A mere 30 years ago, when I was still a kid, two potters were busy throwing, glazing and firing their work with great vigor. The energy of these early days marked the start of their ascent up the industry’s totem pole.
The potters I’m talking about are Angela Fina and Malcolm Davis – master potters known for their own significant contributions to the field of studio pottery, and both of whom were connected not only as friends and colleagues, but also by the work itself.
Angela and Malcolm’s history goes back as early as 1980. These were the formative years, and a time in which Fina already had 15-plus years of potting experience under her belt. Davis, was a full-time potter (1984) who had first touched clay in 1974, but who had yet to open his first studio — that would come in 1985.
Fina reflects on meeting for the first time, “I can’t remember the year, but it was probably 1980. He knew I was doing a craft fair at Fredericksburg, VA and he drove over and spent the day. He was his exuberant self and I knew right away he would be a good friend.” The two did become good friends and eventually found themselves exhibiting together as invitees at Karen Karnes’ Old Church Exhibit & Sale, in Demarest, NJ in the mid 1980s.
Early on, the friendship took on a quasi-role of teacher and student. Other than a workshop at Lee Art Center, Davis was never, as Fina puts “formally my student”, yet there was a gratuitous exchange of information, originating with Fina, that helped Davis find his voice in clay. This exchange is also directly evident in Malcolm’s work from this timeframe. Said Fina, “Malcolm’s earliest pots were an amalgam of my pots, Cynthia Bringle’s pots and Sandy Simon’s pots. He went on to develop his own pots from that borrowed beginning. He was immensely talented, a quick study, and developed his own wonderful pots as he grew, but the fact that he got good enough to imitate my pots for a while seemed kind of normal in my life.”
By “normal” Fina means the reoccurrence of the normal creative curve that artists follow when developing their own style. Employed as a college ceramics teacher for 16 years and several sabbatical replacement positions (Scripps for Paul Soldner, RIT for Hobart Cowles; twice, and at Miami U. in Athens, Ohio) as well as multiple Penland 8-week concentrations, Fina describes one role as teacher:
“Having had so many students, I was used to beginning students; they got skilled enough being imitators of my work, at least for a while. I never promoted imitation or rewarded imitators but it always happened as a stage they went through, one that I would guide them out of as fast as possible.”
Fina’s work from this early period is faceted porcelain, either glazed in Shino or clear glazed with slip-trail decoration. The latter is a style that not only became popular with collectors, but became signature to Fina’s career during the early to mid 1980s. Once, while visiting the home of Mikhail Zakin, and because of the style’s inclusion into SPA’s archive collection, I quickly recognized an example of this Fina technique holding its rightful spot among other fine works … or so I thought. Upon commenting about how much I admire Fina’s work, Zakin informed me that the covered jam pot I was looking at was indeed made by Davis. Logic would soon follow: If this then is Davis, my next question, naturally, was “what are its origins?”
This question lay dormant for about one year, yet the impetus for connecting this direct visual link between Fina and Davis originates in my persistent quest for information, but in this case, not particularly related to Fina’s faceted ‘80s style– I recently purchased a barium-glazed vase by Fina from a secondary source, and wrote to Fina for particulars. In our conversation, I thought to ask her that question; the one tucked away in the back of my mind, and the one that had me leaning towards the notion that, at one time, there existed some sort of collaborative effort between Fina and Davis.
Ms. Fina obliged and shared with me some fond memories she has of Malcolm. Back then it was one enthusiastic potter sharing what she’d learned, as a potter who was equally enthusiastic, listened. Fina tells of this good interaction:
“He [Davis] poured over my pots and asked a million questions. He also came to the 1983 ACC Baltimore Craft Fair where I was exhibiting the faceted Shino pots, and again, lots of talk and questions. After I switched to clear glazed porcelain faceted pots with white slip trailing he also spent a day here at my studio on his way to Vermont, where he owned some property.”
The switch to clear glazed pots commenced Shino as an “era” for Fina, but for Davis, Fina’s work in Shino was a precursor of sorts, an introduction in discussion to a glaze that would eventually capture his full attention and subsequently replace the slip-trailed wares that comprised his production line of porcelain work up to about 1988. Yet letting go for Fina wasn’t so much a decision of wanting to, but rather was done out of necessity.
