Taken from Utilitarian III at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts:
Celebrate the Object.
Two Native American Quotes
“God gave to all people a cup of clay and from that cup they drank their life”
“Clay remembers the hands that formed it.”
“Throughout history, pottery has been a signature of man. It is an interpretation of material, form, and process. It is a lens that provides an aperture into the soul of the man and the times in which he lives. Each vessel shares a moment in the life of an artist and reflects the magical act of creation. What we do with clay identifies who we are.”
This past year I’ve done several group firings in the Norborigama Wood kiln at Chester Springs Studio .- a ridiculous amount of work for this old bod, but the results are certainly lively and seductive. I put a bunch of my porcelain ware, both in the wood chamber and salt chamber. The surface of the pots shimmer with life, and kept me coming back to this process, despite the labor intensity.
The firing lasts close to 24 hours, and all the participants help to load the kiln, fire in shifts, unload, and prepare the shelves and kiln for the next firing. Matt Wren guides the firing process, and we all benefit from his experience with the kiln, and judgement about the process.
I’ve been working with Nerikomi for the past 5 years, adding this disciplined design process to my work. Hopefully, sharing the methods I learned through the years will interest others in this process.
I’ve been very inspired by Curtis Benzle, Vince Patelka, and Dorothy Fieblemann. There is much information about their process on the internet. Their generosity in sharing their process on the internet has fueled a strong interest in adding color and design to my typically “quiet” pots.
My personal exploration working in colored clay began, though, years ago at the Clay Studio in Philadelphia, admiring the work of Cate Fetterman. Cate made plates, and tables, lampshades and other forms in cone 6 porcelain. Cheerful, dynamic color work.
My 4 year old son and I made modest plates using her methods.
Reaquainting myself with colored clay, 5 years ago, and using Cate’s process of applying sliced colored clays to a slab of porcelain, and forming the slab into pots, ignited once again, a joy of colored patterning.
I then began to make colored slabs of clay, cutting the clay using pattern templates and constructing them onto plaster forms with dart and tuck techniques to make round vessel forms like teapots and vases.
Using methods I discovered from Vince Pitelka’s instructions on the internet, I began to make thin slices of nerikomi and apply them directly onto thrown forms.
Adding nerikomi porcelain designs to stoneware fired in the wood kiln has created a new dimension for this type of work. The warmth of wood firing combined with the delicacy of nerikomi is a path I want to continue to explore.
Reclaiming personal experience: experiencing something rather than just looking at a digital image. The Chris Staley teapot pictured below is so beautiful. How different the experience would be if I could use it: feel the smoothness of the handle, the weight as you lift it, and the warmth of the body of the teapot holding tea.
“Certainly in ceramics a photograph of a pot can have profound implications. Often it is slide transparencies or digital images that determine what art schools we go to, what jobs we get, or where we sell our work. And yet we know a functional pot isn’t really appreciated until it is used. As a young potter I was told that the quality of a 4×5 transparency was more important than the pot itself simply because more people would see the photo. When the eye solely experiences art, in this case pottery, we become an audience of viewers, which is much different than the full sensory experience of using a favorite cup. By using a cup we reclaim personal experience.”
“It took me into my hands, to creating something real.”
Something I think potters can share is the pleasure received from seeing a shelf of finished pots waiting to be fired, or a kiln opening brimming with pots still warm from that fire. I work for weeks, and can hold the tangible product of my labor in my hand. There’s no ambiguity, the process of my work is visible as objects in space.
My table full of pots drying is an exhilarating sight for me. At this stage of the process, I usually don’t want to stop the making- it’s a time when I have more ideas for the forms that I’ve just finished, but it’s time to glaze and fire, and complete this cycle.
“It took me into my hands, to creating something real,” is a statement by Terry Tempest Williams on the program, “Being.”
Next Friday, June 5th, the “KNOTS and POTs” Exhibit at the Phoenix Village Art Center will open, and run till June 29th. I’ll be showing Nerikomi pottery and Kathryn Keegan will be showing her nerikomi work. Join us on First Friday for the opening. 6-9pm
Kathryn is a wonderful artist who works in many materials. This show will primarily exhibit her intricate knot work. Hundreds of hours of careful work are needed to create her beautiful necklaces and sculptures. Also in this exhibit she’ll have floor cloths, wall weavings, and a delightful “recycled” sculpture. Take a look at a few of the pieces that will be in the show:
I couldn’t attend NCECA in Rhodes Island this year, so I was delighted to discover a lot of information and videos of the conference. The speech by emerging artist, Roberto Lugo was so inspiring. Doesn’t it make you feel that ceramics is alive moving into the future.This machine kills hate
“Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only—if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn’t it? And isn’t the whole point of things—beautiful things—that they connect you to some larger beauty?”
– a quote from the Donna Tartt novel, Goldfinch.
So, though handmade pots aren’t magnificent paintings, the simple mug, that for some reason gives you a short shot of pleasure, maybe helps you to pay attention to that morning coffee, or the morning light coming through the translucent porcelain cup. The rice bowl, the rim, that swirls around the warm oatmeal on a cold day. Little pleasures like this, and so many others awaken me to a small beauty, and give me a path to experience something larger and indeed magnificent, like the following Mary Oliver poem:
Franz Marc’s Blue Horses
I step into the painting of the four blue horses.
I am not even surprised that I can do this.
One of the horses walks toward me.
His blue nose noses me lightly, I put my arm
over his blue mane, not holding on, just
He allows me my pleasure.
Franz Marc died a young man, shrapnel in his brain.
I would rather die than try to explain to the blue horses
what war is.
They would either faint in horror, or simply
find it impossible to believe.
I do not know how to thank you, Franz Marc.
Maybe our world will grow kinder eventually.
Maybe the desire to make something beautiful
is the piece of God that is inside each of us.
Now all four horses have come closer,
are bending their faces toward me
as if they have secrets to tell.
I don’t expect them to speak, and they don’t.
If being so beautiful isn’t enough, what
could they possibly say?