Couple brings art, energy to community
August 28, 2014
Artist, professor, sailor, port commissioner, Bob Kizziar is abuzz.
Not always, but at the moment, he's got a captive and captivated audience who shares his love for art, if not his history, mastery and knowledge. The corners and walls of Kizziar's home are filled with beautiful pieces crafted by him or his wife Jenny, an artist in her own right. Friends, colleagues, students and strangers have created other pieces, their payment in trade. He points each piece out, sometimes for the pleasure of simply seeing, sometimes for the pleasure of discussion.
Jenny's warmth and humor soon equal then surpass what is a shy and quiet demeanor; all these qualities make her an easy complement to her husband's generally buoyant personality.
The Kizziars are ceramicists.
The two met at Fresno City College, when Jenny pulled into the lot next to the house he was living in, or on, technically, as he was renting the back porch for a place to sleep. A roommate alerted Kizziar to the report of a cute girl, a report that had reverberated throughout the house and sent young men pouring out of doors and windows to meet her.
Kizziar had been reading Kerouac at the time and recalled a scene where his hero got the girl by being shy. He decided to give the technique a try.
"His name was the only name I remembered of all the guys who came out that day," Jenny laughed.
A skiing misadventure almost ended the budding relationship, but an album by Van Morrison did much to set it right.
"We've been best friends since then," Kizziar said.
His need to talk frequently got him in trouble in his youth. One elementary teacher learned to get around it by giving Kizziar an assignment to create a map of South America while he taught the class geography. Bob busily colored in cities, rivers and exports while the teacher lectured. And when he finished the map, his teacher would hang his work on the wall. That teacher gave him pastels at the end of the school year.
In high school, he got in trouble for talking in study hall. The only thing worse was art class, so he was sent there. He spent a lot of time with the art teacher, a working artist. When he graduated, the teacher gave him his college watercolors.
The watercolors traveled to Vietnam and were used to illustrate some of Kizziar's darker days. But he and the watercolors made a few stops before they reached southeast Asia.
Initially he went to college to become an art teacher, but he wasn't thriving. He got a job with the phone company. He'd wanted to install phones to meet girls, but they had him climbing poles instead. Unfortunately, he was better at sliding down them and was fired for falling off the poles too often.
"I was so demoralized, I joined the Navy," Kizziar said. "Stupid. I'd never heard of Vietnam and I thought Laos and Cambodia were in South America."
Just about the time he'd had enough of that, he was offered the opportunity to get out of the Navy three months early to go to college. He jumped at the chance.
The quiet of Fresno City College appealed to him. Unfortunately, or so he thought, there were only two art classes available when he arrived and they were ceramic sculpture and pottery.
"Again, I decided I wanted to be a high school art teacher," Kizziar said. "But this was the 70's and I noticed that all the college art teachers were sleeping with all the women. You could swear, the hours were less, you got paid more. That seemed better."
"I happened to be naturally good at it," Kizziar continued. "As long as I'm touching clay it will do anything I ask it too. I just kept doing clay, and getting A's in it. I was helping girls and meeting Jenny and getting married, so that whole thing of sleeping with students went away but by then I still thought it was a better gig."
While finishing his education, he began to work for the forest service.
"I'd been telling my best friend I was going to quit and make pots full time," Bob said. "My friend said, 'Don't do it!'"
"Again I said, 'I'm going to quit.'
Again he said, 'Don't do it.'
I said, 'I'm going to quit.'
He told me not to do it.
I told him I quit, and he said, 'It's about time!'"
Kizziar started making pots full time. Jenny had been working for the forest service as well and eventually she stayed home to help Kizziar and began to make pots on her own.
Their work got noticed, but it didn't pay the bills. But that was okay. After a series of losses, Kizziar was certain of one thing, he was going to live life exploring his passion.
"There isn't ever any money," he said. "It's hard. We were lecturing in Germany and Ireland for two summers in a row. We could have gone back for a third summer, but we were broke. We were in seven magazines in Europe and America and broke. Fame doesn't necessarily come with money."
Kizziar has been teaching art in one form or another at colleges and prisons since 1976, finally returning to his alma mater for the last seven years of his career. He was Chairman of the Art Department from 2008-2012. He has offered workshops and exhibited his work all over the west and in Germany, Ireland and France. His work has been seen in several magazines. He is now a Professor Emeritus at Fresno City College and an exhibiting member of Tsuga Gallery in Cathlamet.
The couple are relative newcomers to Cathlamet, and these days Kizziar is focused on other things. He's trying to breathe new life into the Wooden Boat Show and hoping to put his time as a commissioner for Port District 1 to good use.
"To paraphrase the port's mission statement," Kizziar said, "my job is to promote economic growth and the quality of the life of the citizens of the town. I take that very seriously."
Jenny has moved away from clay and turned her eyes to the weft and warp of a loom.
"I told Bob, if I ever have another life, I want to be a weaver," she said. "Well, retirement is another life."