Audrey An – Artist Profile

JW: Audrey, what initially attracted you to ceramics? And can you tell me more about the repeating of simple elements in your pieces?

AA: I may consider these two questions in the same context. I initially thought of pursuing graphic design in high school, which stayed the same until I was off to college at Alfred University. I would not have studied ceramics unless I had the opportunity to naturally immerse myself in the ceramics community at Alfred University.

When I began to figure out classes for my junior year, I was drawn to the description of the Ceramic Tile class taught by Jason Green. And that class ultimately attracted me to the ceramic world.

The course explored different methods of generating ceramic tiles, modules, and units to create wall sculptures. I enjoyed designing patterns that travel between 2D and 3D.

I learned how to use a 3D modeling program called Rhinoceros 3D to create initial designs of forms and patterns. Later, prototypes were modeled with plasticine, plaster, or wood in accordance with the best advantages of individual materials. This way of working iterative shared a similar visual language that I learned from graphic design. My sketches existed in a flat piece of paper or screen, and then the ideas became physical in clay. I was also attracted to the process of creating modules and their assemblage. Repetitive processes of slip-casting and press-molding offer meditative properties and dimensionality to the final product. I enjoy the large-scale dimensionality that can be achieved from this process, which refers back to my interest in building blocks and in creating wall spaces full of 3D units.

Working back and forth between 2D and 3D offered a middle ground where I can enjoy taking the best and most advantage of both directions. This class shaped a lot of my style, i.e., how I navigate visual languages in my current works.

JW: I see you’ve studied ceramics at 3 places. How are the programs different? If you were looking to start all over again, what would you look for in a ceramics program?

AA: Yes, so I spent four years as a BFA student at Alfred University and two years as a post-baccalaureate student at Colorado State University, and I am currently at Penn State University as a second-year MFA student.

I did not have prior experience with clay until I was at Alfred University. Being at a school with a rich history in ceramics education, dedicated faculties, an extensive range of kilns, and scholarship resources, I built my foundation in ceramics fast. Even though Alfred is located in the middle of nowhere in upstate New York, the art school hosted many shows, visiting artist lectures and events that educated me outside of classrooms. Ceramics professors and graduate students have their studios on the same floor as undergraduate students, and so I learned a lot from just casually stopping by their offices to talk to them. I am grateful for all the mentorship I received there.

I applied to Colorado State University to specifically study with Del Harrow and Sanam Emami. CSU is special in that since there is no MFA program in Ceramics, post-baccalaureate students hold responsibilities of graduate students. So I got the opportunity to be Del and Sanam’s teaching assistant and help maintain the studio. This experience made me more attentive to how ceramic studios and classes are run. I understood a lot from learning through seeing. I learned a variety of digital fabrication methodologies from Del during my two years there. CSU has exceptional digital fabrication facilities that assisted my learning. Del and Woodshop Supervisor and Fabrications Coordinator, Scott Kreider, gratefully allowed me to use the facility to experiment freely and I think that greatly helped me understand what is what.

From that point on, I tried to search for MFA programs based on what I understood and wanted. I made a list of what I wanted and went with my gut at the end. My list included a large number of faculties, faculty members who similarly engage in my research interest, facilities that would assist my projects, a personal private studio, and a generous amount of funding.

Penn State offered all of those for me and I am satisfied with my decision. The School of Visual Arts has a great partnership with the School of Architecture, which is right next to one another, so I have been able to work with Architecture professors here as well. I would add to the wish list one more, how flexible it is to work in another area of interest.

As I benefited from the interactions with many faculty members at Alfred, I am enjoying the effective mentorship of the Penn State professors – Chris Staley, Shannon Goff, Tom Lauerman, Kris Grey, Brad Klem and Andrew Castaneda. I followed the works of Tom Lauerman, who specializes in clay 3D printing and other ways of applying digital fabrication technologies into his works, I am benefiting a lot from continuing to study with someone who can offer insights and knowledge here in Penn State.

JW: Following university, you received a fellowship to fund some research. You traveled to Korea and China. Can you tell me more about those experiences? How have those experiences informed your life and your art?

AA: I received the Windgate-Lamar Fellowship from Center for Craft to fund my two-year post-baccalaureate studies at Colorado State University and travel around Icheon, South Korea, and Jingdezhen, China.

The funding offered moments for me to connect back to my heritage. Though having a BFA degree in ceramics from Alfred University, much to my shame, I did not have deeper knowledge about Korean ceramics and the contemporary ceramic art scene in Korea. The Fellowship fund allowed me to experience both traditional and contemporary ceramics in Icheon and Yeoju, Korea and to have a good opportunity to deepen my link to Korean ceramics.

