Museo Arqeologico Nacional (Madrid): 3D Models of Classical Greek Ceramics

As a follow up to an earlier post on technologies being used to create 3D models and visualizations of ceramics, I found 30 models of ancient Greek pottery created for the Museo Arqeologico Nacional in Madrid, Spain.

The quality of the 3D models is outstanding. Here are a few static screenshots indicative of the detail available:

Below are a links to several 3D models of different Greek vessels, which link into a 3rd party visualization hosting service called sketchfab.com:

http://nestormarques.com/These models were created by Nestor Marques, who works with several technologies to create visual displays and exhibitions for museums around the world. Originally I thought the museum commissioned these 3D visualizations to place on the museum’s own website. But I do not see them there. Instead, I see them all posted on Sketchfab, an online hosting service that allows creators of 3D models to store and “distribute” their online creations to others via the web. Interestingly, you can purchase existing 3D models of objects and spaces, presumably to incorporate into 3D games.

Ben Carter: The Red Clay Rambler

Ben Carter produces the podcast “Tales of a Red Clay Rambler,” in which he interviews ceramic artists from around the world. Ben is now up to episode 360, so he’s amassed a rich treasure of conversations with different potters doing different things.

I asked Ben about the origin of his podcast, what intrigues him about these conversations, special moments he remembers, and his plans for the future.

Ben was living in Shanghai, China, when he launched these interviews in 2012. He originally started a blog, not a podcast. He told me started asking artists to write for the blog about their work or inspiration, but that was difficult for many ceramic artists. It was easier for artists to discuss their work in a conversation rather than through writing. So Ben adjusted his approach and adopted podcasting.

For the first 18 months of the podcast, Ben was living and working in Shanghai. He interviewed potters on route to Jingdezhen in Southern China, center of Chinese porcelain production. “Potters would stop over and spend a day or two in our studio in Shanghai, recovering from jet lag and travel fatigue,” Ben said. “While they were there, I’d interview them for the podcast.”

Later, Ben moved to Denmark for a 6 week residency program, where he continued “Tales of a Red Clay Rambler” by interviewing a different type of artist – those not necessarily working with porcelain. He then moved back to the States and lived with his wife in California, Montana and now New Jersey. “Until 2020 when the pandemic hit, I would always interview artists live and in person,” Ben explained. “Covid was a real game changer. Now I’m doing my interviews through Zoom. I can talk to a lot more people, but it doesn’t have the same intimacy as sitting in someone’s studio and talking about work that’s literally sitting on tables around us. Video has actually been helpful, because now my interviews aren’t limited to where I’m travelling. I can literally talk to anyone, anywhere.”

“I’ve had really, really interesting conversations – it’s hard to pick out highlights,” Ben said. When I pressed him a bit he pointed me to two interviews he still remembers fondly. “In 2017 I interviewed Wallace Higgins, who at the time was 92 years old. He had taught at Alfred University and was a prominent ceramic designer. He had also served as a Tuskegee Airman during WWII, and we discussed his experiences as a black man from rural New York going to the deep South.

It was fascinating to hear the human-to-human experience of what’s it’s like for a person to experience racism for the first time. After the military Wally went on to have a decades long teaching career and became a sought after international ceramic consultant.

You can hear Wally talk more about his life in his interview.” (PODCAST 172, Feb 17, 2017).

Ben also told me about his interview with Linda Christianson, a Minnesota wood-fire potter, who has a vibrant personality and yet creates very quiet ceramic pieces. “We were talking in general about how she deals with her own mind, in terms of self-doubt,” Ben recalls.

“She had this very funny, quick-witted way to tell herself, ‘Thanks for sharing, but I’m going to ignore you now’. I thought that was such a poignant thing for an artist because self-doubt can be at the core of any creative practice.” (PODCAST 122, Oct 22, 2016).

“I’ve found most people working with clay to be very open and welcoming,” Ben says. “This is true regardless of fame or position in the art world. We all share a strong desire to connect with one another, especially during COVID. Working with clay can be a very isolated existence. While you can say that my conversations are about ceramics and art, I find I gravitate toward discussions of ‘what has your experience been like?’ and ‘what are the things that make you most excited?’. I can point to many, many podcasts that start with a conversation about clay but end up being a discussion about the human condition and living a creative life.”

