Articles (Chronological Order)
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.
Review by Paul Kowalchuk & Malinda Bender
The 37th annual holiday show and sale (Dec. 2-4, 2011) at the Art School at Old Church in Demarest, New Jersey was a sparkling statement of newness and experimentation. Familiar potters offered departures from their older and equally appealing work and some potters exhibited their work for the first time at TASOC — others returned after years of being away.
The three-day event began with a generous opening reception on Friday evening. On Sunday morning we returned for an introspective docent talk by TASOC co-founder and President of the Board of Directors, Mikhail Zakin. This was a rewarding hour in which Mikhail’s passionate eye and strength as an educator soared as she spoke of the technical aspects and possible direction of each participant’s pottery. So, in no particular order, this is this year’s line up; they’re all talented potters, all of whom are tops in their field.
Matt Kelleher, Marshall, North Carolina, returns this year with new ideas. Whether a tall slab constructed vase (at a guesstimated 24” tall), or large abstract birds, the work is a complete departure from last year’s collection. The birds are impressive in stature and far outsize any bird I’ve seen in nature. Glaze applications suggest wings, and the slightest cracks in the clay body are there to remind us that these birds are of the earth. The magnificent example shown here was mounted on a wall; others sit horizontally with the same commanding presence. Kelleher’s bowls and other utilitarian forms were equally impressive, yet on a much smaller scale. –p.k.
Hayne Bayless of Ivoryton, Connecticut, began his career by extruding and constructing forms. Among the strong components of Bayless’ work are recognizable glaze – theme and variation. Especially wonderful were the hinges made of clay and outfitted with brass bars to offer support. The thinness of Bayless’ work is masterful, and in technique, is working against the resistance of the material – the clay is allowed to get leather hard prior to being worked. Crisp edges are the result of this technique, and an element in Bayless’ work which will endure as a “signature” style. –p.k.
“Scott Goldberg, one of my favorite potters, always”, was how Mikhail Zakin commenced her discussion on Scott Goldberg from Brooksville, Maine. A classical potter who works in reduction firing and whose work is related to generations of functional pottery is very unassuming. Zakin speaks firsthand about having Goldberg’s work in her kitchen: “His work you enjoy visually but I live with it, and I can tell you it’s better to live with it than to look at it. I take a cup of coffee in the morning and say ‘Good morning Scott’; I can feel him in there. The reason we respond to handmade work is because it links us to the maker, and in this case, gratifyingly so.” –p.k.
The ceramics of Autumn Cipala from Thomaston, Maine, softly beckon the viewer to come closer. Gentle and elegant, Autumn’s work embraces a directness of line and form, as well as a regard for sensual surface. The plate featured here is an example of the successful 3-D effect she has achieved with skillful surface carving. –m.b.
When introducing Karen Karnes (Morgan, Vermont) to her audience, Mikhail Zakin warmly refers to her dear friend as “the mother of us all.” Zakin makes this compliment while considering Karnes’ time span as a potter of 60+ years. An offering of a late 1950s large form teapot is exceptional, and quintessential to the artist’s career. While the form is well-thought, it’s the walnut handle, carved by Karnes herself, which makes this pot a one-of-a-kind. Recent work; assemblages of smaller thrown forms, make for small intimate sculptures while colossal covered jars bring a sense of scale to this potter’s enduring career. –p.k.
Swanville Maine’s, Jody Johnstone, once studied in Bizen, Japan, and then came back to the States and set up an anagama kiln in Maine. Johnstone’s surfaces gain much richness from fire and ash; she uses little in the way of glazes. The work is dynamic in its decoration. Kiln fires produce amazing effects, but proficiency in craftsmanship is where this potter’s true success begins. Said Zakin, “Johnstone goes back to a very basic relationship with the clay and the fire…that’s what this work speaks about.” –p.k.
Mikhail Zakin, of Closter, New Jersey has an immense hold on those around her, or rather, it may be most fitting to say that it is those around her who are grateful to have a hold on her. I’ve heard it said more than once, “She’s simply a remarkable person.” And indeed she is. SPA is honored to return to Old Church and see new work from this master potter, teacher, and community leader who has chosen to exhibit in this year’s event for the first time in six years.
An important facet in Zakin’s creative output is her carbonized clay. Zakin’s self-described “box forms” were in perfect company to a pair of twisted clay trays; a technique which pulls from her experiences as a metalsmith back in the 1940s. The carbon coating on each piece gives a voice to the underlying sculpture. Zakin takes center stage with this new body of intimate and personal (in scale) work.
Zakin also included salt-glaze vessels from earlier points in her career. A few of these flew out the door; fast! Additionally, there were small salt cellars which also have the dubious distinction of being sculpture. Tall vases, large and small trays, and other larger sculpture were in perfect company. –p.k.
Robbie Lobell’s (Coupeville, Washington) own sense of form is evident in her flameware pottery. Recipes in both clay and glaze; passed down to Lobell by Karnes and Anne Stannard, are key to the durability of flameware cookware. Remarkable to the process, Zakin mentions Lobell’s attention to finishing; “She was after her own sense of form and line, and has found it.” –p.k.
Sheryl Zacharia hails from Manhattan, New York and by the look of her pottery you would think that you really are located somewhere in the Big Apple; perhaps up by Rockefeller Center, or down in the financial district. Angular vessels seem to define the space “outside” the form, while creating an almost safe haven in its interior. Rich patterned surfaces are as wide awake as this city that never sleeps — energy pervades from each segmented area, and while the forms are certainly not fixed in place, there is an elusive component which makes them seem as anchored as the Empire State Building. –p.k.
David Voll, of Port Republic, New Jersey uses local clay from New Jersey. As a child Mr. Voll discovered an outcropping of red clay along the banks of a shallow cedar creek, and from there, began his journey into the world of potting. Voll is a true production potter whose glazes richly compliment his traditional forms. A marker of his success is the many galleries who exhibt and sell his work. Characterized by rich buttery glazes, Voll’s work is traditional in form, yet each carries on their surface stamps carved by the artist’s hand. –m.b.
Jenny Mendes of Chesterland, Ohio tells her story with precisely detailed narratives on clay. While immersing myself in her illustrative decoration and delicate forms, I am transported back in time to the safety of cradling a favorite storybook while reading in the grass on a summer’s day. The quality and quantity of information Ms. Mendes applies to her small, fine forms is a humbling tribute to her gift as potter and a painter, but more fantastically, a storyteller. –m.b.
Jeffery Kleckner, from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is pushing the boundaries of his work. An earlier conversation between Zakin and Kleckner had Zakin telling us that he’s now “splitting the form…asymmetrical and compound forms which are wonderfully patterned.” Kleckner’s own signature style is borne from the patterned surfaces complete with raised details which engage the fingertips. –p.k.
From Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ryan Greenheck turns heads as he displays his work for the first time at TASOC. Ryan’s glazes create an alliance with form. Shading, hue and luster move in concert with the components and detail of the works, thus creating a support system between glaze and form. For the purest who loves unadulterated form, Greenheck’s teapots; stripped of all glazes, dazzle in all-white porcelain. –m.b.
Scribe, is a title that comes to mind when appreciating the work of Matthew Metz of Alfred Station, New York. A dash of American folk art, a pinch of Rome, a sprinkling of Greece and a splash of Asia are combined with descriptive engraving (nature, cultural, historical) to create a fulfilling recipe for visual and tactile expertise. His attention to detail (in the form of labor intensive decoration) blankets all surfaces and leaves each vessel looking, and feeling impressive. –m.b.
Alison Palmer of Kent, Connecticut enchants with her animal forms. Her wood fired menagerie is imaginative, significant and alive with character. Ms. Palmer states that the animals are brought to life through “eyes and feature”, which accounts for the personality and soul infused into these skillfully executed forms. A small caterpillar covered box with human face has as much character as any of the larger of the gang. –m.b.
There is something clean and honest about the pottery of Williamsburg, Massachusetts’ Michael McCarthy. The work is strong with special attention paid to articulated form. Diversity in glazing, when coupled with form, completes a well rounded picture of both traditional and contemporary approach to potting. In the traditional sense, handles on McCarthy’s mugs are reminiscent of the work of North Carolina potter, A. R. Cole, yet McCarthy’s finely thrown bottles mark this potter’s insight into bringing a fresh view on a centuries old form. Gently askew tops and a pale glaze have these bottles looking well-refined and without pretense. –p.k.
Rob Sieminski of Phillips, Maine brings a message which speaks to his love of geology and his harmonious relationship with the earth’s process. Functional yes, but the intense philosophical presence of this vessel gives it the efficacy of sculpture. When seeking new ideas to work and move through the clay, Mr. Sieminski states that he finds it through “paying attention, listening.” –m.b.
The husband and wife team of Naomi Dalglish and Michael Hunt from Bakersville, North Carolina, once again brings the exhibit a powerful statement made with a clear knowledge of traditional Korean technique. Selections for this year’s event were extraordinary in every way. Intimately balanced forms, glazing and stature yield visible and tactual completeness. I noticed this year’s selection of work to be a step or two larger than last year’s collection, showing that this duo is not restrained by scale in any way. –m.b.
Stacy Snyder of Arlington, Virginia dazzles and intrigues with her architectural and landscape inspired forms. There is a simplicity and comfort connected to her finished decoration, the exquisitely accomplished art of surface transfer, and the connecting of broken lines. Like human beings, the individual pieces come together to create something whole. –m.b.
Poetic, kinetic and intrepid is the work of Norman, Oklahoma’s Dan Harris. Mr. Harris has no fear when it comes to experimenting with clay bodies, glaze chemistry and form. The artistic revenue this bodacious free spirit has created in clay is shiny and eroded, curving, circular and inviting. This is indeed unbridled excellence. –m.b.
Mastery of the wheel is evident in the pottery of Mark Shapiro from Worthington, Massachusetts. Ingenious in design and function, his pure and penetrating lines make Mr. Shapiro’s work desirable from both functional and artistic perspectives. Successful as art and successful in function. –m.b.
Brenda Quinn of Mount Vernon, New York brings new ideas to the show with her love of design and the decorative arts. We questioned on whether there was a noted hint of William Morris in her decoration and Ms. Quinn quickly replied that she is indeed inspired by Morris’ patterns. This potter is a keen observer of patterns found in nature and how “all things are tied together.” Quinn’s work is also labor intensive, and concentrates on putting ”evidence of the hand” into her work. Utilizing her elegant ceramics in a real life environment is to honor the interconnectedness of all that is. –m.b.
“Jack Troy, the master” were Mikhail Zakin’s first words when introducing this living legend to her audience. Of particular interest is Zakin’s acknowledgement of Troy’s unusual use of color — an old Carlton Ball recipe with barium in it (blue). Zakin says Troy (Huntingdon, Pennsylvania) mentioned that he’s always been afraid of color, but he’s going to try more of that now.” Testament to this master, Troy’s display was essentially sold out. For SPA, we decided to place two of these works into our archive collection. The top image shows a striking vessel, one which breaks from Troy’s traditional approach to glaze and form. The other form, an orb, offers another appoach towards glaze decoration. It too is part of this “color mini series” of work. Indeed, both pieces are welcomed additions to the archive. –p.k.
Once again, it was our pleasure to cover the Karen Karnes’ invitational at The Art School at Old Church. Thanks to TASOC’s incredible staff and tireless volunteers for producing yet another wonderful annual. Special thanks to Mikhail Zakin for welcoming us back to this year’s festivities.
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
Studio Potter Archive’s vision is to celebrate the artistic and technical expertise of the studio potter, and to this we say that we’ve found a friend in Etsy.com.
For those of you who have ever experienced Etsy, you’ll agree that no other site on the Internet compares to this company’s dedication and drive to establish a friendly atmosphere where the artist takes center stage. As far as the artist as business owner, it gets even better! Curatorial events, open communication between buyer and seller, and shop-owner focus articles help make Etsy the prime venue of its kind. It is a place where e-commerce and media-social meld together to form a unique mix, and one that have given birth to an “Etsy culture” in American society.
The positive Etsy experience between buyer and seller continues to widen the gap in seller satisfaction with that of its main competitor; eBay. (Let’s just say that Seller Sanctions, a “false-positive” feedback system, and an “incentive tax” on shipping fees are conditions Etsy sellers do not have to contend with – and yippee to that!) Etsy’s team, rooted in Brooklyn, NY, continually infuse positive energy into the mix; to empower, promote, and helps its members be the best they can be. It’s a place where living up to one’s fullest potential is considered a wonderful thing and is the reason Studio Potter Archive is focusing on Etsy’s best; we simply feel right at home. So, let’s get down to meeting some potters who have caught our discerning eye, and who help make Etsy a great place to visit, and shop. Drum roll, please.
Holly Shaw & Richard Evans –Meadow Point Studios, East Killingly, Connecticut
Nature rules! At least at Holly Shaw and Richard Evans’ Meadow Point studios it does. A combination of talent between these two potters has yielded work which captures an appreciation for the natural world around them. They’ve brought the outdoors, indoors, and in a splendid way.