Tiles, modules, and three-dimensional units allow me to express my conceptual interests with exactness and mass. Slip casting, press molding, and hand-building of tiles or units, all require craftsmanship and advanced skills. A research trip to the Porcelain mecca, Jingdezhen, China undoubtedly enhanced my multi-cultural understanding of porcelain tradition while connecting with artists through direct interactions. Such first-hand experience allowed me to be more acutely aware of the 1700 years of history that continues in today’s Chinese porcelain tile productions. Knowing that porcelain created in Jingdezhen are especially grand in scale, I tried to investigate and learn the traditional processes of achieving large scale. I hope I can utilize this cultural and artistic research experience to innovate new ways to approach large-scale installations.

JW: Your work involves the application of technology (specifically, digital fabrication techniques) to ceramic creativity. Does that mean applying technology to ceramic production? Or incorporating more of a “tech look” to your pieces? Maybe you could clarify what you’re trying to do with technology and ceramics.

AA: It can be both. I work in a project by project mode where each work is approached differently. For ‘Homes in Sequence’, I digitally sampled topographies of places I noted as homes and created a ceramic version of such data. The accuracy of topographic data was essential for me in this work. For works like ‘Extruded & Multiplied’, some components are coil-built, extruded, and molded. Not much digital fabrication process was involved in this work. But they offer that ‘tech look’ from the way I was sculpting them. (I laser-cut the plexiglass part to slide between my ceramic forms though.)

During my recent conversation with Chris Staley, we discussed how we love clay as a material of mimicry. We talked about possibly creating works that mimic the hand-sculpted look through digital fabrication and vice versa. I hope I can work on that narrative soon.

JW: Where do you look for inspiration?

AA: I look at furniture and architecture designs books for installation ideas, Korean architecture for motifs, and patterns. I have a private Instagram account where I gather images all together like a mood board. I also print these inspirational images out to create a separate collage. Artist wise, I have been looking at works by Francesca DiMattio, Robert Lazzarini, and Ron Nagle. Most of my works are monochromatic, so I am looking for works with vibrant colors to try something new.

JW: Your website includes links to many other artists. How important is a sense of artistic community for you?

AA: Yes, I included links to my close friends’ websites. I did so for whoever visits my website could get to know them too. They are the ones who shaped me outside of academic mentorships. I thought this could be a small gesture to show my gratitude towards them. We share works for feedbacks and support each other for various professional opportunities. My parents currently live in South Korea, and I do not have relatives here in the United States. So I consider this artistic community of which I am a part to be my second family. My clay family here offers me a sense of belonging.

JW: Has the Coronavirus pandemic impacted you and how you create? & Do you have any direction you want to take your work in the future?

AA: When the COVID-19 hit around March, I lost the opportunity to work in my studio at Penn State University. Thankfully, I recently got back into the studio.

During those five months, my good friend, Brad Klem, who received his MFA at Penn State in 2018, invited post-bacc student, Max Henderson, and me to make works at his basement. Recognizing the need for social connection, especially during that time of physical distancing, I am grateful to Brad and his family for having Max and me over. I got to make life-long friends thanks to the COVID-19.

Throughout my first semester at Penn State, I took the best advantage of the digital fabrication lab of CNC-mill and 3D print for my prototypes. Being confined at Brad’s forced me to work back fully just with my bare hands. This experience made me note that integrating digital technology with the analog handling of clay can be a metaphor for my transcultural experience. My work makes transitions between these two creative methods, just like how I navigate between cultures of the United State and South Korea. This trans-processing style of making objects is reminiscent of the transcultural influence on my works. I want to think more about this notion while producing works during this year. I also hope to delve more deeply into how I could use the visual imagery of architecture, landscape, and topography to offer a mixture of organic and mechanized tension in my work.

Penn State University MFA program is a two-year program. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the faculties at Penn State School of Visual Arts recently made a tremendously generous decision to let the 2nd year graduate students have an extra year of research and additional funding. I feel like I got another chance. I am super grateful for their decision and aim to make a new series of works by utilizing the extra opportunity.

Additional information on Audrey’s work:

Website

Instagram

ArtAxis virtual gallery

Medieval 2-Color Tiles

I took inspiration from this 39-page booklet on Medieval Tiles by Hans Van Lemmen to make some test floor tiles. The booklet itself is a good introduction to 12th – 16th century tile production in Europe. It covers 3 styles of Medieval tile (relief tiles, mosaic tiles and two-color tiles) beginning in 13th century England. At $4.79 the book is an absolute steal.

Relief tiles first emerged in England around 1200 AD. The book explains how these tiles were produced (designs impressed into moist clay tiles) and attributes wide variations in quality, durability and style in tiles we still see from this era to primitive kilns and developing production processes. Examples of relief tiles from this period (not from the book) are shown to the right.

Production of mosaic tiles began in the mid- to late-1200s, giving way to 2-color tiles that form the predominant tile tradition of the era. An example of two-color tiles from the floor of Winchester Cathedral in England is shown below.