I asked Ben whether there is an overall theme or pattern to his podcasts. He told me he has typically divided his podcasts into “seasons,” and within a season he may have 3-4 podcasts along a particular theme, perhaps along a geographic area such as “Irish potters” or “New Zealand potters.” Sometimes he explores a more esoteric topic such as “intuition” and the role of intuition in someone’s work. More recently, he’s started to focus on some topics more relevant to our times, such as how the clay community is dealing with race and class.

We discussed Ben’s plans for the future. “I’m interested in helping other artists develop podcasts for themselves,” he said, “where I’ll step into more of an executive producer or editor role.” Ben continued, “There’s so many people to talk to, there’s so much out there in terms of the art world, that, well, I’m limited by my own intellectual capacity. But if you expand out to having multiple hosts working on multiple podcasts, then something really special can happen.”

“Let’s fast forward 200 years from now. I don’t want people in that era to look back at our time and think, ‘There must not have been many potters working, because there are no books about them, there are no stories about them.’ One of the things that pains me is that some of the best potters that have lived through time are anonymous. We’re never going to know who they were. We can see their pots, there are museums filled with amazing pots, but we don’t know the sound of their voice, we don’t know what they were stressed about or what they were thinking about while they were making, we just know those objects. I want to find out as much about the person as I can. I want to record that person talking about their own work in their own voice – to me that’s really special and important.”

Ben is himself a potter. You can see his work at his Carter Pottery website.

Susan Beiner – Artist Profile

Susan Beiner has been a Professor of Ceramics at Arizona State University since 2006. She is also an active studio artist, working primarily as a ceramic sculptor.

Susan has exhibited her work widely, both domestically and internationally. Her work was exhibited at The Mint Museum of Craft and Design, the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, the Clayarch Gimhae Museum in Korea, the San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts, and at Princessehof Keramiekmuseum in the Netherlands, to name several.

Susan has exhibited her work widely, both domestically and internationally. Her work was exhibited at The Mint Museum of Craft and Design, the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, the Clayarch Gimhae Museum in Korea, the San Francisco Museum of Fine Arts, and at Princessehof Keramiekmuseum in the Netherlands, to name several.

Susan describes her work process in the Virtual Studio Tour video below. As she walks through her studio, she shows several work examples (both in process and complete), plus some of the many molds she uses in her work. Susan’s video tour is one of the more interesting I’ve seen. In the first 10 minutes, as she moves quickly through her studio space, you get a real sense of how she uses molds to create the components of her large-scale pieces, and then you see some of the finished components that she will assemble into finished works. She also shows her studio in the context of her garden – an important part of her ceramic pieces and her lifestyle.

In the subsequent 5 minutes (10-15 min), she discusses how she finds inspiration in her garden amidst growing, thriving plants. “I’m outside doing something almost every day,” Susan says, “and I watch things as they grow. As I watch things, I do little drawings as notes for forms. Those [drawings] then become parts of the shapes I make out of clay. I then start repeating them to create bigger forms.”

JW: You have an intense interest in the botanical world – even a “microscopic” view of the botanical world. Have you always had a strong attraction to plants, gardens and organic forms?

SB: Yes, I have always enjoyed the landscape and all that goes with it, color, shapes and texture. I watch plants grow and change until they produce, whether that be offspring, seeds, flowers, fruit or vegetables. I meticulously tend to my garden and fruit trees as well as nurture all the plants. I watch and take part, I feel connected, its an integral part of my art practice and my life. Gardening makes me feel grounded, literally, and often when thinking about units for my work, I investigate many historical palace gardens, they are visionary. Plants are important in our civilization, they are a part of our history, and they present in curiosity and wonder.

One of my favorite things in my travels to different countries, is to look for indigenous plants in various areas and search out untended fields only to discover inspiring growth.

JW: Is there a progression in your work? (Things like color to monotone, modular to single unit, individual pieces to wall units to environmental (entire room) experiences, for example.)

SB: I have always wanted the viewer to be able to immerse themselves, maybe a feeling of being overwhelmed.

Most of my work is modular so I can work at a larger scale with smaller sections that are more manageable, and I can conform them to various walls or floor spaces. Many of my wall pieces, though they are single pieces, are still composed of several sections that fit together.

You may not notice the things that have changed, for instance, the scale of the encrusted forms are much larger than they have been in the past, which may seem like its less detail, but field of color is taking shape. I design and compose sculptures, a single object to experiment and experience new ideas, like sketching with form or just play with form. Sometimes I use remnants of pieces I am working on to think about that specific piece before it goes in the recycle bin. There is something interesting about the cast off/cut off piece that I find filled with intention, so I go off on a tangent and start something else…I especially do this after working on a big project, where I need to work small for a while, to get a piece completed in less than a year or more.