Evans’ work is adorned with birds, caterpillars, dragonflies, and oak trees full of lush foliage. Evans practices a technique called cuerda seca, which means “dry cord”, and although it refers to the cord traditionally used to outline and contain various glazes on the tile, he instead uses wax-resist to layout his design, then fills the spaces with glaze. It is a technique employed during the Arts & Crafts movement during the early 20th Century, and is practiced with precision, today, by Evans, as it was by potteries such as Rookwood, and Van Briggle, back in the day. Collectors, take note– Evan’s work is made to endure and should be part of any collection (beginner or advanced) of American art pottery tiles.
Holly Shaw’s ceramic work is the perfect compliment to Evan’s two-dimensional compositions. Her teapots aptly suggest a dragonfly in flight, while paying attention to the proportions of atmospheric space needed to make it all happen. Match this to the design of the pot itself, and it’s a winner. It’s her pricing point that makes it very hard to resist the fun anticipation of having one arrive on your doorstep. On her covered vessels, Shaw’s sculptural touch has one salamander sitting so perfectly atop a lid that graces a smooth (visually and texturally) footed jar.
Holly Shaw & Richard Evans work is like a stroll through the woods, you seem to get lost in all the wonderful details. Here’s a direct path to Meadow Point: http://www.etsy.com/shop/meadowpoint
Keith Phillips – Ashville, North Carolina
There’s a definite and undeniable play between the forms of Keith Phillips’ soda-fired wares and their decoration; each attribute is striving for top recognition. I guess this is my way of saying that Phillips has the precise ability to keep both in balance – the form he throws is just as significant as the stories scripted to its surface.
The designs are subtly refined. Signature to his covered jars, tumblers, and other various pieces, is a footed base that elevates the work and keeps it presented (formally) as if on exhibition. Plates, and bowls are kept tastefully simple. A combination of glazes cooked within a soda firing adds yet another dimension, and one which acts as supporting actor to the top prize run-off between form and decoration. A crowning detail to his mugs is handles which appear fluid in their shape, then punctuated with detailed stamps; as if “nailed down” to prevent them from slipping away. Feedback comments from some 1300+ customers speaks volumes– what comes off Phillips’ wheel is good, darn good.
So what about those ideas? The choice of decal transfers Phillips selects is not only intriguing, but are also well-placed onto the surface. Two jellyfish on the side of a covered jar is unexpected, as well as a little bee-girl floating about; seeming looking for a flower to pollinate. The intellectual dimension of “bee girl” takes a leap forward by including graphical strings of honeycomb hexagons into the mix. Octopuses, aero-acrobatic men, and boxers fighting it out (shown on other works) keep us guessing as to what characters Phillips will present next, or how far reaching into other decades these graphics will fall.
Either way, this potter’s story continues to unfold at http://www.etsy.com/shop/khphillips?ref=top_trail
Barbara Donovan – Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Hailing from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Donovan’s work is decorated with characters she says are pulled from nature and her imagination. Puppies with love-sick eyes are irresistibly cute, and have a way of disarming any wave of crankiness one may be experiencing at the moment. And while there’s something to be said for the perpetual cuteness that shines from her work (with a child-like freshness), it’s a refined balance of “line” which shows this potter to be a seasoned professional.
I see Donovan’s “line” as being illustrated in one of three ways. First, Donovan draws her characters freely and with care, yet without any pretense alluding to a desire for a perfectly rendered image. Over lapping lines or even places where Donovan has seemingly colored out of the lines is part of the overall appeal. Second, her wheel-thrown forms follow this same looseness; mugs especially, as curvatures to the form are left alone; the result of ring handles being applied. Lastly, Donovan tools the clay body in such a way so as to delicately breathe life into her little critters. The technique reveals a surface that’s not exactly two-dimensional, yet not three-dimensional either. The result, in all three instances, aptly shows Donovan’s insight as to preparing the clay and it’s surface. The reward for such hard work? To engage the viewer until they can’t help but smile and make new friends. Smiles found here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/barbaradonovan?ref=seller_info
Much thanks to Holly & Richard, Keith, and Barbara for allowing Studio Potter Archive to use their images for this article!Text © All Rights Reserved. 2011 Studio Potter Archive Images © Meadow Point Studios, Keith Phillips, and Barbara Donovan.
“I don’t do very much sketching, and especially not anymore,” said Penland, North Carolina Potter Nick Joerling. “But I’ve always tried to keep a sketchbook open in the studio. In a funny way, something happens in there, really infrequently, but there is something about me wanting to keep that sketchbook open in the studio. I feel like that open sketchbook is an invitation for something unexpected to blow into the studio, which is sort of a romantic notion of sketchbooks and studios.”
Gracious and comfortable with describing himself as an ” introvert with fairly good social skills,” Nick included me in his busy schedule to talk about his work and philosophies. He began working with clay in approximately 1972, and moved to Penland on New Years Day in 1980. From 1980 – 1983, he worked at Jon Ellenbogen and Becky Plummer’s Barking Spider studio. From 1980 – 1983, he attended Louisiana State University from where he received his M.F.A. in ceramics, and then returned to the Penland area late in 1986 as a full-time potter with his own studio.
The catalyst for Nick telling me that he is an introvert with fairly good social skills, was my explaining to him (early in our discussion) that I am a poet-introvert who suddenly found a new way of communicating.
Malinda: I find myself in a whole new world, and now, all of a sudden, I’m out there speaking to people; having to articulate eye-to-eye and phone-to-phone, and it’s pretty scary for me. It’s brand new.
Nick: You mean in terms of your website work?
Malinda: Yes, because I’m usually a very behind-the-scenes person, and now I’m not. I’m shaking in my boots (good) half the time.
Nick: Actually what makes me smile as I’m listening to you talk, is not too long ago, I was in a conversation. We were talking about introvert and extrovert, and I comfortably identify myself as an introvert, but with fairly good social skills. So it’s one of those funny things that even if you come with the social skills or ability to be verbal and interact with folks, it doesn’t really mean that you’re either an extravert or introvert. It’s where you go to recharge; with people or without people. I’m happy and have been very stubborn about being in the studio by myself; all my life. So, I think that’s a real introverted approach to life.
Having realized that I am not only drawn to Nick Joerling’s vibrant and energetic pottery, I also recognized the bonus of speaking with a kindred spirit from life’s pool of introverts.
Nick’s approach to life and solitude in the studio has paid off nicely through the manifestation of a well balanced and kinetic pottery.
I initially thought that Nick had once danced professionally, but when I asked about this past experience, he set the record straight by explaining how dance influences his life; how bodily movement is infused into his pots.
Nick: I think when I’m talking about the kind of pots that I’m making and referring to a dance influence, really the influence that I’m talking about is simply me liking to go to dance performances, and knowing a long time ago that somehow — because I found going to dance performances inspirational, I knew that there was some connection between the way I was feeling and responding during a dance performance… that feeling and response somehow show up in the studio.