I tried my hand at making 2-color tiles. It was a lot of work to carve out the wood mold. I initially undercut the wood mold, so clay did not easily slide off the mold. After a few modifications I got it to work – helped along by some baby powder sprinkled on the wood surface prior to pressing clay into the mold. Once I constructed a mold, I was able to punch out several tiles each day. I pressed red clay into the mold for the ground, scrapped excess clay off the back of the tile (while still in the mold), and then popped the leather-hard tile out of the mold. I then slopped some white clay slip into the recessed areas of the red clay to produce the white inlay effect. Hopefully you can make out my process in the photo sequence below.

The finished product before glazing:

A few finished tiles after glazing, showing the shrinkage:

The final tiles are pretty durable and have nice “rustic” qualities in spots where I failed to press the clay completely into the mold (or recessed areas of the red clay). In retrospect, I wished I’d carved a mold design that radiated out from the corner rather than a symmetrical design. That would make a larger 4-tile pattern that radiates out from the point where each of the separate tiles meet.

Just Because

It’s been a long, long 2020 – and we’re not done yet! Coronavirus continues to curse through our country with resulting economic damage. Black men continue to die. Protests roil in some cities. Now gangs of armed guys appear at the perimeter. A polarized electorate awaits the Nov 3rd elections.

It seems like time for something pleasant and beautiful. I bought some flowers for my wife yesterday. I’ll share them with you.

Donte K. Hayes – Artist Profile

JW. Can you give me a brief background and tell me how you came to ceramics?

DH: My journey in working in clay started in 2015 when I enrolled in Professor Jeff Campana’s Ceramics, 1 class as an undergraduate BFA student studying printmaking and drawing at Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia.

I only took the class because one, I needed a three-dimensional class to fulfill my BFA degree in printmaking and two, I had never worked in clay before and I wanted to work in a medium that was new to me. This class changed the trajectory of my life. Jeff’s passion for clay inspired me. The opportunity to work in a medium that records the memory of its maker speaks to me conceptually and formally. Along with my background in printmaking, ceramics pushed my ideas of mark-making and how a line can become a form, and a form can become a texture.

I graduated from undergrad in the spring of 2017 with a BFA in printmaking and ceramics with an Art History minor. I enrolled that following fall as an MFA in ceramics at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa. In May 2020, I graduated with my MFA from the University of Iowa. Currently, I am working as a practicing studio artist primarily working in clay.

Double Consciousness, Ceramic, stoneware (black clay body), 16.5x13x9, 2019
Private collection
Photographed by: Donté K. Hayes

JW: A lot of your work has a consistent dark look to it. Is that from the clay you use or some type of stain or glaze or firing technique?

DH: My current ceramic body of work is a mid-range brown clay stoneware that when fired in oxidation will fire to a charcoal black at cone 1. However, I fire my work to cone five. The clay body consists of a black mason stain and is not glazed. So the work has a matte finish in appearance. I work with this clay because I want the clay medium itself to be content to discuss what it means to be a black man and person of color in places, spaces, and times when being a black person may or may not be welcoming or hospitable. These ceramic objects are vessels, each making symbolic allusions to the black body.

Withstand, Ceramic, 21″x13.5″x7.25″ 2019
Photographed by: Donté K. Hayes

JW: You also employ a lot of texture. Can you tell me more about your process of creating that texture?

DH: Due to the innate memory of clay, I chose the material to illuminate the resonance of touch and repetition. I use a regular ceramic needle tool to mark the surface of the clay, which reminds me of the etching process of marking the surface of a copper plate. I see this process as a three-dimensional print.

With this in mind, I also wanted to create a texture that felt welcoming. For some, it may be a cozy blanket, a shaggy carpet, a furry dog, and or a soft warm sweater. When I think of the essence of welcoming, my mother’s hair always comes to mind. My mom pulls her hair out, and discards it throughout the day, leaving traces of herself wherever she goes. Similar to how forensics finds missing people through hair follicles, I associate the remnants of DNA to my African ancestry, even though I’ve never been to Africa. Formally, the consistency in hair can simulate waves that also mimic the sound and the beats found in hip-hop. Lastly, this texture resembling hair can now imply the surface of coral. This pulls from the history of the middle passage when some enslaved Africans were thrown overboard, and their burial was amongst the coral. The sculpture’s coarseness appears soft and inviting which leads the viewers to desire to touch and question the materiality of the artwork.

JW: How about the shapes you come up with – many are very organic and almost “glob-like”, while others remind me of ceremonial objects (like crowns or drums). Where do you find the inspiration for these shapes?

DH: I find inspiration for my forms through history, sci-fi, hip hop, pop culture, comic books, West African traditional rituals, and architecture. The glob-like or bulbous shapes found in many of my sculptures originate from the robots and drones in sci-fi movies like Star Wars and Star Trek. While also speaking to art history fertility goddesses.