In my practice I think the idea of “play” is important for me, I try a lot of different things, many of which no one sees but me.

I consider my work to evolve around project ideas, as environmental issues are in the forefront of my mind of late.

I use color as a tool to shape ideas, trying to arrive at the essence of form. The rendering of various glazes to create the perception of foliage now has changed. Now I am interested in using color as a way to unify forms without being specific about the organic-ness of plants. You will see this in my most recent installation, Bounded Fragility, a floor piece based on the idea of a carpet, covering earth, all one glaze. It hasn’t been revealed yet, but soon.

I think that I learn something from every piece and that moves into another piece. Some of the wall work was figuring out various hanging devices, however, ultimately it all takes so much time so perhaps I take small steps?

JW: I do sense a more recent interest in synthetic vs. organic themes (for example in Organic Dissolution and Non-Biodegradable). Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but do these pieces reflect some form of disappointment or disillusion on a larger scale?

SB: I would call it concern. I wonder what will be left of our planet and what troubles we will be consumed by in the future. Our resources are being used up and we will get used to swimming in an ocean of plastic… It’s similar to responses to the pandemic, we have to act in unison to make a change, it’s a serious commitment and an understanding of treating our planet better. Unless corporations stop producing single use plastic…it will never end, but we will.

JW: Some (much) of your work is very large-scale. What keeps you inspired through what must be very long periods of time it takes to create these pieces?

SB: Scale keeps me engaged, and time is an element in space. As I work with a plan, I commit to the activity and timeline and once I start to see progress I feel like the presence of the piece associates with what I want to viewer to feel… overwhelmed. I want the work to be something you can dive into and feel.

Small work is over too fast, the feeling goes away too fast, I much prefer larger work.

JW: You seem to sketch quite a bit. Are your ceramic pieces usually sketched out and carefully planned in advance? Or do they “come together” as you are working on them?

SB: I do plan them in advance, but there are usually some changes once I start the making process. There is still room for intuition even with a plan.

I have to make an entire set of molds since I slipcast and assemble all the parts from my molds. Making the prototypes of the parts comes first and takes up a chunk of time before I proceed to making. Many times I need to make duplicates of some of the shapes because I cast them so many times, they get worn out.

JW: Where to from here? Do you have plans for upcoming work that you can share?

SB: Yes, as I said in above question, my newest piece Bounded Fragility which will be out very soon, is still very new in my mind, all one glaze color it feels very powerful to me. Since I am at the end of this project, I can finally see the direction that awaits and eager to move forward. However, as I mentioned prior, I am ready for some smaller individual works to experiment with, sort of give me a rest so I think more. Additionally, I will be working on some large format drawings.

I am excited for you to see this piece, I would enjoy the feedback. I have never made such a large format piece as one intensely active field.

See more of Susan Beiner’s work on her website.

The Rosenfield Collection

Louise Rosenfield has amassed an outstanding collection of contemporary American functional ceramics. She has posted images from a large portion of her collection online (almost 3,300 pieces featuring the work of 791 ceramic artists).

Ben Carter interviewed Louise Rosenfield in a 2017 Podcast – part of his “Tales of a Red Clay Rambler” podcast series. In that interview, Louise describes how her experiences making ceramics informs the way she collects ceramics. Rather than rehash what inspired her to collect ceramics, I encourage you to listen to Ben’s interview with Louise.

When I spoke with Louise, we focused more on what motivated her to open her private collection to the world, albeit virtually. We also discussed how to best access the online collection. Finally, we spoke about Louise’s plans for her collection of functional ceramics.

The Online Rosenfield Collection

Louise is remarkably candid about her collection and objectives. It’s refreshing and energizing to speak with someone so enthusiastic about her activities.

Louise told me she has always been interested in sharing her utilitarian ceramics with other people. “The whole purpose of utilitarian ware is usage – people need to use plates and cups and bowls, not just look at them,” she says. “It’s wonderful that artists also add beauty and creativity to a functional piece. But ultimately, beautiful pieces in my collection should be held in one’s hand and enjoyed physically, intimately, through use. Utilitarian pieces that aren’t used are dead. There’s nothing like drinking coffee from your own, special mug, feeling the fit of the handle and the warmth of the liquid inside as you cuddle the mug in the palm of your hand.”