Nick: When I say that going to dance performances is inspiring, what I mean by the word inspiration is…well, like when you see or hear something, if it’s inspirational, the way it shows up for me is, whatever it is — whether it’s dance performance, music or other pots. By inspiration, I mean that I see something like a dance performance and it makes me want to go to the studio.
Malinda: I understand that feeling. I’m not a potter, but I understand it as a poet.
Nick: We could probably talk a lot about poetry and pottery. I teach workshops around the country and there’s a really nice group of essays by a poet named Mary Oliver, and sometimes, I’ve taken essays from her and handed them out at the workshops. She’s simply talking about writing poetry, but I’ve asked people to substitute the words, “potter,” for “poet,” and “pottery,” for “poem,” and then read the essay. I feel like you find lots of commonalities between the two.
Malinda: Absolutely. That’s fascinating.
Nick: If you want, I’ll track down at least one of the essays that I’m talking about and send it off to you.
Malinda: I’d love it. (As promised, Nick did indeed send me a copy of one of Mary Oliver’s essays and I did read it, as he suggests, for his workshops.)
Your work is so energetic. That’s one of the things that I am incredibly attracted to. It’s just snappy.
Nick: Yes, and again, when I think back or try to figure out why that is, when I speculate about it myself, I think a couple things happen. One is the sort of thing about dance, but really, in some ways I guess, that’s certainly in there in terms of gesture and movement. In some ways, I feel what it has to do with is may even be underlying to the dance. I feel like my cues come from people’s bodies. I think that the most likely place for sources or inspiration to happen for a potter is from pots: circle pots, contemporary pots, magazines or whatnot.
If anything makes my pots a little bit different from other people’s, I think it’s just because my cues are coming from a different place. One of the things I mean by that is that if I’m in the studio working and making things, and especially if I’m trying out some new work, I make something, and I like it. Then, when I take the time to wonder what it is about it I like, and after I trace it back, it seems as if most often it’s because in some way; either tangentially or more explicitly, it has something to do with a human body.
Malinda: That’s pretty evident too, because a lot of it you can really see. I see a bent knee or a positioning of a foot or arm. The teapots, they just absolutely dance.
Nick: Because of all those parts, that teapot form is really one of the most obvious forms to animate, whether you do it like I do– which is to make the references more direct. It’s almost hard not to see every other teapot, and I think there’s some kind of cartoon or animation in there.
Nick: As soon as you take a part, and if you decide to exaggerate that part, that brings in other references. Like I said, it sort of makes the pot animated. The other thing, too, when we’re talking about what you said about how the pots I make are inclined to have movement in them, pots sort of come that way. There is a long history of referring to pots as shoulders, lips, feet and all those body references. They’ve been in there since we [humans] first started talking about pots.
Malinda: In what way?
Nick: Just in terms of language. We would be looking at a pot and we would refer to the bottom of the pot as the foot. We refer to some midsection as the belly and a higher section as shoulders. All that language in terms of how we talk about pots has human references in the language.
Malinda: That’s true.
Nick: It’s almost like pots come with the reference to humans, even from when people first, long ago, started talking about pots.
Malinda: It’s almost like they’re saying, “Make me live.”
Malinda: I’ve always been mesmerized when watching someone make pottery… at the wheel or any of the other steps. It seems, to me, that it would be your soul right there in front of you. How do you feel? What goes through your mind, or does it just go through your heart?
Nick: You mean simply being in the studio?
Malinda: Simply being in the studio and especially during those times in which everything is coming together and it’s just the way it ought to be.
Nick: We could probably get sort of flowery with adjectives, I guess.
Malinda: Go ahead. I love them!
Nick: I think at the bottom of it is a question of whether what you’re doing, in terms of your work life, is a good fit for you. The thing I think about; in terms of being in the studio, is that I’m there for the pleasure of the activity, and maybe the reference would be, it’s one of those things that you’re doing that is self-rewarding.
Every Saturday for six weeks…Jane Peiser hosted a dinner and then passed out a questionnaire. Maybe we got those ahead of time, anyway, her project was to do a paper on craftspeople and retirement. It was a different group of ten people, every Saturday, for six weeks. She passed out a questionnaire, and then after dinner, she put a mic out in the middle of the table, and whoever was there for dinner; we just talked amongst ourselves. One of the things I remember that was great, and I think this was true for all of the dinners, was that all ten of us…we didn’t have anything we wanted to retire from.
Malinda: Wow. How nice.
Nick: It was a good thing to share with one another. As a matter of fact, I remember the conversation mostly had to do with concern that we stay healthy so we could get to do it as long as possible. The other thing, and this sort of comes back to the other part of it, depending on which day you asked, even though I didn’t have anything that I wanted to retire from, there was something in my older age about trying to put in place things that took the pressure off of making a living.
Nick: So it is that thing about the nuisance of making a living.
Malinda: Doesn’t that just get pesky?
Nick: It does. It can be such an annoyance. So it is that part, too. I’m referring back to this, and this might have happened 20 years ago, and I’m very grateful that that dinner happened because it sort of made me think, “I need to think about taking the pressure off of making a living, if I can swing that.”
Malinda: Shouldn’t we all? And what might be some of the practical aspects of taking the pressure off of making a living?
Nick: Yes. When I was referring to that, I think I was talking about Jane Peiser and her doing a thing about crafts people’s retirement. Really, that part was beneficial for me to start thinking about at a later age taking the pressure off of making a living… that at a younger age, I might have otherwise started trying to save money and make investments, and make that a priority. I had to sacrifice some other things in the present so that at a later time in my life I would have either raw land that I could sell, or a rental house that I could rent. That was what I meant in terms of taking the pressure off of making a living.
In some ways, I feel like maybe we could keep the conversation going in terms of changing it just slightly because one of the things I think that is sort of along the same lines is if we change it from taking the pressure off of making a living to taking the pressure off of the income coming from the studio…that changes it a little bit. It still means that you have to make a living. It just means that your living might not just come from the studio.
Then we were sort of back to things, like I said, I have a rental house. It’s nice that once that place got paid off, the income didn’t depend on my hands in terms of being in the studio and having a living come solely from my hands. Also, I always had great respect and thought it was a perfectly sensible approach to be in the studio part time and doing something else that also brings in an income, and [for others] that could be anything from waitressing to graphic design, or all the other things one might do for income.
I always feel like that’s smart. In the same way, I never think that being in the studio full-time, making a living, is the loftiest aspiration. It never felt like there was any hierarchy involved to me, meaning that if you want to do clay 10%, 40% or 100%, it’s not a hierarchy, it’s just however you want to play it out.