Womb, Ceramic, stoneware (black clay body), 18×13.5×7 2020
Photographed by: Donté K. Hayes

During my research investigating the symbol of the pineapple as an icon for welcoming and hospitality, I discovered how colonial figurative painters created images of enslaved African women with their breasts hanging out while presenting a pineapple with a basket of fruit. These dehumanizing paintings used pineapples and fruits to represent power, wealth, and abundance. I want my work to humanize and elevate the beauty of Black people.

JW: You reference the pineapple “as a symbol that represents welcoming and hospitality” — but also as a tool that sea captains used to announce the arrival of new African slaves to port. Those 2 things seem very, very different. Can you help me understand more about the symbol of the pineapple?

DH: In order to answer this question, we must start from the beginning of how the pineapple became a symbol of welcoming and hospitality. When most people think of pineapples, they think of Hawaii. But why is that? Through branding, the Dole Pineapple Company made Hawaii’s culture synonymous with the pineapple’s symbolization of welcoming and hospitality. However, Hawaii had not heard of pineapples until the early 1900s, and it’s not their culture. Actually, the tradition of the pineapple as a symbol for hospitality is rooted in slavery and agricultural colonization of South America, the Caribbean, and the Southern The United States and particularly, South Carolina and my home state of Georgia. The Pineapple as a symbol of hospitality is now a doorway into vivid explorations in trade in early colonial history. When slave ships came to port, captains would impale pineapples on a fence post, a sign to everyone that they are docked and home for business. For colonial society having a pineapple in your home meant you were wealthy. The pineapple was not eaten by the rich but viewed as a welcoming, elaborate art form to decorate banquet tables and parties. When the pineapple began to spoil the pineapple was brought to the poor, for the poor to eat. A narcissistic gesture by the wealthy to share their abundance with the poor and destitute. However, the cultivation of the pineapple was through the hard work, blood, and tears of enslaved Africans and indigenous people. I want my work to suggest the past, discuss the present, and explore possible futures interconnected to the African Diaspora.

JW: I see you spent some time at the Taller Experimental de Grafica in Havana, Cuba. Can you tell me about that experience and how it has affected your art?

DH: My experience and opportunity to make prints at the Taller Experimental de Grafica in Havanna, Cuba is pivotal to my start in gathering research on the history of the Middle Passage, which was the sea voyage of slave ships from West Africa to the West Indies.

Beacon, Relief, Linoleum, 12″x9″ 2015
Photographed by: Donté K. Hayes

Many of the traditions, religions, and cultures of people from West Africa along with the melding of indigenous people are still present in Cuba. I felt I was home in Cuba and for the first time in my like I felt like I finally belonged to a place and its people. The techniques found in printmaking from scratching, carving and repetition are how I develop my concepts when working in clay.

DH: The process of completing a sculpture begins with me intuitively working with the clay. I usually, listen to hip hop music or I’m listening to a movie that I have previously seen multiple times playing in the background like Star Wars, Star Trek, and Harry Potter. All of my sculptures are never drawn before creating them. My work is based on research. I allow my own personal thoughts and interest to connect with the historical knowledge of the pineapple as a symbol for welcoming.

I use a combination of coil and pinch techniques when building the form of my sculptures. When I begin making any sculpture the form first resembles the robot R2D2, from the science fiction movie Star Wars. Formally the shape of R2D2 looks like the shape of the lower half of the pineapple. From this shape, I then use my hands to manipulate and deconstruct the form. The process of creating the form is when I’m working fast.

Once I am happy with the form, is when I begin to work slowly and deliberately. I use a regular ceramic needle tool to scratch or create marks on the surface of the clay. I let the music or sounds I’m listening to dictate the length and repetition of the markings on the surface of the clay. The ritual in the repetition of marks induces me to a transcendental state. My consciousness moves through time and space, past, present, and future become one when creating my work. These marks become a texture or cover for the work.

Prepare (detail), Ceramic, stoneware (black clay body) 15x18x18, 2020
Photographed by: Donté K. Hayes
Prepare, Ceramic, stoneware (black clay body) 15x18x18, 2020
Photographed by: Donté K. Hayes

The recent work, Prepare is a sculpture that explores the ceremonial procedures in preparing a party. When preparing a party you want your guest to all to feel welcomed and their needs are taken care of. I relate the ritual of preparing a party to how society arranges the conditions for people to live. However, not everyone in society is treated the same. Black people and people of color and those on the margins of society must navigate in a society that may or may not be hospitable to them. This work speaks to providing a place of refuge to those who have not felt welcomed.

JW: The coronavirus pandemic has made life more difficult, especially for artists. How are you pushing through these difficulties to create art and maintain your artistic lifestyle?

