A year ago Seattle sculptor Bob Jensen, 26, was prowling Washington galleries, looking for an art dealer, when he stopped by the Henri Gallery, 1500 21st St. NW.

"She was the only dealer who would even talk to me, the only one," says the artist, still ashudder from the experience. "She offered me a show, so I set up a studio in a basement here, built a huge kiln, and got to work."

The results, eleven large trompe l'oeil ceramic sculptures, some of them six feet tall, went on view yesterday at Henri. Three were snapped up by collectors before they hit the gallery pedestals.

Jensen, who has a degree in biology, switched from wood and steel to clay five years ago, and since then has been making colorful fool-the-eye ceramic sculpture. But, he says, "People kept sitting on the pieces, or trying to pick them up, thinking they were real. And I spent too much time answering the question 'How on earth did you do that?'"

As a result, his new ceramic assemblages are all finished in a low-fire, high-luster white glaze. They seem to be classic sculpture rather than "imitation" as before. "California 'crate," for example, a surfboard bent around a crate and held in place with a chain (all ceramic), is highly classical in its abstract forms. So is "Study for St. Sebastian," yet another surfboard, this time repeatedly (and rather irreverent) wounded by an axe.

"Self-Portrait," however, a bag of clay encased in a cage-like crate, is highly symbolic and expressive, as are several other "portraits" on view.

There are other pieces, like "Self-Portrait at the Beach," which is still largely fun-by-imitation. But this is a serious show of work that manages to overcome the old-fashioned notion that if it's made of clay, it must be a pot. Through September.

Washington's own Bill Lombardo has been making clay sculpture for some years, his cherubic, mustachioed face now familiar for having turned up in his own amusing work, atop the bodies of Abraham Lincoln and King Kong, among others.

But in his new show at Diane Brown Gallery, 2028 P St. NW, Lombardo has pulled a complete switch, and there isn't a wad of clay in sight.

Instead, he has now put his whimsical mind to the task of making what appear to be model airplane skeletons -- some 10 feet long -- from wooden dowels, reeds and colored strings. All are lashed together to make shaggy endearing airplanes.

Best of all are several stubby little "Gee-Bee" racing planes, notably one called "Tiny Greenie," after fellow artist Tom Green, "Der Dutterer" picks up some of painter Bill Dutterer's favorite colors. Through Oct. 6, Dutterer, by the way, opens a new show today at Jack Rasmussen Gallery, 313 G St. NW.

Upstairs at Diane Brown, artist-critic Andrew Hudson is having his best show to date, several spare, colored pencil drawings of animals observed at the National Zoo. With wit and great empathy, Hudson captures in a few tender lines the essence of a bird attempting to fly, or the precarious physique of a crested seriema or a double-wattled cassowary.

Hudson has also just completed proofs for a new series of lithographs that include a nice self-portrait. It can be seen upon request. Some of his zoo images are now available in postcard form at the Corcoran Gallery Shop. Through Oct. 6.

The WPA (Washington Project for the Arts), 1227 G St. NW, started out as an alternative, but it has become the better alternative for many area artists.

In the current "Young Washington Painters" show, selected by Walter Hopps and Corcoran curator Marti Mayo, roughly a dozen of the 37 artists shown have not been seen here before. The introduction of Stephen Cushner, Michael Green, Michael Smallwood, Annie Gaulak and Gayil Nalls alone would have made the effort worthwhile. The show also helps remind us that artists like Wil Brunner, Sylvia Snowden, Stephen Ludlum, Michael Hunter, Ed Mayo, Rick Ward and Eric Rudd are still hard at work, along with fantasy realists like Lisa Brotman and Alan Sonneman, who have joined Margarida Kendall in this mode.

Even veteran artists are given a showcase here in a simultaneous show called "In Honor Of." We sometimes forget the wealth of painters among us because they no longer fit the "new talent" category. Standouts here are Sarah Baker's beautiful 1976 painting of Nantucket marshes, Robert Gates' mysterious "Table" and James McLaughlin's Vuillard-like interior. The wonderful John Robinson, far too little-known despite a Corcoran retrospective four years ago, is showing a sun-drenched Washington back yard with lilacs.

Walter Hopps and Marti Mayo will give a walk-through lecture on the "Young Washington Painters" show today at 2 p.m. Both shows continue through Sept. 29.

Most of the best artists in the WPA show are, in fact, already well-established with commercial galleries here, with several represented in the current offering at Middendorf-Lane, 2014 P St. NW, an invitational show called "Small Works."

Among the artists represented in both shows are Robin Rose, pattern-painter Jerry Clapsaddle, realist Mark Clark (with a piece from a new series of night paintings), Michael McCall, with some fine sandy-surfaced abstracts, and Sidney Guberman, who makes a strong showing.

The Middendorf-Lane show, of high quality throughout, also features new work in small format by Joseph White, Carroll Sockwell, Manon Cleary and Willem de Looper.

Sam Gilliam, who rarely works small, is represented by a 1966 painting, just as his new, 40-foot-long GSA-commissioned drape piece is about to be unveiled at the federal courthouse in Atlanta. Gilliam has also received a major commission for the new Atlanta airport.

The Middendorf-Lane show runs through September.