Malinda: I like that philosophical approach. Practical as well as philosophical.
Nick: I just never felt, in terms of an abstract goal, being in the studio full- time was the loftiest aspiration. For a lot of people, they don’t want to be doing it that much of the time.
Malinda: Yes. I find myself in a position right now in which I would like to leave the job I’m in. I don’t hate it. I just do it, and I’m thinking, I’m 52 years old and I had it in my head that it’s too late to start over. Now I find myself starting over and so obviously it’s not too late. I keep asking myself questions about how to fully encompass a new direction, which in this case, focuses on studio pottery and my release to an attachment to an obsolete comfort-zone.
Nick: Those aren’t easy things to find out. As a little aside, that’s one of the reasons I think craft schools are valuable, and not just if you go for two weeks and learn new techniques. One of the great things is at a craft school; you get thrown in with a lot of people who are doing, in our case, clay in a lot of different fashions.
Some of those people are doing it, maybe, full-time, and some of them are trying to figure out, as you indicate you might be, how to do it full-time. As I said, you get to have those really valuable conversations and find out, first of all, how other people are doing it, but second of all, that you’re not alone in trying to make it happen.
Malinda: That’s a big one sometimes. We’re not alone in this.
Nick: Also, I do think it’s one of those cases where I think it shows how susceptible we all are to wanting either what we don’t have, or wanting something other than what we do have. I think again, there are a lot of folks that I’ve come across over the years who thought that they wanted to be in the studio full-time, but once they were there, the sacrifices were more than they wanted. And maybe what they also found out is that to be in the studio full-time was more time in the studio than they wanted. Sometimes you just don’t know.
Malinda: You do have to find your balance in there…it’s about looking at work through a different lens.
Nick: As I mentioned, I do workshops, but there have been a couple times where I like to say I masqueraded as a college teacher. Both of those times were at Penn State [fall semester, 1997 and 2004] and it was a really great experience, but I could tell from those experiences and from doing workshops; in those relentlessly peopled environments, that I get worn out. I could just be in the studio all day long by myself and not think to myself, “Where is everybody?” In some ways, it’s planning it out so that it’s almost like a personality trait rather than a talent or skill.
Malinda: That’s a good perspective.
Nick: I think it’s funny. One of the things I think is valuable about doing workshops is the questions that come up. It sort of makes you think about what we’re all up to.
Malinda: Nick, A few minutes ago, you had mentioned the unexpected happening in the studio. Have you ever had one of those times where at first the unexpected seemed like a big mistake, but it turned out to be the best mistake you’ve ever made?
Nick: Yes. Does that show up in poetry, too?
Malinda: Oh, all over the place. I have taken roads and gone so far off the track on things that I’ve thought, “Wow! I’m happy for that train wreck.”
Nick: I remember an essay that I read. I don’t think it was specific about writing poetry. I think it was just about writing. So this was somebody writing about writing. I think the point of that essay was to, as a young writer, not confuse what triggers the poem with what the poem might be about as you’re writing it. In other words, what triggers the poem might be one thing, but what the poem turns into, might be something very different.
Malinda: I know exactly how that goes. I’ve experienced it many times.
Nick: It’s one of the nice things. In that case, it’s one of the analogies that is not specific to writing. It’s just specific to the creative process, whether your hands are in clay or you’re holding a pen.
Malinda: What would you say might have been one of your most successful experiences with that? Can you pinpoint anything?
Nick: That’s a good question. I feel like I could name a lot of examples, and some of it has to do with different processes. There have been maybe three or four times where all of a sudden, I found myself working in a slightly different way with a technique. For example, one technique is to trap air inside of whatever clay thing you make on the wheel or table, and then shape it. Because you trap air inside, the air helps the item hold its shape. I remember doing that once and being completely surprised by what happened.
Malinda: Do you ever feel that the result of a pot is dictated by itself, like it’s a pot just waiting to happen and you’re a conduit?
Nick: I don’t know whether I say that so strictly, but certainly, I’m very open to the understanding that we act and make things happen, or initiate the conversation and the clay comes back and has something to say. Certainly along the lines of the things that we’re talking about, being surprised by things along the way, that’s an occurrence that I certainly recognize.
I do have sort of a half feeling that I was both an initiator and a receiver. One of the things that I like – years ago – was reading somebody’s definition of a handshake. The definition was a nice definition in which they talked about giving and receiving at the same time. I liked that. It’s a nice way to think about a handshake, but it also made me think it’s a great way to think about working in clay, too. You are coming at the clay and the clay also has something to say.
Malinda: I understand what you mean. In fact, in certain situations in my own life, I’ve used the same analogy of giving and receiving at the same time, sort of like in every relationship had, whether it’s a good one or a bad one. Either way, you’re both teacher and student.
Nick: Yes, that’s a great thing if we can only keep that in mind.
Malinda: It’s not always easy, is it? Sometimes, I have to remind myself that I am teaching. It’s not difficult if there’s not a conflict, but if there’s a conflict, I sometimes have to remind myself that I have a role and a responsibility to create something more than I tear down.
Nick: Yes, absolutely. Also, in regards to the studio and this general topic, I remember I used to work at Haystack, and I remember watching a fellow, working in iron, demonstrate. I have to go back and remember what that fellow’s name was, but one of the nice things about being at Haystack was you got to see so many good teachers. I had a chance to watch them and I tried to take advantage of that.
The thing that just popped in my head was… I remember… the class got into a conversation about copying and stealing ideas, doing things like that. This fellow sort of paused and said he felt it was a much more interesting conversation about how you steal ideas from yourself, which is again one of the nice little phrases in which he was talking about a kind of peripheral vision where something kind of catches you out of the corner of your eye. You take that which didn’t directly happen from focusing on work. It happened from sort of the outskirts.
Malinda: Possibly a sense of letting go? Just letting it happen?
Nick: Yes, that’s always a nice one.
Malinda: Nick, I’ve had so many things that are of interest to discuss with you and I made some general notes. I started out thinking, “Let me make this tight,” and then I realized that that may not work. As it is, I’m just enjoying our conversations and the natural progression they’re taking, so before it slips my mind, I want to address a specific aspect of the decoration on your pottery. I’ve noticed that in your work a red dot appears and is very nicely placed. Is there significance to that? It looks good. Is the significance strictly visual or beyond that?
Nick: Yes. I’m smiling as you mentioned that because one of the things I’ve said before is that I love it when someone comes up to me at a workshop and says the reason they’re taking the workshop is they want to find out about that little red dot.
Malinda: Are you serious?