“One of my goals has been to educate the Dallas community where I live about the possibilities of ceramics,” Louise told me. “Many people believe the finest ceramics you can get are from local craft fairs. There are fine ceramics at craft fairs, but people don’t necessarily know that there are artists who display ceramic pieces in art galleries and even museums. There are amazing ceramics and most people simply aren’t aware they exist and don’t know where to find them if they are aware they exist. I’m very interested in educating people on how to find outstanding ceramics and the artists who produce them.”

Louise continued, “All along I’ve had students interested in the pieces that I’ve collected. My collection is a resource for students. But that resource has been limited to students who live in the Dallas area. Not everyone can come to Dallas and look at my collection. So I put my collection online to share it with a wider community.”

Tips on Accessing Images in the Online Collection

The Rosenfield Collection website has filters on the top right that allow users to find works of individual artists (listed alphabetically), by forms (e.g., bowls, cups, jars, etc), by firing method (e.g., high fire oxidation), and by technique (handbuilt, slipcast, wheelthrown, and wheelthrown and altered).

Typically, when you filter for forms, firing method and/or technique and select an individual piece to view, you will also see a link on the top right stating “View more objects by [artist name].” Go ahead, click that little link. Be brave.

Items you view online have been numbered by type of work and sequence of addition to to the collection. Louise told me she employs the following indexing scheme:

  • B = bowl (although I’ve found some bowls listed as SW (service ware))
  • C = cup
  • CP&S = cup & saucer set
  • C&S = cream & sugar set
  • E = ewer
  • J = jar
  • P = plate
  • PV = pouring vessel
  • OT = other
  • SW = service ware
  • T = teapot
  • V = vase

When Louise first purchases an item, she brings it home and uses it for personal use. (Yes, she actually uses these items!) After some time, she will add the item to the collection, referencing it numerically. For example, if Louise transitions a plate from home use into her collection, she’ll label it “P” plus the next sequential number under “P.” If the previous plate is labelled P885 then the new plate is added to the collection as P886.

The Essence is Variety

I asked Louise if there are any particular pieces that she would like me to highlight. “Not really,” she responded. After we spoke for a bit, I realized the essential beauty of her collection is its variety. Spend a few minutes scrolling through her collection and you can’t help but be amazed at the sprawl and scope of artistic innovation. It’s like a Texas of contemporary functional ceramics.

What’s In Store for the Future?

Louise told me a fantasy. “When I thought about what I would do with the ceramics I’ve collected, my fantasy was to donate the entire collection to a restaurant. The restaurant patrons could then use the pieces when they dined. When they break, they break. At least they will be used.”

Louise tells me that her fantasy is coming true. The Everson Museum has decided to build a museum cafe and she will be donating her collection for use in that cafe. In her imagination museum patrons will enter the cafe, view interesting cups and plates displayed along a wall, select their cup from the shelf and fill it with a beverage to enjoy in a cozy cafe setting. Louise wants people to use the collection.

3D Models in Ceramic Research

Archaeologists have long studied ceramics discovered in their digs. Recording information about these findings, however, has traditionally been limited to two-dimensional representations (e.g., sketches & photographs) or data (e.g., text descriptions, numeric information such as dimensions, estimated dates, etc.).

New 3D modeling technology is now being used in archaeological research to capture richer visual information about ceramics discovered in the field.

As an example, I point to 3D models of clay figurines discovered at Koutroulou Magoula in Greece. The figurines depict human, animal or hybrid forms made of local clay.

Many of these figuines were painted, incised and otherwise decorated. Human fingerprints remain on some specimens, remnants from the original makers’ pressing fingers into the damp clay. These clay figurines form one of the largest collections of Neolithic figures in all of Greece.

Researchers have used a combination of technologies such as multi-faceted photography, 3D scanning, reflectance transformational imaging and multispectral photography to transform 2D images and descriptive data into marvelous 3D visualizations.

Viewing these 3D models is not the same sensual experience as holding these small clay items in your hands, but it’s pretty darn close.

There is a lot of work going into replicating texture in visual terms, so the viewer gets a tactile sense of the object even though he/she cannot actually hold the clay object. With Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) technology, an object is photographed from a stationary position, but light is moved to different positions around the object, creating different specular highlights and shadows. Software is then employed to blend the different digital images together, and specular highlights can be adjusted to replicate the qualities of particular materials like clay. (Light reflections off clay are quite different than light reflecting off shiny steel.) Laser scanning can produce very finely modulated 3D models of objects – and this technique has in fact been used to record and visualize individual fingerprints on Hohokam clay figurines. Scanning light across a Nabean lamp sherd revealed what was identified as a left-hand thumbprint from the vessel.

