In May 2019, I attended the “Big Pot Workshop & Pig Roast” at Judson Pottery in northern Colorado. Master potter Dan Toberer demonstrated his construction of large clay amphora which he sells to craft breweries. Tim Barry, a partner with Dan in Omaha, NE’s “Hot Shops Art Center” lead a discussion ranging from technical topics on ceramic production to large-scale public art commissions.
The workshop location was the Judson Pottery, set on the Phantom Canyon Ranch in northern Colorado. Judson Pottery was a regional ceramics production facility established 50 years ago and is still used today by the owners for small-scale pottery production. Phantom Canyon Ranch once covered over 140 square miles spanning from the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park on its southern border to close to the Wyoming border on its northern edge.
The setting was extraordinary. The workshop itself was in the old barn. Workshop attendees could wander around the site, inspecting several large kilns. The workshop was interesting. I met great people, including nearby ranchers who came by after the workshop to enjoy the pig roast. Interestingly, several ranchers I met there had lived & worked in Central America, including one man who lived in the same Costa Rican town I lived in during my Peace Corps days. Small world. Dan brought some home-made beer to share with workshop participants. During these Coronavirus safer-at-home days, I think back fondly to that well-spent day in Colorado: cold beer, roasted pig, great conversation, and a workshop.
The Kumortuli district of Kolkata (previously known as Calcutta), India, is famous for manufacturing clay gods and goddesses for Indian festivals. The district is large and houses multiple workshops where clay figures, decorative motifs, and platforms to transport finished clay idols. Villagers in towns throughout the region carry these painted gods and goddesses through the streets on their shoulders during festival days of the year, depositing the clay figures back in the Hooghly River at the end of their procession, where the clay figures and ornamentation dissolve back into river silt.
I spent a day wandering through the alleyways and workshops several years ago. The level of craftsmanship first catches your attention. Large numbers of workers dredge up grey clay from the Hooghly River and sell it to workshops specializing in decorative motifs (see image below left) to figurative works (below right).
Another impressive aspect of Kumortuli is the expanse of manufacturing piecework. This district sprawls. Beautiful medieval-like workshops scatter the side roads and alleyways. Wander into any one at will, the workshops are open and welcoming to curious strangers. This is assembly-line construction, presumably on a commission basis. Workshops specialize in very specific elements (platform construction, decoration, figure construction, figure painting, assembly, etc) required for the overall finished piece.
On June 4, 2020, I launch this blog site. We’re in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Protests have broken out across the country in response to the brutal, senseless killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week. Unemployment is at a high in my lifetime. There is pain spread across this land.
I dedicate this blog to exploring topics in ceramics, both contemporary and historical. Not because this effort will eliminate or even minimize the pain spread across this land, but because it’s a small effort to celebrate beauty, creativity, inventiveness and craftsmanship – qualities that add to our human experience.