DH: The coronavirus pandemic has made me and every artist very aware of not wasting time procrastinating on the business side of art. I am in a transitional time in my life. I just recently finishing my MFA and moved from Iowa. Due to the pandemic, many of the residency opportunities I had lined up were canceled or rescheduled. So I have not been able to make work in clay since March 13th, which was the start of the lockdown imposed at the University of Iowa. I am using this time to photograph and document work, update my website, research possible opportunities, and most importantly resting my body and mind. Fortunately, before the lockdown, I had made a lot of new work in hopes to show this work later in the year and in 2021. So thankfully, I am not seeing any change in the purchasing and interest in my work. I will be moving into a new studio space in late September. So I’m excited to see how the work will evolve in my new environment.

JW: What are your goals for the future?

DH: My goal for the future is to continue pushing my ideas and letting the content decide the direction and medium the work should be. I also look forward to curating exhibitions and mentoring other artists.

More of Donte’s work can be found on his website.

Candice Methe – Artist Profile

Candice is a ceramic artist on her way to a long-term residency at the Archie Bray Center next month.

Her work is outstanding.

She has a great sense of humor.

Her experiences have been amazing.

I’ll let her introduce herself and tell her story.

JW: Can you tell me a little more about your background and what attracted you to ceramics?

CM: I am the queen of odd jobs and when I was living in Summit County, Colorado, in my early twenties, I had a random job assisting a woman named Merry Cox who had a ceramics business. I helped her pack up orders and took deliveries to ski area gift shops. Eventually she had me working on the slab roller, making work from hump and slump molds. There was also another woman named Mary that I helped from time to time. She did majolica and I helped her paint plates. At the time, these were only jobs assisting artists. When I moved in Telluride, CO, I took a beginning wheel throwing class at the Ah Haa School and then began to spend more time making pots and was given a space in exchange for helping out in the studio. I moved over to Durango, CO, and started working at the Durango Clay Center, which was opened by Lorna Meaden. (The doors closed when Lorna decided to go to grad school.) I had a space there in exchange for cleaning the studio and recycling clay.

I’m not exactly sure what initially drew me to the material itself, and I’m still not sure but I know I stuck with ceramics because I was inspired by all the strong women I had encountered in the field. I grew up without a mother and I am always looking for the mother in everything. These women where strong, resourceful, successful, hardworking, focused, driven, passionate, and knowledgeable. I really admired that and wanted that for myself.

JW: Tell me about the Northern Clay Center’s Warren Mackenzie Advancement Award that funded your trip to Ghana, West Africa. That sounds amazing!

CM: The Warren MacKenzie Advancement Award, through the Northern Clay Center, was one of the best experiences I have had with clay! It enabled me to travel in Ghana for the month of October, 2016, the year after I had finished my MFA at the University of Minnesota.

When I was in graduate school I had moved away from wheel throwing and working exclusively by hand. I came across an image of a traditional painted house from Burkina Faso in my research and was really taken by it. I love the notion of cultivating art in all aspects of life and I decided that I really would love to go there and see it. I was aware of the MacKenzie award when I was in school but had to wait until I graduated. So I had awhile to research and plan for the trip.

I started working with the coil and pinch methods and after researching cultures and works being made with these methods, I fell hard for African ceramics and objects. I was very aware of this way of making pottery for a long time though since I had lived most of my life in the Southwest and lived with Native American cultures and objects, which is another huge inspiration for my work.

JW: Tell me more about that experience in Ghana and how it has informed your life and your art.

CM: Originally I wanted to go to Burkina Faso but at the time it wasn’t the safest place for a woman traveling alone. I realized that some of the adobe architecture and bambolse painting came down into Northern Ghana. I traveled to Sirigu, up next to the Burkina Faso border and stayed at a place called SWOPA- Sirigu Women’s Pottery Association. It was an organization established to help keep the traditional crafts alive as well to educate tourists as well as the community. In some ways it was a very magical experience. I really appreciated learning about a culture and systems firsthand through people and experiences: stories, food, what they make, how they make it, what it will be used for, how they learned, etc. I think so much of my appreciation come comes from being a white person in the twenty first century with no obvious culture or connection to a lineage and I felt really privileged to be there learning. It was really challenging in some ways though as well. I realized how much of an American I was. I went there with a very specific plan and I was at the mercy of the laidback Ghanaian way of life. I also had romanticized what I thought I would find there.

I didn’t achieve all of my goals, which were to help repair and paint the traditional houses and have a firing. In that area the traditional architecture is disappearing. Structures are now built with cinderblock and sheet metal because it is easy and affordable and there is little maintenance. Timber has been almost clear-cut throughout the country and thatch has to be imported from neighboring countries as well as the pigments used to paint the houses. So almost all of the traditional houses I saw in that area where abandoned and in disrepair and were occupied by elders. The firing did not happen because of the scarcity of wood. Nevertheless I really felt a connection to the makers in the area because of the ways in which we approach the work we make. I am very low tech in my approach to making and this helps me feel connected to the material and history. I also feel that in some way or another the stories of our lives come out in our practices so whether I am fully conscious of it or not there is Ghana in each piece I make.