Shino glazed porcelain was well-placed in her heart, yet collectors were just not inclined to buy such wares at the time. Fina explains the dynamic that led to her putting Shino down, and Davis picking it up:
“I was ahead of my time and no one except other potters was interested [in Shino]. I needed to sell enough to make a living (no spouse, no “good” divorce, no trust fund… I had to support myself) and Malcolm didn’t have to, so he was able to keep making Shinos even though he couldn’t sell enough at first to even support a studio. Later, when he developed the carbon trapping he could sell a lot more at much higher prices. But he was never dependent on his pottery sales to support himself and so he had the freedom to make the pots he wanted to make.”
The path taken by Malcolm Davis from the early point of producing Shino glazed porcelain wares and onward to his own unique discovery is all good history, and all to the agreement of Fina herself. The match in style that typified both artists at one time is also good history, and offers a unique view into the mindset and gregarious nature of potters who openly share information with fellow potters so that they may reach new heights.
When looking at Malcolm Davis’ career, Fina proudly recognizes her input, and humbly acknowledges the full scope of his career, “I don’t take credit, except as one of his early influences, for the wonderful pots he made in his prime.”
And the feeling of admiration was mutual.
In 2010, SPA arrived at Old Church to cover the annual event, and also to grab an opportunity to meet Angela Fina. Due to health reasons, Fina wasn’t in attendance, but Davis, who wasn’t exhibiting that year, was present. Acting as an unofficial representative for Fina, I saw, firsthand, his appreciation and respect for Angela Fina as both woman and potter. I asked Davis his opinion regarding Fina’s career accomplishments – mind you, I didn’t know of the full scope of their friendship – only to receive a 30 minute discourse on Fina’s forms, glazes and impeccable knowledge as a technician. In retrospect, I see that the discussion was also Davis paying high-homage to his good friend Angela, and today, I have a new and deeper appreciation for that cherished conversation, and for Malcolm Davis himself.
c. 2012 — StudioPotterArchive
Vintage images of Angela Fina and her work used with permission by Angela Fina, c 2012.
The Potters’ Guild of New Jersey’s fall exhibit and sale, held at the Community Presbyterian Church Community Center, offered a visual bounty for the residents of Mountainside, potters and pottery aficionados alike on the weekend of November 12 and 13, 2011.
Studio Potter Archive was honored to cover the event and had a ball connecting with the assemblage of gifted potters and fellow enthusiasts.
Where does a person begin describing the variety of works when surrounded by such an abundance of talent? Narrowing down the selections was not an easy job when choosing from the evidence of the blood, sweat and tears (and ultimately, successes) from thirty-seven talented potters, but we rolled up our sleeves and got down to the business of preparing a sampling of fine works from the Potters’ Guild of New Jersey.
Our early morning arrival began with warm introduction by Judy Musicant, the show’s coordinator, who quickly informed us that time was of the essence in the 30 odd minutes prior to the opening of the show. The fact is, she was right. Upon opening the doors, collector activity pulled an astonishing amount of potters’ work off tables and brought it straight onward to the “sold” table. In the time it took for us to travel to the opposite side of the room to collect a work by Judith Taylor, and then make our way back to our impromptu photography station, a bowl by Musicant, one which we planned to use for this article, had disappeared! That’s not to say there wasn’t other amazing work to be found in Judy’s or other potters’ stations. It just meant that we had to work fast!
Our alphabetical lineup of work begins with Linda Aldrich. Surface decoration in ceramics is a world unto itself, and here, Aldrich’s world of flowers and fauna carries a unique boldness in its content and illustrative design; starfish, squirrels, and flowers show a duality in both technical and artistic talent. It is Aldrich’s two-dimensional renderings which allow her ceramic forms to act as a canvas to which she displays her love of nature.
A bowl by Susana Barbetti-Norton gives me the sense of early Roman times. A leafy progression around the edges and verdigris glaze, offer a glimpse of Mother Nature and the changes she brings. Can you imagine this piece adorning a table at a feast of yore? I know I can.