Nick: It’s happened twice. In both cases, I’ve told them how it was done. I loved watching the conflict in their expression, which was very pleased at how easy it is but irritated about how much money they had spent to find out how easy it is. There is a sort of nice back and forth that happens in that moment. Of course all I’m doing with the dot is; I’ve got wax resist on the brush. I hold the brush where I want the drip to happen and I just drop a single drop of wax onto the pot.
A lot of folks were assuming that because it has a real definite circle in most cases, they’re thinking I’m doing it with a little cut out sponge or something like that, which I’m not. Of course, it has something to do with the drip happening over a chino glaze that is very thin. Because of the nature of the chino glaze, that drip holds itself real definitely, and because of the glaze that then goes around that wax resist dot, because that glaze doesn’t melt into the chino glaze, it remains distinct.
That’s the how of it and the why of it form, and really only has to do with trying to get some color happening on the pot; that dot just gives some color combination without having to introduce a lot of volume of color. So there’s that. It’s just trying to get more than just a monochromatic color. Also, the dot has something to do with a kind of lively mark on a lively pot. If the pot already is animated, that dot sort of bumps up the animation a little bit.
Nick: I feel like some of the things I’m trying to do with brush decoration is…indicate motion or movement, they [illustrators] put those movement lines outside of a character who is running…they just do those quick lines to indicate movement, you know, cartoons in the funny papers? I’m trying to do something like that in [throwing] some of the pots, except that I don’t get to do it outside the pot. In some ways, the notion is the same. I’m trying to put some marks on the surface that zip up an already animated form. Like I said, I don’t have the ability like one would on a drawing; to put it outside of what I’m trying to bump up.
Malinda: It works.
Nick: Well, it works pretty well.
Malinda: It really does. When you started it, how did you come to do it…do you remember? Was it an accident that it became, or did you just sense it?
Nick: It was me trying to figure it out. It wasn’t one of those happy accidents. Plus, I’m someone who just enjoys using a brush. So when you have the pleasure of using a brush and you’re surface decorating, you’re trying to get those brush strokes to interact with form, it leads you to sometimes feeling like an actual brushstroke is the best thing there.
Then there are other times when what I want is to not have the brushstroke compete with the form, but still want something to happen on the form. In those cases, the dot seems to be a good halfway point or solution to that. Isn’t it amazing how we could have an hour-long conversation about a dot?
Malinda: It is!
Nick: Actually, it just made me think. One of my favorite artists is the painter, Paul Klee. He has a quote that I always loved in which he said, “A line is a dot that went for a walk.” It’s a nice playful way to think about brush decorating, drawing or any of those things.
Malinda: That’s a great quote.
Nick: There’s something playful and meaningful in it, too.
As our conversation transitioned into viewing the work of other established potters, Nick expressed how happy he is that the field of pottery continues to be passed into the hands of talented young potters. He also mentioned having been in a recent discussion on a similar topic with other potters; that the field of pottery remains viable, yet there is also a sense of “gulp” when considering the vastness of excellence in the field. As a fan of Nick’s work, I was curious to understand why “gulp” would even cross his mind.
Malinda: Why was that? [Why “gulp”]
Nick: It was an interesting thing that we hadn’t figured out. Some other people said the same thing. I don’t know whether it had to do with that feeling had when you have to deal with an abundance of work out there and it makes you feel a little bit less like working, or whether there was a kind of ego discouragement. I’m not sure what it is. I didn’t stop to really figure it out thoroughly. I just could tell what my reaction was.
It’s the same thing I said today to someone who popped into the studio. One of the things that is also true for us, I think, is if you have a lot of your own work in your studio, in other words, your shelves and display area are full, I think there is a phenomenon of being less inclined to be working. If you’ve got a lot of empty shelves, it makes you want to make pots, and it doesn’t have to do with making a living. It just has to do with if there are a lot of numbers around; the impulse to add to it is less.
Malinda: Maybe it’s a sense of feeling like your work is done?
Nick: There’s something about an abundance that makes you less inclined to add to it.
Malinda: That’s something interesting to ponder. It really is.
Nick: I don’t have a word for it, and if you don’t mind, I’ll keep wandering around the topic because again…this came up recently. I was talking to Jean [McLaughlin], who is the director up at Penland. We were talking about grass schools. One of the things that came up was me referring to a conversation that comes up periodically in workshops. Someone will say something about: How do you deal with the facts that aren’t there enough pots in the world?
I think it comes from people who are sensitive to the environment. Why add more things out there? It’s a great question to carry around. In some ways, how you answer it is less important than just carrying the question. It was always one of those questions that I was never quite sure how to answer. Then once, when we were talking about that at the workshop, one of the things I found myself doing was instead of treating it as a quantity—aren’t there enough pots in the world? — I found myself speaking not to the quantities, but to the qualities.
So, instead of thinking “Aren’t there enough pots in the word,” I thought, “Do we think there is enough creativity in the world? Do we think there’s enough care in the world? Do we think there’s enough beauty in the world?” I started thinking about qualities and not simply about the numbers of pots. If the answer to the question is, “No, we need more beauty, imagination and things like that,” then there is room for more pots. The responsibility, in that case, is to make sure that those qualities get into the things that we make.
Malinda: That’s perfect. Those things will never exhaust themselves.
Nick: Right and like I said, getting those things into everything we make is not an easy task. It requires a lot of the person who’s doing the making, and I don’t think it has to do with great work. It has to do with thinking to yourself that, no matter how perfect the pot, that you’re attempting to put those things into work. Really, it comes down to you’re trying to be attentive, responsible and conscious.
Malinda: Depending on a person’s metaphysics, you’re infusing your heart, your soul into that, and that comes through. You see that. You can see this with any type of art: music, writing, visual art, something can be technically perfect and still be lacking. You think, “Okay, what’s the problem with this performance? There’s nothing technically wrong and still something is missing.” What you just mentioned, that’s what might be missing?
Nick: It sends me to a moment quite a few years ago, and takes us all the way back to the beginning of our conversation a couple days ago which had to do with dance. One of the things I remember a few years ago was going to see a dance troupe [called Pilobolus]. They’re really spectacular to watch, although in some ways it’s more about balance and a kind of gymnastics than a more formal dance.
They’re great, but I remember as I was watching the performance that they were so technically brilliant, that I actually found myself thinking that how good they were; it was getting in my way of enjoying the dance…marveling at how in the world they were doing that. It had much to do with the way they were dancing with one another, holding one another and balancing one another. The thought I had gotten etched into my head was that we were 45 minutes, or maybe an hour into the performance. It had all been great, yet there was one moment where a male dancer was lifting a female dancer above his head—I don’t remember if it was with one hand or two—but while he was holding her above his head, you could see his arm wavering from the exertion, and for the first time in that whole performance, it just broke my heart because it was so beautiful…for the first time in that performance you saw the struggle and the imperfection, and you weren’t wowed by the amazing skill — you saw a kind of lack of skill, and like I said, that’s the moment that I took away and found heartbreakingly beautiful.