JW: You hand-build your pieces using a coil and pinch method, followed by multiple layers of slip and terra sigillata. How much of that technique comes from African traditions? How did you develop your current process?

CM: The first line to my artist statement is “The foundation of my work is the presence of the hand”. One of the elements of African art and objects that I really love and strive for in my work is this element of casualness. This is not to say the makers of these objects lack skill, it’s quite the opposite. There is this lack of desire for perfection so the work is open to life.

I myself am always in search of asymmetry, I love a bit of wonk but I also appreciate craftsmanship. I think the only commonality my work shares with African tradition is really just in the forming of the piece. I developed my body of work through research and really paying attention to what struck cords in me, I look at a lot of historical work and I steal from here and there making it mine and making it contemporary.

JW: Where do you look for inspiration?

CM: Everywhere really. I am always on the lookout when I am in nature or in museums. I have a lot of books that I use as research and reference tools. I’ll go online looking for something specific and end up with a bunch of other inspiring images and info. When I lived in Arizona I stopped at every little museum that displayed Native American Art or in Santa Fe, all the museums and collections there. I go to ruins every chance I get and I have traveled to Nicaragua, Mexico, Costa Rica to look at pots and learn techniques. I can’t wait for Covid to end so I can travel again.

JW: You mention that there’s a lot of repetition involved in the production of pottery. From my experience there’s also a lot of alone time. How do you deal with those challenges to stay creative?

CM: I really enjoying being alone, I work better alone. I am an introvert and I can go from spending the whole day alone in the studio, to a long walk in the woods seeing no one, to making dinner and going to bed and having not said one word to anyone and being perfectly happy. Small talk makes me grumpy.

JW: You spent time in Minneapolis, which has a thriving ceramics community. Are you currently involved with a community of artists – and how important is a sense of artistic community for you?

CM: Ceramics has such a loving and open community all over and I feel like I have a family in so many people.

I made a lot of connections in Minneapolis that are really important to me. In that community I felt like I got to be student, mentor, friend, collaborator, and it is still a community I am close to. I am in the lineage of Minegi and Mingeisota because I studied there under Mark Pharis who is also in that line. I go back every year to participate in sales or go to the St. Croix Pottery Tour where I get to see my friends and my clay family.

For the first ten years, when I was self-taught, I had no idea that there was such a vibrant clay community, it was such an added bonus and a joy to discover. Now I feel like I could reach out to anyone, even if we have never met and ask questions, problem solve, continue to learn or just ask to stay at their house as I am passing through.

JW: Has the coronavirus pandemic impacted you and how you create?

CM: Oh Yes! It is hard not to be impacted by Covid. I had a solid year planned for 2020, that probably would have killed me so perhaps it was divine intervention? (JOKE)

A lot of tours and sales got cancelled or postponed or moved online. All of my teaching opportunities also got postponed so the financial outcome has been a hard pill to swallow. I switched gears to teaching online which is great in some respects. Its sort of quick and dirty, no traveling, no long days and classes are affordable to most and I’ve actually taken a number of classes myself but the pay is minimal to what I normally would get paid and in some ways it seems weird and unnatural. There’s no real connection with people. You don’t get to feel the energy and excitement of folks learning something new or being on pottery vacation. You don’t get see what they are making and when the class is over you hit a button and it all shuts off.

As far as my own creativity, I generally don’t have any problem staying creative. I work everyday because being a one-woman-show demands it but I haven’t been working as hard. I have more time for outside adventures and some days I might take the whole day off. It has given me some time to play with new forms and look towards where I all want this go.

JW: Do you have any direction you want to take your work in the future?

CM: I am starting a long-term residency at the Archie Bray for Ceramic Arts in September and I am really looking forward to applying color and different firing methods such as pit and saggar fire to my work, also I am going to research clay architecture and building techniques to build small structures for installations.

See more of Candice’s work on her website. On her website, Candice also features several videos that outline her work processes:

American Southwest Virtual Museum

Northern Arizona State University, the US Parks Service, and the Museum of Northern Arizona have collaborated to put together the American Southwest Virtual Museum (ASVM).  The ASVM is a “digital repository of photographs, maps, information and virtual tours of National Park Service units and museums across the [American] Southwest.”

American Southwest Virtual Museum website home page: http://www.swvirtualmuseum.nau.edu

Of particular interest to readers of this blog are some of the “vessel rotations” contained on the site.

Users can virtually rotate 38 individual ceramic vessels as well as zoom in and out. The 38 vessels are representative samples of pottery from different cultures across the American Southwest. The photographic quality is outstanding, as are the individual pieces. Viewers use buttons at the bottom of each image page to control rotation, and to zoom in & out.