MaLee Bluck’s raku vase with “fire-hot” glaze is successful for a few good reasons. First, I can’t escape that color – love it, especially on raku. Don’t get me wrong, traditional raku surfaces are exceptional, especially when, in absolution, they compliment the form (see Zarbock) but here, this red “pops”; it demands attention. Second and third reasons are form and line. This robust red is tamed by the vessel’s form; dimples gently pushed into a bold bulbous body soothe, while black lines segment and contain the glaze, as if they’re cordoning off a wild fire. Inversely related to the neck and mouth is the foot– if I were talking gymnastics, I’d call this detail the perfect dismount in my evaluation.
There’s something quite special about the forms which Susan Bogen throws. Her visually substantial forms are indeed refined and wonderful to hold. Bowls have a rim that falls gently enough to imply that the walls which holds them up are just as thick. This is the weight I was expecting when I first picked one up, but that was not the case. Her bowls are well-thrown and comfortable in their weight. Of special mention is Boden’s decoration; one small shino glazed vase adorned with iris, in particular.
The world is black and white for this wizened trio by Marguerite Brennan. Marguerite’s work is hand-built microwave oven and dishwasher safe porcelain. Her one-of-a-kind, hand painted decoration simply makes me feel good. And a healthy dose of “feel good” is just what the doctor ordered!
The work of Beth DiCara shows great diversity. Her plates and larger platters/trays exhibit technical expertise in slab construction and an understanding of when “less is more” – simplified leaf graphics tell the most concise story without rambling on. Her covered jars, too, are well imagined. This take on a “barrel full of monkeys” has me laughing. (This guy is doing a good job just being a goof-ball and has me wondering if there are more hiding inside.) The sculptress in DiCara shines, too. “Jersey Girls”, as she calls them, sit atop ceramic bases. Slightly expressive bodily forms conjure up a sense of implied animation while DiCara makes no excuses for the human physique – larger hips, and a little more in the mid-rift area tells us that we’re all just beautiful the way we are.
Back to that ever so vast world of surface decoration. Barbara Fehrs’ decoration is a fine compliment to the forms she produces. Whether a simple rectangle plate adorned with family heirloom crocheted doilies or triangularly ovoid tumblers patterned with wax-resist and glazed hand-decoration, the work exudes ‘texture’; either visual or tactile. The set of tumbles and serving tray shown are just a few pieces to a larger line of forms.
DeBorah Goletz’s creatively plays with a number of elements when creating this wood-fired stoneware bottle. Bold vertical stripes give height to an already tall piece (12”) while playful handles define and contrast arcs of negative space against a balance of horizontal banding around its neck.
Reiteration of shape and form takes center stage in the work of Itsuko Ishiguro. Bowls, miniature lamps, and even mugs are hand-carved, and then inlaid with glaze; a technique that exploits (good) the richness of this chocolate color clay body with a micro-volcanic white glaze. On the sculptural front, beast-like creatures (oil lamps) reaching forward as if to give out a hug– regardless of whether or not spiny thorns running up their back may provide a pinch, are playfully imaginative. I’d love to one day see these forms standing larger in scale, say 16” in height?
Current work by Sue Jamieson includes a selection of vases adorned with abstract elements. Jamieson’s thrown forms act as foundation for abstract assemblages of clay – one might think they’re almost expressionist statements – which are lyrical in their base element. The sweeping form which adorns this vase is accentuated with an amber and gold-flake glaze. It’s the continuous ‘gesture’ in form and line which makes this vase so successful.
Ellen Mulligan spends good thought in creating her cast of characters. Whether ducks, cows, puppets, or even people, her illustrations have an uncanny ability to present themselves as if they are animated. This bowl and cup is a new direction for the artist—3-D representation has this little bird singing on a branch (cup) while geese peer out as each sits next to its egg. A strong understanding of editing the graphics she creates, then transfers to her wares, have us baited. Now, we patiently sit and wait for more!
If there’s a word to describe the glaze found on this bowl by Judy Musicant, I guess it would be “sunburst”. Multiple glazes are fired to this potters preferred choice: Glossy, a result of controlling the cooling conditions in kiln atmosphere once a firing is complete. Fine proportions, coupled with a delicately ruffled edge make this bowl as successful as the one which got away early in the show. A departure from this year’s main theme (in form and glaze) is classical Grecian-style vase from years past which I found tucked back on a bottom shelf. A rich brown glaze with minimal glaze decoration is the perfect coat for this form.