What’s amazing is the ability to zoom into these 3D visualizations to almost microscopic levels. Here is a screenshot of one 3D model (Figurine PHGM_2020_104-21), showing a close-up of carved lines depicting rolls of fat on the tummy of the figurine.

More information on the techniques employed with 3D visualizations of ceramic figurines can be found in an academic paper by Costas Papadopoulus, et al entitled “Digital Sensoriality: The Neolithic Figurines from Koutroulou Magoula, Greece. (Beware: this paper and the research Papadopoulus discusses is very, very geeky.) You can download the paper from ResearchGate at https://www.researchgate.net/publication/332038304_2019_Digital_Sensoriality_The_Neolithic_Figurines_from_Koutroulou_Magoula_Greece_Cambridge_Archaeological_Journal.

Karen Orsillo – Artist Profile

Karen Orsillo is a dedicated, long-time ceramic artist who specializes in nerikomi using brightly colored clay. While she has experimented with a wide variety of ceramic techniques through the years, she keeps coming back to nerikomi.

It’s a labor-intensive process – especially as Karen practices the craft. She builds very subtle changes in clay to build smooth, almost seamless gradations from one hue to another. She then “subdivides” these panels of clay into distinct shapes, and combines the shapes to create vibrant, energetic patterns, and out of that end result she assembles her final forms. The results are striking.

JW: On your website you show your process in some detail. What interests me is the subtle gradations you’re able to achieve when you combine different colored clays. What’s the secret?

KO: The gradation effect in my work is achieved by wedging small increments of one colored clay into another and then stacking them one on top of the other in order. It is time consuming but worth the effort. Another technique for achieving gradations is called the skinner blend, borrowed from polymer clay techniques. Though I do greatly admire the work of the colored clay artists I know who use the skinner blend method, I have experimented with it but still prefer the wedging and stacking process.

JW: Your process of first building the clay blocks followed by then creating vessels out of those assembled blocks looks time-consuming. What energizes and motivates you through what must be long hours of building a piece?

KO: Yes my colored clay work entails a long, time-consuming process. Some parts are more enjoyable than others. I’ll start with the least enjoyable parts. Wedging the initial colors is a chore that must be done to begin the rest of the process. Often good music (with a bit of dancing added) will get me through.

Then when the pots are at the bone dry stage I need to clean up the surface of every piece before it goes into the bisque kiln. The work is very fragile at this point so I need to stay very focused so as not to break the work.

I’m most excited about building the patterns and the forms though these are the most time consuming parts of the process.

I can see the patterns coming together as I build them and am always excited to slice off the first slab to see the finished pattern. Combining the pattern into a form is the most challenging but compelling part of my work. Finding the form that allows the pattern to be enhanced and not fight with it.

Since most of my patterns are quite visually active I usually keep the lines of the form clean and simple. So the tedious parts of the process happen at the beginning and the end but the stuff in between keeps me energized… along with some good music.

JW: You mention you keep a low profile and don’t promote your work a lot. How did you settle into your balance of creative work vs. promotion and marketing work? Are you comfortable with the balance you’ve reached?

KO: This is the hardest question for me to answer. It’s complicated! I think most artists have to find a combination of ways to make a living. I love the making part most and teaching classes and workshops has always been enjoyable for me. I also love learning new processes and sharing them and this keeps me energized. Making money alone was never a motivation for me so I view selling as a necessity to be able to continue doing what I love.

Fairly early on I realized that colored clay lent itself very well to jewelry and so I developed a line of jewelry that sold well. So when allowed, I had both pots and jewelry in my display at shows. The jewelry became my “bread and butter” income but pots have always been my first love.

I have been fortunate to be doing this during the time when high quality craft shows were available and well attended. This meant that the promoters of the show did the advertising etc. I also am fortunate to have been a juried member of the League of NH Craftsmen which offers a number of selling opportunities to its members. So through a combination of doing craft shows, having work in gallery shops, teaching and occasional shows in galleries I have been able to get by. In the early days I had another non-art related job to supplement my income.