Malinda: As I’m watching you’re description in my mind’s eye, I feel the need to go to a dance performance. It’s been awhile since I’ve attended one. I’m glad you told me that.
Nick and I also discussed some of the thoughts and questions that occupied his mind when he first arrived in Penland as a young potter.
Nick: I’ve always been happy I landed in the Penland area as a young potter. When I got here and was wondering if I could sell a pot, or how to make it happen, everyone around me was giving me galleries to try and clay bodies to try, helping me in every way you could think. It was a great model to have at that point in time; it said, “We’re all in it together. We’re not in competition with each other.”
Malinda: And if you are in competition, you want the competition to succeed.
Nick Joerling, one of American studio pottery’s finest talents, has succeeded as both a potter and as man who personifies the definition of giving and receiving a hand shake.
Thank you, Nick.
– “There are times when I’m leaving the studio, and turning out the lights, and glancing around, and I’m thinking, where did that stuff come from?”
© All Rights Reserved. 2011 Studio Potter Archive Images © Nick Joerling, all rights reserved.
Review By Paul Kowalchuk
For the past 36 years, potters beyond number have come together in Demarest, NJ, to take part in a social event generally recognized as the first of its kind. It is one which other institutions consider when creating a model for their own curatorial “artist inspired” fund-raising showcase. The event, of course, is the annual Old Church Pottery Show exhibit and sale; a tradition initiated by and presided over by fellow potter Karen Karnes, and held at the art school and cultural center founded by Mikhail Zakin.
Ms. Karnes’ vision — to have the exhibit consider the potters, holds steadfast and true. The Old School’s administrative staff, led by Maria Danziger and some 90 volunteers, came together to produce an event that allows potters the necessary freedom to engage with what Ms. Karnes warmly refers to as the “clay-loving public.”
Well that’s who we are here at Studio Potter Archive, and yes, we took every advantage of our opportunity to visit the potters, both returning and new — the latter being inductees into a long list of well-recognized potters whose work has passed through the gallery at Old Church.
In addition to recognizing new talent this year, it also appears that the roster unofficially celebrates a “husband and wife” relationship in clay; six artists working in parallel, and in one instance, one couple working as “one”.
Naomi Dalglish and Michael Hunt of Bakersville, North Carolina are this “one” couple. Their work is made in collaboration, and pays homage to the traditions of Korean ceramics. Notwithstanding, Dalglish and Hunt use a Korean kick wheel and paddles, and fire their work in a Thai-shaped wood kiln. The work is impressive, highly organic in its base element, and as stated in Ms. Zakin’s Sunday morning talk focusing on all potters in the exhibit, their work is “quiet” in its presence.
In contrast to a collaborative effort, the carved porcelain of Matthew Metz of Alfred Station, NY, releases a proverbial light, as if it were a piece of 19th century French cameo glass. The precision of Matthew’s wife, Linda Sikora, is masterful: Her thin-walled teapots are deftly turned and outfitted with lids that seem mechanically engineered they fit so flawlessly. Her attentiveness to structuring the placement of glazes on her forms is akin to the exclamation mark at the end of a sentence.
Aysha Peltz, of Whitingham, Vermont, can alter a wheel-thrown porcelain form so that it looks as though a gentle puff of wind had determined its shape, and this has not only created a sensual “line” about the form, but calms the viewer’s senses as well. Aysha’s husband, Todd Wahlstrom, does work that is robust in both its texture (tall ribbed vases) and in its generous proportions (his bowls, for instance). Their work is very complementary in nature.
In addition to a fine selection of functional plates and bowls made by Shawn Ireland of Bakersville, North Carolina, is an artful display of Ireland’s sculptural work. His figurative candlesticks, vessels, and handled bowls, pull from his travels to Italy and innocently capture nuances found in figurative work created at Italy’s Industria Ceramica Salernitana during the 1930s. Whether intentional or not, it is a sense of playfulness contained in Ireland’s work which matches the Italian folk-art tradition, and one which he successfully mixes with an echo of Korean glaze decoration; the result is right on the mark.
Japanese-born potter Shoko Teruyama now lives in Marshall, N.C., with husband Matt Kelleher, and produces a decidedly fresh take on a traditional style of Japanese-decorated porcelain. Teruyama’s statement on her work is a brief glimpse of her views on life, and offers her perspective of the imagery contained in her work: “Sometimes you feel like the weight of a turtle is standing on top of you, and sometimes you feel like an owl is standing on top of the world.” I, for one, couldn’t agree more. Teruyama’s work envelops its listeners so completely that they begin to script their own stories for the characters she gives them.
In contrast to her richly decorated surfaces is the quietly approaching storm of Matt Kelleher’s creations — unassuming, yet oddly potent. The longer you look at them, the more potent they appear. Collapsed handles; standing tall on some vessels, still retain their function, regardless of the evaporation of negative space.
Karen Karnes brought vessels which were from the latter part of her career. A fine sampling of covered jars lined one edge of the display, while abstract assemblages consisting of collapsed pots (seemingly deflated from their original form) were displayed about. Most impressive were several slender salt-glazed forms that were huddled in one corner. The smallest of the bunch seemed so innocent standing among the taller and more mature forms while all appeared to be growing towards the sun.
David Shirey, the Ceramics Studio Manager at Old Church explained, “You wouldn’t even know there’s a school here” when describing the team effort involved in transforming the building from school to gallery for the three-day event. And right he is. The show begins in the school’s metals room where wearable sculpture is crafted during the remaining portion of the year. It is here that guests and patrons are first greeted by the sculptural forms of Dan Harris of Norman, Oklahoma. As he’s a one-time baker, it seems reasonable to say those 33 years after turning to pottery, Mr. Harris has developed a trademark recipe that garners his blue-ribbon appeal. If there is one potter in this show whose work pushes the boundaries of what a teapot is meant to be or represent, that potter is probably Dan Harris.
Further along, we find the work of Autumn Cipala of Rockport, Maine, whose platform saucer and cup are precise in their ability to capture an equal balance of form to function. I’m reminded of the accomplishments held in Eva Zeisel’s early work, yet Cipala’s full porcelain series (a departure from her recent work in stoneware) recalls traditional Chinese rice-porcelain wares of the 17th century. Cipala’s porcelain series should catch the attention of any collector who leans towards minimalism, as her work is strikingly refined, but it helps to notice that there is nothing minimalist in her approach — the gems of the series are her technically challenging rice-porcelain bowls.
