Looking back and moving forward.
Clay is one of the oldest materials used by humans, and its place in the lives of humans has changed and evolved as we have. It’s had a central place in a community as vessels that store water and grains. Today we most often see clay in the form of toilets, sinks, heater elements, and our molded dishes. With modern manufacturing we have personal spaces which we can easily fill to overflowing with things, so that few people can really say they lack any quantity of items. We store water in disposable plastic bottles, we store our food in layers of boxes and plastic bags, and once we’ve used these up we store the garbage in more layers of plastic until they can be taken away in the metal boxes on wheels. Things just flow through our hands, from factory to landfill, each item indisguishable from the next and inevitably forgotten once sealed in the earth.
So the place that clay has in our world today is much different than it’s been before. Clay is still plentiful, but it’s never been disposable. And clay as art still has the intention and purpose behind it that long ago would have been present in every vessel. It can be something to stop our busy lives for a few moments in the morning to meditate over our morning coffee out of our favorite mug. It can be a vase that with or without flowers, we can stop to think about how it is one of the few objects in our lives that are hand made and individual.
Each and every piece that I make is one of a kind. I often make pieces in a series, but because they are hand crafted and fired in a soda kiln no two pieces are identical. I’m drawn to the pieces with a depth that you can explore, with subtle nuances in the texture and patterns in the glaze. A piece where you can always look a little closer and see something new. You aren’t going to see that in a mass produced plate from Target, or a ceramic mug from Ikea. Our lives are busy and we often don’t allow ourselves to slow down and take a moment to reflect. I see clay/pottery/ceramics as a way to feel a connection with another person, and an excuse to slow down for a moment.
Clay is a material that has a long and rich tradition. I try to reference that history, but in the context of our contemporary world. This is why I love the process of soda firing, also a contemporary adaptation of an older process.
In the 14th century potters began using a technique called salt firing. By adding salt into a kiln, the pieces would be glazed without having to individually apply glaze to each piece. This was great for the very utilitarian pieces like sewer pipes and whiskey jugs. But by the 1970’s there were problems with the technique – black smoke comes from the chimneys, and it wasn’t very friendly to the environment or your neighbors. So another technique was developed, using soda ash and baking soda. The kiln is gas fired and this soda mixture is added to the kiln near the end of the firing (around 2200°F); the soda vaporizes and is carried on the flame throughout the kiln. The soda reacts with the pieces, changing their color and texture. The variations you see on the pieces come from the variations in the kiln – how close a piece is to the burner, how much room there is for the flame to flow across the piece, even the temperature outside or the humidity can effect the outcome. Even after firing soda kilns hundreds of times there are still surprises to be found in how the pieces react. The pieces that I have created for this exhibition are tributes to the unpredictable and unique effects of this process.
Here is a virtual tour of the exhibition that I’m currently having at Haus in Chicago through May 6. It is a body of work that I have been working on for months, and had in my head for the last year or so. It is really excited to have the group of work finished and exhibited together. Click on any of the images to see them larger. I hope you enjoy your visit to the gallery…
I have a series of squared platters that I really see as canvases. The surfaces are a combination of layered slips, sprayed glazes and the soda kiln.
I have taken the idea of my surfaces being canvases one step further. I have made a series of wall pieces. These are forms that I have been playing with for a while, but this is the first time that I have exhibited them.
And here are some mugs that echo the grid of squares above…
Chicago artist Amy Lemaire designed floral arrangements in my low oval vases. These are pieces that stand alone as sculptural forms, but come to life with greens, branches and flowers in them. This is just a selection of the pieces. I took these photos on a white piece of paper so you could see them a little bit better.
I am going to be working on a project over the next couple of months and I’d like your help.
I am going to creating a guide (on this blog) to clay in Chicago. It’ll be illustrated with photos, and linked to maps- and it will be all things ceramic. Galleries, art centers, studios, etc… (all things open to the public).
If there is something out there that you think should be included or that I should know about, just write a comment to this post.
I’m going to start going to 1 place a week (or more) to document the world of clay in the windy city. I’ll keep you updated on my progress.
I know that I have been a little neglectful of this blog lately. I really enjoy writing and keeping it up to date- but it’s been a busy year. When I ask myself : should I make pots today, or write a blog post today? Usually the clay wins out, as it should. Making pots as well as working on a website can be solitary tasks. Sometimes it can feel like no one else is out there.
About a month ago I went to NCECA and got to meet many people in person that I have met through this blog and through my pots. It was a nice reminder that the words and pots are being received on the other end.
I am going to be doing do reorganization of this site so the archives are easier to get to. I also have a lengthy list of topics that I am going to be tackling, and I’d like your input on it.
Some of the topics that I’m going to be writing about:
-a tour of ceramics in Chicago
-pottery/ clay tool reviews
-online pottery videos
If you have anything that you’d like me to blog about, just shoot me an email. Or if you come across a link that you think would be interesting to me, let me know.
I look forward to hearing from you!
A show of my new work is opening on Friday, April 6, at Haus in Chicago. All of the work is soda fired (surprise surprise!), with a vivid palate of colors. The show include some new wall pieces, oval centerpiece vase (like you see below), large square platters and more.
I have been wanting to do this work since last summer, and when the opportunity came up to have a show at Haus, I was really excited to have a place to exhibit the vision that was in my head. I’ve been working intensely on this new body of work through the coldest and darkest days of the winter- with a longing eye looking towards spring.
I’ll give you a little sneak peak of some of the work here on this entry and after the opening I will post some installation images of the show.