” said Emily Strathford. “I never get tired of her colors and designs.” The retired schoolteacher was strolling the grounds at Harlow Gardens in November during the Chris Bubany’s Holiday Marketplace, her 17th annual art show featuring works for sale by 50 or so artists.
Strathford had just purchased two pieces by Bubany – a spoon holder and a hummingbird plate, one of her most popular designs. Strathford was quick to say that she’s been a fan of the artist since discovering her work for sale at Table Talk several years ago.
Through the struggling economy the past few years, Bubany realized she “had to change how my business was.” That entailed moving in mid-September from her Camino Seco and Broadway studio to the new space at 6530 E. Tanque Verde Road with warm yellow walls and Saltillo tile floors.
Bubany went through various phases in art to get where she is today, starting at about age 12.
“That’s all I ever wanted to be – an artist and a mom,” Bubany said. “I always loved to color.”
So much so that one day, her parents asked her if she’d rather do art than the piano lessons she endured. Bubany jumped at the chance.
Her love of art continued as she moved from her hometown of Gallup, N.M., to be with her high school sweetheart, George Bubany, and study graphic design at the University of Arizona. The two have been married 38 years and have two boys – 32-year-old Dan, who lives in Phoenix, and 28-year-old Brent, who’s serving in the Army in Afghanistan. George is a retired teacher who now runs a dog-sitting business.
“I came here and I never left,” Bubany said of Tucson. “It seems like every seven years I morph into something else.”
Over the years, she has “morphed” into a wall painter, a kids’ furniture painter and a T-shirt designer. She “fell into” her current career in 1994 when she and George were building their eastside home.
“I knew I wasn’t going to have a lot of wall space,” she said. “I thought I could paint tiles.”
Bubany had taken art in high school and college, but she had never done ceramics.
“Throwing pots didn’t really appeal to me,” she said. “There wasn’t much color. I’m really more into two-dimensional things.”
But she visited a ceramics store for help, which led her to ably design their kitchen and three bathrooms. “I thought I’d go into a custom tile business,” she said.
“Then I thought – I could paint a plate.”
Her first plate, a fish, was “modern, funky and bright.” Then came a rooster, followed by salsa bowls for each of her seven siblings.
“I just love to paint,” she said. “I love the process. I feel like I have so much art in me.”
Bubany has employees who help with production, but she signs every piece. Her “right-hand” woman, Michelle Kershner, adds the colorful dots that grace most pieces.
She met Bubany 16-plus years ago when their sons went to school together. “I had shown her my children’s play table I had painted – which had a gazillion little dots on it,” she said.
One day Kershner saw Bubany in town, and asked if she needed any help. Bubany agreed, and the rest is history.
Besides the omnipresent dots, Kershner has her hands full.
“It’s been at least full time,” said Kershner, whose job includes working on Bubany’s hummingbirds and sun faces and serving as production manager. “I told Chris, ‘You realize we see each other more than our husbands.’ We sit across the table with each other all day.”
That’s because it takes a lot of work to create a Bubany piece. First, the greenware – or clay that hasn’t been fired yet – is poured into one of the many molds. Designs are traced onto the piece, and Bubany and some of her employees paint the designs and patterns onto the unfired clay.
The fragile piece then is fired at about 2,000 degrees in the kiln. After about 24 hours, the kiln is cool enough where the piece can be removed and a glaze can be applied to make it waterproof. The piece then undergoes a second firing at about 1,800 degrees to “make it nice and shiny,” Kershner said.
Marilyn Sitzmann, owner of Seasons of Tucson, remembers buying her first Bubany piece in about 1997. She started carrying Bubany’s work in her store, which now is located in La Encantada, about eight years ago.
“I love the whimsical and yet completely Tucson look to it,” Sitzmann said. “It’s always something that can make you smile. I love having it in the store.”
And it’s why Bubany’s art has endured over the years. “I hear a lot of people say it makes them happy,” Kershner said. “As a person, Chris wants everybody to be happy. She is very caring and concerned about people.”