Looking at Donna Nicosia’s work is like seeing both the forest, and the trees. The stately stature of this form is what I mean when I say “forest”, the layering of details, textures, and architectural elements are the trees themselves. Nicosia’s choice of glaze application is yet another element to the mix, and is one which, in its “veil-like” application, gently disguises this urn’s richly patterned surface. I saw more than a few of her works making their way to check out…I can certainly see why.
Kathy Peck’s teapot and mugs came as quite a find. Fine forms and glazing, of course, but we took special notice of the industrial notes assigned to the re-bar consistent handles on these pieces. Believe me; if I were at a construction site, I’d be handling one of Kathy’s mugs…and well, they would also make an ambitious statement while sitting on the desk in my office!
I love this dish by Harold Starvetnick! With soft edges, form sweeping gently upward and an appropriately sturdy feel; this piece seems to embrace a yin and yang of design. The white and turquoise palette is a fine compliment to the well produced graphics and retro urban energy of the work.
A vase by Judith Taylor gracefully moves with detail, color and form. The neck of the vase fans outward in a beckoning motion which has clearly attracted nesters. These delicately painted hummingbirds, nourishing themselves on the nectar I just know is in there, flew to this vase just as quickly as I did. What impresses most about Taylor’s work is that she’s never afraid to dance with form; energetically charged as if Jazz, or gracefully demure as if ballet.
Roz Weinberger brings an electric display (reminding me of the sparklers I loved in childhood) with this raku fired bowl. Passion and imagination are evident in the crackle of raku and complementing crisscross design of this piece. And pssst…Roz offered a coordinating vase at the show too.
Margit Werner-Ergas’ stoneware is simply good to hold. Her wheel-thrown bowls and plates are correct in proportion and are tastefully understated in their glazing; subtle and grace are two words which best describe her wares. Tasteful and elegant are an additional two words which describe the plate shown here. The solitude of a lone-standing tree is rendered moot by the wind which keeps it company; elegant indeed.
Nancy Zarbock is well known for her raku pottery, and while she excels in making wares specific to other types of firings, it is this raku sculpture which we find to be an exceptional highlight of the show. It’s a ghostly form; void of body but eerily present in spirit and standing with an ominous stature. A hooded cloak with extended arms and draped bottom are sculpted in well-thought abstraction. On a more representational side, Zarbock’s sculptures of children also show this artist’s penchant for sculpture in a medium she’s come to master.
Other worthy participants include:
Margret Bonito, Martha Boshart, Barb Donatacci, Carol Harris, Joyce Hayter-Delia, Kate P. Hetman, Carla Hurwitz, Kathie Leonardow, Norma Messing, Melanie Mike-Mayer, Wendy Morris, Theresa Mustafa, Su Nottingham, Nancy Ogan, Eugene Prial, Cynthia Shevelew, Marie Signorile, Jennifer Stein.
SPA applauds not only the potters who displayed their wares, but the efficient running of the show and the unmistakable fellowship of the Guild members as they pitched in and assisted one another from set-up to sales.
When asked how she views the show overall, Show Coordinator, Judy Musicant, stated:
“I think it went very well. We didn’t quite break our record for a November show. (Sales were down slightly from the 2010 event) but considering that the economy is still stagnant, I’m pretty pleased. In fact, our sales have increased every year even in 2008 when the crash occurred and since then, until this November.
As I’ve heard that other craft venues have experienced significantly decreased sales in recent years, we’re amazed and delighted that we continue to do so well. Maybe it’s because we are the only show in the area where people can get such a wide variety of pottery – and just pottery. Quite a few customers I’ve spoken with are potters themselves, and they come to buy from us, which is very flattering. Also, a significant number of people come to every show – April and November. I think that our prices are more than reasonable for the quality of the work– as you probably noticed, and has something to do with our popularity.”
Tremendous job folks!© All Rights Reserved. 2011 Studio Potter Archive Images © Studio Potter Archive, 2011