Arts / Galleries

These Married Pottery Artists Prove Opposites Attract in Houston — Judy Adams and John Foelber’s Remarkable Art Journey

Creating a Special Place In the Bayou City

BY // 11.23.23

Creating a unique lifestyle in their own free-spirited, inimitable way, artists Judy Adams and John Foelber prove the opposites attract paradox can ring true.

The duo has kept kilns firing continuously at Houston’s Foelber Pottery Gallery and Studios for decades while educating students in pottery arts. For the first time ever, Adams’ and Foelber’s own work is appearing in a joint exhibition titled “Opposites Attract,” which is showing through this Saturday, November 25.

Foelber founded his eponymous gallery and studios, located in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood, as a co-op during the 1970s. He and Adams met later and eventually married in 1987, after the devastating oil bust of 1986.

During lean times, Foelber considered a career in computer science, obtaining a degree from the University of Houston. Adams graduated from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, later working as an art teacher in Houston schools. However, they ultimately convinced each other to eschew regular jobs and become artists. During an artists’ talk held recently at the gallery, Foelber and Adams discussed their deep love of pottery.

“We both really encouraged each other to take the big leap to be self-employed potters,” Adams says.

For the couple, pottery’s allure lies in the variety of shapes, color and finishes — and the process of making it. Both artists embrace a neutral palette, reflecting a preference for earth tones in sync with nature. In addition to black and white, other chosen colors include off white, gray, shades of brown and metallic-tinted glazes (think bronze and copper).

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Adams encourages visitors to bring their own interpretations to the vessels, wall hangings and sculptures in the exhibition. One sculpture created by Foelber, The Earth Stood Still (2023), resembles Gort, the robot portrayed by Lock Martin from Robert Wise’s classic sci-fi movie The Day The Earth Stood Still (1951). The only missing element: Bernard Herrmann’s iconic soundtrack.

Another series made by the self-taught Foelber was inspired by a surrealistic Magritte painting.

John Foelber's <em>The Earth Stood Still</em>, 2023. This artwork was inspired by Robert Wise's 1951 sci-fi classic movie <em>The Day the Earth Stood Still</em>. (Courtesy Foelber Pottery Gallery and Studios)
John Foelber’s The Earth Stood Still, 2023. This artwork was inspired by Robert Wise’s 1951 sci-fi classic movie The Day the Earth Stood Still. (Courtesy Foelber Pottery Gallery and Studios)

Foelber’s work is described in exhibition literature as having “a retro vibe, perhaps even brutalist bent. Others are a nod toward Eastern aesthetics of lines and patterns.” Adams, on the other hand, is more conceptually focused on space within her practice, noting “voids, layers, shadows and interesting silhouettes are all a part of the equation.”

Judy Adams _Sign. Language series_2023
A neutral-colored artwork from Judy Adams’s “Sign. Language” series, 2023. (Courtesy Foelber Gallery and Studios)

“Opposites Attract” also reflects the differing backgrounds of these married artists. The two were raised in different parts of the country. Foelber is the quintessential surfer guy from the West Coast who once lived in Seattle and California, while Adams hails from the Columbus, Ohio area.

The clay they use in pottery functions as a metaphor for the trajectory of their own lives. Describing the malleability of clay, Adams says: “You always have to change as you go. The material tells you what it wants to be.”

Pottery Partners

Another shared interest Adams and Foelber have both cultivated over the years is music. Foelber cites Ray Charles and jazz as musical inspirations, whereas Adams’ favorites include Count Basie and Tom Waits. The couple played in a band together with other musicians, with Foelber on saxophone and Adams on vocals. A photograph captured of them during those days is reminiscent of the Talking Heads and other post punk bands of the ’70s and ’80s. They often played at Pik-N-Pak, a long gone Montrose neighborhood institution.

“We were literally a band of visual artists,” Adams recalls.

During their younger days, Judy Adams and John Foelber, who own Foelber Pottery Gallery and Studios in Houston's Montrose neighborhood, played in a band together with other musicians. They often played at the long gone Montrose ice house called the Pik-N-Pak. (Courtesy Foelber Pottery Gallery and Studios)
During their younger days, Judy Adams and John Foelber, who own Foelber Pottery Gallery and Studios in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood, played in a band together with other musicians. They often played at the long gone Montrose ice house called the Pik-N-Pak. (Courtesy Foelber Pottery Gallery and Studios)

One of Adams’s favorite musical artists is Beyoncé, who attended the St. James Episcopal School (where this writer was also a student). Next to the school is the St. James Episcopal Church in Third Ward, which Adams and Foelber attended years later with their kids Claire and Daniel after an invitation from a pottery student. Adams would later often attend jazz services along with Foelber. They eventually joined the church with their family.

Earnest Snell, an artist whom the duo often champions, created an elaborate Stations of the Cross ceramic plaque series for St. James Church. His incredible, highly-detailed artworks are also featured at Foelber Gallery. Snell, now semi-retired, created the artsy columns appearing outside the gallery, along with Foelber. The columns were expertly installed by Bob Shumway, who helped build many structures in The Heights.

Adams envisions the environment the two artists have created as a place where visitors can feel comfortable.

“We try to keep it a place that’s not a sanctuary, but calm, with beautiful work all around,” Adams says. “And we just let people enjoy it.”

“Opposites Attract” is on view through this Saturday, November 25 at Houston’s Foelber Pottery Gallery, 706 Richmond Avenue. Learn more here. Foelber Gallery will also be featured in the Bayou City Clay Crawl on Sunday, December 3 from 10 am to 5 pm. Learn more about the Clay Crawl here.

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