Promoting my work has always been a balancing act. I have avoided the newer venues of online selling and social media in general. I am 69 and so no longer have as much pressure to make money as I did or I think I would have to be online and social media. As I’ve gotten older I find that craft shows are/were a physically challenging endeavor requiring a lot of lugging and setup and often long driving times. The good ones get expensive between entry fees and accommodations and travel etc. Galleries take some percentage of the money but they are doing the promoting and selling and displaying for you in a fixed location where customers can find your work. Teaching can be very rewarding if you enjoy it, which I do.

All of these ways of making a living have worked for me in varying combinations over the years. Today, I think it would have been smart to get into the online venue sooner. The technology still seems daunting! But this has been what is sustaining the people I know during the pandemic.

JW: Your work also has unique patterns – how do you get that effect?

KO: Like so many artists, the patterns I create are most often inspired by nature where amazing patterns and colors abound. It begins with studying a flower, plant or bird plumage, etc. in detail. I then begin to break it down into parts, choosing shapes and color combinations that I can build with colored clays to mimic the original inspiration. As I’m working with one pattern I often get new ideas for another pattern to try next.

JW: Where did you learn this nerikomi process?

KO: During college I encountered The Book of Penland Crafts which featured the colored clay work of Jane Pieser. I started with the information she shared in that book.

After college, I was struggling to continue the nerikomi process with porcelain on my own and encountering many technical problems with cracking and warping. A potter friend told me about a Japanese ceramic artist Makoto Yabe who was teaching in the Boston area at Radcliffe – now the Harvard Ceramics Program – and also at the Decordova Museum School in Lincoln, MA. I took classes with him at both places. He was an amazing teacher of all ceramic processes and I learn so much from him but in particular he was able to help me with the technical problems inherent in the nerikomi process. I’m not sure I would have continued with colored clay if I had not met Makoto.

JW: Did you explore other ceramic processes? What attracted you to nerikomi?

KO: I have explored many, many clay processes over the years: throwing, all forms of handbuilding, high fire reduction, low fire, soda firing, woodfiring, burnishing and pit firing and more. I love them all! That is the compelling thing about clay – there are so many directions and possibilities. But I always continued with colored clay. I enjoy not only the complexities of the of the process but the challenge of combining color, pattern and form well together. There are endless possibilities!

JW: What attracted you to ceramics in the first place?

KO: I was most interested in art throughout my youth and especially in high school. My high school didn’t offer ceramics but I took a class at Newton Pottery in Newton, MA, and loved it right away. I loved the feel and the smell of the clay. I started out throwing and was able to center and pull a cylinder fairly quickly which encouraged me to keep going. Shortly after that I decided I wanted to go to college to major in art and for ceramics to be my concentration. Still loving it!

JW: After a lifetime of making ceramics and working with clay, what advise would you offer to ceramic artists?

KO: I guess my advice would be to keep your passion for clay alive by allowing yourself time to explore and not to let sales and money be what dictates your making. Of course you need to think about making money but don’t let it rule what you make. Also I’m truly grateful to have found clay and feel fortunate to be able to do something creative and fulfilling for my whole life. I’ve always appreciated that fact but it just gets stronger as I get older. As artists we are very fortunate and rich in spirit even if not in money….be grateful!

You can view Karen’s work at her website.

Exploring The Everson Museum (Part 1)

The Everson Museum in Syracuse, NY, holds one of the largest collections of ceramics in the United States (over 6,000 pieces).

I contacted Garth Johnson, Curator of Ceramics at the Everson Museum, for guidance on how to approach this vast collection. We had a lengthy conversation about the museum, it’s history in advancing appreciation of ceramics as an art form, the collection itself, and his vision, as Curator, for working with and building the Museum’s ceramic collection. I’m dividing our exploration of the Everson into several posts due to the immense wealth of content to cover.

So – how can we best explore this museum collection?

Garth first pointed me to Scarab Vase, created in 1910 by Adelaide Alsop Robineau. It is a centerpiece of the Everson collection (one Everson director referred to this porcelain vase as the “Mona Lisa of the ceramics world”). Adelaide Robineau burst on to the international ceramics scene by exhibiting the work, and winning the Grand Prize, at the Turin International Exposition in 1911.

The Scarab Vase was exhibited around the country before being acquired by the Everson Museum in 1930.

Robineau reportedly spent over 1,000 hours creating the detailed surface decoration (left).

Interestingly, the Scarab Vase was one of several art pieces famously stolen from art collections in 1989.