Leupp Black-on-white jar (Tusayan White Ware) at American Southwest Virtual Museum

This is great website presentation. I wish other museums would employ it! Great job to the folks involved in this project!

In addition to the vessel rotations, the site also offers “pottery guides” on 17 different types of pottery from the region, including photographs of sherds or entire pieces, information on the construction, firing, chemical make-up, surface finish, color, form and decoration of this ceramic style.

Start of Pottery Guide for Sacaton Red-on-buff pottery. American Southwest Virtual Museum.

In addition, there’s a gallery to identify design elements, motifs and pottery forms, referencing images of pottery sherds. I wish I had something like this available when I was young, camping in Southern Arizona. I remember seeing millions of pot sherds scattered across the ground in various campsites.

Google Arts and Culture: Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche

I found this virtual exhibit entitled “Italian Ceramics from the Middle Ages to the Present” featuring ceramics held by the International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza, Italy. Beautiful. Worth some browsing time.

I’m not familiar with this Google “Arts & Culture” resource but, based on this particular virtual exhibition, it looks worthwhile. I did notice that the text appears to be translated from the original Italian – and could use some touching up. The images are outstanding. [UPDATE: actually, the words are pretty much blather. Just enjoy the pictures.]

More articles can be found at this Google website. I quickly went into the search area and typed “ceramics” which returned 4 collections and 24 stories. Scrolling down the results page I see additional areas to dive into, including 56,473 items under “Clay”.

The Museo Internazionale delle Ceramiche’s website is here.

The Buffalo Turd

As some know, I’ve been using my ceramics to house unusual plants. I recently acquired a very bizarre plant from one of my favorite sources: Out Of Africa Nursery. This new fellow is formally known as Brachystelma barberae, but in my family we affectionately call him “the buffalo turd”. Why? Well, because in his dormant period he looks just like a buffalo turd: a flat brownish hard nodule sitting just atop the ground.

As the growing season begins, however, this specimen produces some really amazing flowers. Pictured in the top photograph to the right is the first shoot he sent up, which opened up into a dome-like flower. After a few months of slow leaf development, the plant produced two new flowers – but this time the the flowers were intertwined amidst the leaves (as shown in the bottom photo). Not quite as dramatic, but still very interesting.

Unbeknownst to me when I bought this specimen, it belongs to a group of plants that produce unusual scents that attract insects to help pollinate the species. The “unusual scent” this particular plant produces is quite reminiscent of … buffalo poop.

And when I say reminiscent I mean there is absolutely no doubt in anyone’s mind what this smells like during its 4-5 day bloom: fresh, recently-deposited, richly-aromatic buffalo shit. All the better to attract flies from the entire neighborhood!

At my wife’s suggestion, this new plant lives outside.

Naomi Clement – Artist Profile

Naomi Clement is a Canadian ceramic artist I met virtually during a Harvard Ceramics virtual studio tour. I was very interested in several things she mentioned during the tour, including a project she did to gather feedback from recipients of her pots on how those people used her work in their lives.

I reached out to Naomi to ask more about this topic and also her use of script in her work.

JW: Can you tell me a little bit about your background and what attracted you to ceramics?

NC: I attended an arts high school in London, Ontario. While I originally did printmaking, I never thought I was particularly good at drawing. When I tried clay, I felt this was the first medium I was really good at. I ended up attending the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I then apprenticed with Joan Bruneau, a professional studio potter based in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. I took a break from ceramics to work in the food and wine industry, but came back to ceramics, ultimately attending Louisiana State University for my M.F.A. in studio art (ceramics), where I graduated in 2017.

JW: During the workshop I attended, you discussed you “Stories I tell” cup project. For the benefit of others, would you describe that project?

NC: Sure. I was doing a residency in Medicine Hat, Alberta, before graduate school. I had written an artist’s statement about how I wanted my pottery to impact the lives of those who owned and lived with it. A friend of mine asked, “How are you going to show that happens?” It was an excellent question. I wrote up a research proposal for a project and that was the genesis of the “Stories I Tell” Cup Project.

I created a series of ceramic cups for my exhibit, and then gave the cups away to members of the public who attended the show. In return, I asked each recipient to send me information on what they did with the cup. I provided a self-addressed postcard for their use. I got quite a bit of feedback from recipients. All the post cards I received are posted on my website.

JW: And what did you learn?

NC: I suppose I learned about the varied ways my work became a part of people’s lives. One person told me that she used the cup to hold her chapstick collection. That was something I never would have envisioned or expected. This person transformed my cup into a whole new object that I never imagined. I know now that handmade pots can impact people’s lives, but not necessarily in the grand ways I originally contemplated. Living with and using pottery affects people’s lives in subtle ways. 