In the work of Victoria Christen of Portland, Oregon, there’s an undeniable sense of home; that easy-chair feeling, or the relaxation only to be had on a Sunday morning. Her work is contained, yet atmospheric; boldly present, yet subtle and soothing. As put forth by Christen, the work exudes her mother’s seamstress background and her father’s work as a machinist. What is “sewn” here is a functional ware that’s just as soothing as one’s favorite comfort food.
Time and patience are what’s required by the process Robbie Lobell of Coupeville, Washington, uses to prepare her clay to withstand the effects of an open flame. The core of her exhibit is strictly utilitarian — bakers, casseroles, and range-top pots. She is the only such potter at Old Church whose work falls so tightly into the definition of ‘functional’, and for the second time in this show, form and function are in perfect harmony. Zakin herself offers high praise for this accomplishment: “They are sculptural, they’re satisfying to look at, they’re satisfying to hold, and they feed you empty, as well as full.”
By now a cornerstone to the Old Church experience, Phillips, Maine, native Rob Sieminski has been participating for many years, and as Zakin states, was an artist who did not sell his work for the first two. “We really decided that we would commit ourselves to having him every year until people began to process what he was doing,” said Zakin. The rest is good history. Our archive acquired Sieminski’s work in 2001, a period of time when his work incorporated firing cones and nails into profusely textured surfaces. Although these elements are absent from this exhibition, the work, as Zakin points out, “turns the viewer into an archaeologist.” Suffice it to say, Sieminski’s work seldom if ever disappoints.
The exhibit of Worthington, Massachusetts’s Mark Shapiro consisted of a varied range of designs in porcelain and stoneware that is in line with the quality of the work he’s produced in the past. Especially memorable, are the decorated surfaces on his stoneware mugs and porcelain tea bowls. The quintessential Shapiro is right there to be seen in his small bottle forms with applied handles.
Hailing from Demarest, Taesik Song shares a commonality with Ms. Zakin that originates with her experiences while visiting Korea during the early 1980s. Song himself has adopted an American approach to salt-glazed stoneware that’s built on a foundation of Korean tradition. His copper-reduction reds contrast with their green complement and his sculptural forms — the cutting of the clay body — exhibits his love for sculpture.
If there’s any grouping of work that could simply put its foot down, shrug a shoulder, then walk across the room, it has to be the work of Nick Joerling. This long-time Penland, North Carolina potter has been working in clay since the early 1970s and it shows. Joerling’s ability to imply movement in his work makes it immediately recognizable– wherever it may be found; glaze applications energize the work even further! Poetically put, Joerling’s work never seems to sit still.
“In the whole world I’ve never seen anything like this” is the statement Zakin uses to describe the work of Lebanon, Maine’s Sarah Heimann. Zakin’s comment was preceded by the idea that absolute originality is so difficult to find as a potter, and here, Heimann has landed on the mark; artistically and technically. It’s no wonder her exhibit was mainly sold out.
The single potter not in attendance at this year’s annual was Amherst, Massachusetts’s Angela Fina, but you’d never guess this by the support fellow potters had for seeing that her work gets the attention it deserves. Fina is, hands down, a master potter whose glazes are considered a ‘significant’ contribution to the field. Her recent work; specific to ikebana, is classic Fina. During her talk, Zakin mentions the persona behind the clay when she says Fina is “always very connected to people’s response to her work”. It’s an apt statement, as we, too, have Fina’s work in our archive collection.
“Engaging with the simplicity of the forms and the freedoms of the surface decoration” is Zakin’s way of describing the work of Sam Taylor of Westhampton, Massachusetts. Especially poignant are his large-scale works — minimally decorated with a single branch and leaves, the neighboring undecorated space lends itself in becoming a vast landscape of openness.
“Unlike anyone I’ve known, he’s mastered the art of wood firing to such a degree that he banks the fire and goes to sleep each night, for three nights!” Zakin is of course, talking about Robert Compton of Bristol, Vermont. His salt-glaze fired wares are traditional in approach, yet one cobalt-blue jug seems to break from tradition; it embodies a modernist appeal with a boldly sweeping handle and gently sloped walls. A classic touch to the display is tea bowls that are perfectly proportioned to fit in the cup of two hands.
It took only one glance at Alison Palmer’s exhibit to realize that this potter from South Kent, Connecticut, loves animals. Her vessels are adorned with barnyard animals, not to mention large-scale sculptures of rams, cats, and one large pig that would outsize any lap dog. The wood-fired work aptly captures the earthiness of the folk-art aesthetic that now comes from her studio, and is a complete departure from Palmer’s brightly glazed post-modern-style commercial line.
From Arlington, Virginia, Stacy Snyder’s architectural forms are reiterated with classical architectural imagery, a result of transfer prints which are applied in varying degrees. This work, and her naturalistic forms (vases with transfers of plant life) are still tied to the act of “constructing” by the application of linear glaze applications, allowing for a contrast between lines found in nature, and lines created by man.
The work of Lincoln, Nebraska’s Susan Dewsnap pays attention to form, but it’s the painted artistry which offers a striking balance between positive and negative space. Slightly off-center positioning of the decoration on her plates is successful in making the viewer consider the form itself, yet on the other hand, the form, especially on her covered jars, takes center stage; the decoration becomes secondary. I wasn’t expecting this kind of dynamism, but the inverse relationship between form and decoration (throughout her overall display) was quite refreshing.
Without reserve, Jack Troy’s reputation as an educator and potter precedes him. As an author, he’s added valuable insight to the processes that potters face in salt-glaze firings and wood-fired stoneware and porcelain. And although Malcolm Davis is not exhibiting at Old Church this year, he was in attendance, and proudly informed all that Troy was his first teacher in 1974. The feelings for this potter from Huntington, P.A., and his work, seem to be universal; both are well-liked. Regarding the work, it is Mr. Troy’s sculpture that spikes my immediate interest. Zakin suggested that the scale of these could easily be maquettes for commissions on a grander scale, and right she is. Whether large or small, the forms are potent and succinct in communicating a message to the viewer. I can’t help but see the sculpture illustrated here as being a softly spoken whisper into a listening ear.
Jack Troy’s work was the perfect end to a lecture presented by a woman who takes education very seriously. On this note, I wish to thank Mikhail Zakin for allowing Studio Potter Archive to cover this year’s event. On behalf of our editor, Malinda Bender, and me, we couldn’t have felt more welcomed by the crew at Old Church, and from those who are the cause of such celebration, the potters themselves.
© All Rights Reserved. 2010 Studio Potter Archive
Thanks to Shawn Ireland and Autumn Cipala for supplying images of their work.
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