I won’t spend too much time discussing the Scarab Vase because more details are available in….

The Everson Museum Blog

The Everson Museum maintains a blog featuring an “Object of the Week” from the Museum collection. This Museum blog is one way to explore the Everson Museum ceramic collection. The first Museum blog post, in fact, features The Scarab Vase. Although not all Objects of the Week are ceramic, many are. Here are several interesting blog articles featuring objects from the Museum’s ceramic collection:

The above are selected blog articles from the Everson Museum. Unfortunately, I do not see any index to artists or posts, or any way to filter the blog articles by type of work (e.g., ceramics), but that may come later. In the mean time, you can scroll through the blog pages to find articles of interest.

Upcoming in this guide to the Everson Museum Collection:

  • News about MILLIØNS, the new Everson Museum cafe that integrates contemporary functional ceramics with dining experience for museum patrons
  • Ceramic Object Study Sessions, a webinar-based investigation of different themes related to ceramics
  • Ceramics Database, a searchable, publicly-accessible online database of many of the Everson’s ceramic pieces

Sonabai Rajawar: Indian Folk Artist

I found two articles by Dastkari Haat Samiti (an Indian non-profit organization) about wonderful art created by self-taught folk artist Sonabai Rajawar. Sonabai transformed her home into a magical, imaginative world to delight and entertain herself and her son from their isolated misery.

Sonabai lived in an isolated village in rural India in the latter half of the 20th century. She began decorating her house with painted murals and low-relief clay sculptures in the 1950s. “The Brilliance of Sonabai Rajawar” video provides a portrait of the artist.

What goes unmentioned in “The Brilliance of Sonabai Rajawar” video are the details of her life. Sonabai was married at age 14 to an older man and for 10 years was unable to bear children. At the insistence of her husband, Sonabai lived within the walls of her rural house, ostracized from her family and community. After 10 years Sonabai bore a son, but her jealous husband continued to isolate her and her son inside their home. Because they were poor, the only toys Sonabai could provide her son were toys she created herself. So she dug clay from the sides of her well and molded the clay into toys for her child. Her son laughed with joy.

Springing from those initial efforts, Sonabai began painting and decorating the walls of her house with simple murals and clay bas-relief sculptures to delight her child. She also added elaborate decorative lattices to her home.

More details of Sonabai’s difficult life can be found in this online article and in a short film (trailer below):

Although Sonabai died in 2007, the artistic tradition she started has continued by other local artists. The second article entitled “A Museum of Clay Relief” shows village walls in Sonabai’s village of Puhputra in central India.

You can see additional examples of Sonabai’s later work on this YouTube video:

Pamma FitzGerald – Artist Profile

“Wolf” from the series “Happily Ever After”, a wall installation with sound featuring well-known fairytale characters.

Pamma FitzGerald is a very interesting multimedia artist who combines ceramics with collage, charcoal, pastel and other materials to create visually compelling, layered works of art. Pamma has two fine art degrees from the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD), one in drawing and the second in ceramics. She fuses those skills with an interest in characters (from folktales, legends and historical points in time) to create unique worlds in which the viewer can wander, wonder and explore. Perhaps Pamma can explain things more clearly, so I point you to this video from a few years ago:

JW: You studied and create works in multiple media, including ceramics. How did that come about?

PF: Although I do admire artists that stick to a single medium and hone and perfect it, I would feel flattened by that limitation.  Each medium, method and technique I use informs another – and I find intermingling traditionally disparate media exciting too.  

Emperor, to the right, is a combination of collage and drawing, and is part of my series Les Contes de Fées – moments from well-known fairytales.

JW: What attracts you to ceramics? And what can you do in ceramics better than in other media?

Nothing compares to manipulating clay with your hands, and I feel a finished piece using clay reflects that intimacy with the medium.

JW: On your website it’s a bit tricky detecting which parts of your “clay” work is actually clay vs. collage, charcoal, pastel or gel. (For example, “The attic door had been left open” and “It happened on the first flight” — are these clay plates? So the clay is essentially the ground upon which you sketch, paint and apply other imagery?)

PF: The two pieces you mention are a mix of clay, paper, pastel, charcoal (and a gel to fix the pastels). Calling clay the ground puts it down in my mind so I won’t call it that! In fact, the drawing (drawing being mark-making of any kind) is usually decided on before the clay comes into play.  But I make different works in different ways too.  I have used many different types of mark-making on clay – printing, mishima, decals, etc, but collage alongside clay has resonated for me for the last few exhibitions and projects. (My next project is already percolating and will be quite different!)