A lot of art is created for galleries and maybe even museums. I make things for the home, where people spend time with my work. They embrace it in their everyday lives – enjoying their morning coffee, for example. They may use my mug for ages and then one day, pause and look at my work closely and say, “I never noticed this little detail before.”  I want my work to be part of people’s daily lives. There’s an interaction between me, my work and the person that holds my work – even if that happens over time and I’m not consciously aware of all of it.

JW: Do you have any other projects in mind for gathering feedback?

NC: Not immediately. I am interested in how my work is used, but I wouldn’t do another project just like this. It could get gimmicky and I want to avoid that. Nowadays, I get some feedback on social media. I see photos on Instagram that tell me how some of my work is used or displayed in a person’s home. That didn’t exist when I did the “Stories I tell” Cup Project.

JW: You incorporate script into your pottery. Can you tell me how and why you do that?

NC: I’ve always been fascinated by handwriting. It’s a way of leaving your mark, of telling your story. And I just love the way script looks. Originally, I acquired some correspondence from my grandparents, back from when they were dating as young people. At the time I acquired the letters, my grandparents were going into long-term care. I always cherished these letters and the snapshots they provided about two people falling in love.

In grad school, I started experimenting with using bits and pieces from these letters in my ceramics. At that point my grandparents were both gone, so there was an element of connecting in some way with my family in some sense.

I originally started with text from my grandparents’ correspondence, but later worked with the handwriting on some recipe cards used by women in my family. There’s a celebration of domestic life that really appeals to me.

JW: What is the process you used to incorporate text into your work?

NC: I would scan and enlarge text elements, then use a laser to cut the shapes out of newsprint. I used those cut-outs as stencils. I still incorporate text elements into my work, but with the Coronavirus I don’t have access to a laser so I’m having to change my process somewhat.

I find that people are also quite interested in what the text says, literally, and I’m more interested in the gesture and graphic shape of the script than the literal meaning of the words. I do have a personal connection with the text, but that’s not necessarily what I’m bringing into my ceramics.

JW: My sense is that you are interested in more than just the ceramic pieces you create. You seem to also focus on the connections between your work and either your past or the people who acquire your work. How do you reconcile that with making a living as a ceramic artist?

NC: I will admit that it’s somewhat of a battle making a living as well as staying engaged with these aspects of my work. I’m lucky that people support me and buy my work. But sometimes that can make it feel difficult to change and evolve. 

JW: Are you constrained from trying something quite different?

NC: No. At the moment, I make changes on a smaller, more incremental scale. Some artists completely change what they produce in one full swoop. My tendency is to make smaller changes. That said, I do have a different line of work called “naked pots” that are spare and less decorated. It’s another way for me to experiment.

JW: You are very intentional about each aspect of each piece you create (the shape of handles, where you place them on a mug, how you adhere them to the mug, etc.).

NC: When you make a functional object, it needs to have intention behind it if you want it to function well. How it fits in a person’s hand, how it works when, for example, the cup is tilted. It’s important to me.

JW: Where do you see yourself taking your ceramic work going forward?

NC: This pandemic has really changed things. As artist I spend a lot of time alone. Formerly, workshops gave me a break. Now, not as much. Workshops and teaching also represented a big part of my income. I’m now doing online workshops, which have both positive and negative sides. On the positive side, in an online workshop everyone has a front-row seat, more people can afford the class, an infinite number of people can attend, and attendees come from all over the world. I’ve had students participate from Israel and Dubai. On the other hand, I miss the community aspect of in-person workshops. A good workshop has back-and-forth dialog that’s sometimes is missing online. That dialog makes me think about my work in different ways. Everything has been thrown on its head with Covid. 

Moving forward, I’ll continue to make incremental changes and progress. Something I’d like to try is bringing my designs to 2D surfaces (like drawings & paintings). To do that, I’d like to do a residency – change out of familiar space and routine. But that isn’t likely to happen soon. I’m also interested in making tiles – as more of a technical experiment.

Naomi’s website is: naomiclement.com. Her work may be purchased online at companiongallery.com

Naomi also lists upcoming virtual workshops on her website.

delecTABLE 2020 Exhibition

delecTABLE 2020, a national juried biennial exhibition with pieces centered around the fine art of dining begins on July 28, 2020. The exhibit includes a display of selected 2D artists with food-themed works, and the work of ceramics faculty and staff of the sponsoring arts organization, the Art Students League of Denver.

Unfortunately, like so many other shows this year, delecTABLEs is virtual due to the Coronavirus pandemic. But please take a moment to browse through the work. Two of my pieces were selected for the show (a Hila-shouldered Sgrafitto pot and a set of four Sgrafitto drinking cups):

The juror, Liz Zlot Summerfield, will announce awards via Facebook Live, tentatively scheduled for Thursday, August 6, 2020.