JW: What are your sources of inspiration?

PF: If I have a story about a piece in my head it makes the piece feel much richer, personal and multi-layered for me.  I feel a need to tell that  story and present it in a different way so that viewers will be able to see it from a different point of view.  Examples of this are the five pieces that comprise ‘Left Behind’. 

This body of work tells the story of a village in France – Oradour-sur-Glane – that was annihilated in June 1944.  Nearly all its 642 inhabitants were rounded up, the men were taken to barns and shot, and the women and children were taken to the church and burned to death.  After the massacre occurred, the village buildings were all burned to the ground.  A few people escaped including one 8 year old boy, and the title ‘Left Behind’ refers to them.  The ones who when their entire families and all their friends had been murdered were left behind with survivor guilt and excruciating sadness.  To make this piece, I researched the story extensively and I visited the village that has been left as it was on that fateful day as a reminder of man’s inhumanity to man.

JW: It also looks like you incorporate poetry and linguistics (audio recordings) into your work. Will you tell me about that?

PF: For the exhibition ‘Unhappily ever after’. I was motivated to make pieces after reading a book of poems by Tyler B. Perry, a friend of mine here in Calgary. 

All of the 5 pieces are characters from well-known fairytales, and as we all know, those old fairytales could be pretty brutal.  I made Red to reflect the moment she comes face to face with the wolf and Hansel as he watches his father abandon him in the woods for example.

Red from the series “Unhapplily Ever After”
Goldi, from the series ‘Unhappily Ever After’

After I had made 3 pieces, I reversed the process with Tyler and I created pieces that he then wrote poems for.  In the exhibition viewers could press a button corresponding to each piece and listen to the poem via headphones.  It turned out that visitors to the gallery spent a lot of time with my pieces whilst thoroughly enjoying the poems (children especially!)

Tyler and I also collaborated on the exhibition Caught and he read the poems at the opening.  He made the works come alive.  I’ve always enjoyed collaborating with other artists – it just makes everything that much richer as everyone offers something different.

Valerie Lowe, from the series “Caught” featuring 1920s era criminals moments after they were arrested

JW: I see numerous references to WWI and WWII in your work – are those reflections somehow of where you physically live?

PF: My interest in the two world wars was always lurking in the background. I was born in London and lived with grandparents who had lived  through the bombings in the Second World War.  Every one I knew had the same shed in the garden and it was only recently that I discovered those common sheds had in fact previously been air raid shelters. There are many more vestiges of war that still lurk in London. But it is in France in the little villages that  memories of war still leaves scars.  Every single family has a connection to those who died in the wars.  My children’s great-grandfather was also killed in France in the First World War, a father of 2 little girls.  His story appears in my work too.

“Papa Came Home With Presents”, large-scale collage and charcoal piece from the series “Jeter de la Poudre aux Yeux”

Pamma was recently awarded an Alberta Foundation for the Arts  grant for the exhibition she’s working on – 10 large-scale collage/drawings and 8 ceramic/collage wall pieces. The exhibition, entitled “Jeter de la Poudre aux Yeux”, is an exploration of romantic and idealized imagery of war derived from French postcards of the WWI era (1914-1918).

Dividing her time between two locations, Pamma will create the 10 large-scale collage/drawings in Alberta, Canada. Pamma will travel to France to work on the 8 ceramic pieces. She will use French clay, fire her pieces in France, and exhibit her work in a French gallery located within a renovated tile factory which once made tiles from the same clay.

Readers can see more of Pamma’s work on her website.

Sgrafitto Birdhouses

I started a series of Sgrafitto birdhouses in the fall as a way to inject levity and fun into the shortening days of winter. It’s been a pleasure to work on them. And it was fun to have these to fire when I quarantined with Coronavirus.

My wife came down with COVID-19 through exposure at work. The entire family then got it. Fortunately, none of us experienced serious symptoms and we’re through our quarantine period. In my case, though, I can’t shake off continued lethargy and shortness of breath. A ski day reservation came and went this weekend, for example, and I simply lacked the oomph to make it happen. Not the way I want to live my life.

Nonetheless, we’re on the mend. It’s a new year. We approach 2021 with hopes for a successful rollout of vaccines worldwide, a new political era of cooperation and civility, and a return to laughter in our homes and communities. I’m also hopeful that a few birds will enjoy new nests.