Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Wondering About the Weight of Tradition

Relatively few potters these days work in a tradition. There are ongoing traditions, where industrialization has not yet overcome all hand production for daily use (India). There are traditions consciously revived or continued, or even reinvented, for contemporary artistic work (North Carolina, Mata Ortiz). There are grand ancient traditions, which people might refer to in their creative work (Greece, China). But most of us make our own pots, or our own art.

I've just been in Greece. It was a tourist trip, under some time constraints, and I have not had a chance to talk with potters. But their ancient pottery tradition is one of the world's great art forms, in all museums. I started looking for Greek potters and found a strong connection to the ancient tradition. There is, of course, a good market in reproductions for tourists, of ancient and ancient-inspired pots. I was wondering if the weight of that grand tradition almost forces contemporary Greek potters to work with reference to it. So grand, so known, so beautiful, so Greek.

For example, Aristotelis Zizimos, in Delphi, has made pottery in various designs, his own art. However "over the last fifteen years, the charm of ancient ceramics and the magical world created by the depictions of mythical and historical subjects...has led him to focus almost exclusively on  the recreation of ancient Greek ceramics."

Maybe there is no way to be a potter in Greece without feeling the ancient art leaning on your shoulder.

Thetis Authentics extends their reason for reproductions beyond charm. They make exact copies to undermine the market in stolen antiquities, as well as making pottery referencing the ancient work for anyone who likes it.,

It does seems possible to resist that pull or pressure. Hector Mavridis, who advertises his workshops in Ceramics Monthly, makes wild, contemporary sculpture. He is, though, an Australian, with US education.

And I saw just a little of another potter's work at the Handmade Festival in a subway station in Athens. Pictures of her work, though not her name, on the announcement of the show. Google Handmade Festival, Athens

The tradition clearly need not dominate. I wonder if it is always present to potters there.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Come to the Talmadge Art Sale!

There's a lot of very classy handmade stuff. I feel in very good company there.

The next one is April 15, 10-4, at the Liberty Station Conference Center. Google knows.

I'm coming with  brand new pots, out of the glaze firing yesterday and some still there.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

New Pots -- Such a Pleasure

Why? What makes this step in a long process so very much pleasure?

It's the last step, mostly, receiving finished pots from the glaze firing. A culmination of the process maybe, and a productive success, or failure. But very definitely, my favorite step in the process is the beginning. Shaping pots on the wheel is the point where clay becomes pot, form rises from potential, "nothing" becomes something. It's a thrill, and a pleasure in the hands.So why is the end of this process so much pleasure too?

And I am very pleased, even though all the pots from a firing load don't come out well. It helps if they do, if I can feel some pride and success. This leaf is 12 inches across and all the texture came out clear in the glaze!

Wow, those colors! It's my favorite rutile blue glaze, applied thin and in a lucky spot in the kiln.   Breakfast tea today in this cup, and I kept turning it and looking at it.

Even if a pot is trash, or a "second" for sale cheaply, or just OK, I am pleased to get it; there's something new in it, and perhaps a good idea to follow in another pot.

Boring, but the shape has possibility.

Opening a shared kiln is a community enterprise, interesting to everybody. We care about each others' pots. We admire, encourage, steal ideas. It's good to look at pots, to handle them, discuss them. A shelf of new pots in a classroom or community studio is a happy traffic jam.

And it's not really an end to any process. Some pots need further work.

The text was illegible on these cups; something ran. So I rewrote the text with underglaze (in a squeeze bottle) and refired with a bisque load. OK now.

Ouch, the big leaf has a crack. Can I salvage it? A further challenge.

 Almost all pots have some further life in keeping, gift, sale and use. And each one contains ideas, to try again and differently. There's never an end.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

And the Next Step...

Ideas develop for me, in steps.

I've been making  these heart-shaped bowls.

They started as a form, a modification of round bowls. Very quickly, though, I thought one could be an anniversary present. For that, the bowl needs some surface to write on and to read easily, perhaps a flattened rim. And a color contrast for text and background. Realizing any idea brings up its new requirements. And there are always many possible solutions (carve the text? paint it? What tools make text legible and attractive?). So far it's this:

And what next? Do I want to make them for other people? As wedding gifts? Anniversary gifts? Birth gifts? Celebration of any other love?

And what other requirements will that set up? A deadline, since these celebrate a date. Extra bowls with no use, as I usually make more than one of any special order piece (because "things" go wrong).

It's an exploration, always.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

From the Circle to ?

Wheel-thrown pottery starts round.

At least that is the intention. Not always successful.

Ouch, the flange on the lid of this mug or the mug rim warped so they do not fit together.

 After a while, many potters find roundness a bit boring or over-predictable, and look for ways to modify that form. I am still looking for smooth and simple shapes, and so mostly modify the rim of my pots. The latest are heart shapes, at least as seen from the top.

From other angles, they produce all sorts of odd forms. Even better.

I've tried other distortions of the round in the past.

Just a spout on a mixing bowl for pouring.

A carved rim.

A squared circle.

Or a squashed circle and added parts to make something else.

All are fun and some please me a lot, but the hearts have something special about them. Maybe it's the other shapes that the modified rim produces in the rest of the bowl. Maybe the added potential is in the symbolic meanings of the form.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Calming Pottery

No, I doubt pottery is ever anxious. But it may calm people. Someone walking by said my freshly thrown heart-shaped bowls are calming. I love that; hadn't thought I want to make calming pots, but yes, I do. Among the adjectives I am choosing : graceful, floating ...  calming fits wonderfully. It's partly a look, partly a feel.

Other people whose work I love make wonderfully calming pots. Look at Noel Bailey's work, from the December Ceramics Monthly.

Calming is not boring. Bailey's pots are described:

"Each modulating, sloping edge confidently works to suggest a natural shape or form from his immediate environment. The apparent simplicity of his altered forms yields an abundance of complexity to journey through repeatedly in an unhurried state of mind. Just be with it. Slowing down is good. Notice more. In looking carefully at his pieces, viewers are bound to become more alert and mindful. "

There is enough going on to reward attention, quietly, with subtlety. Not simple, but calming.

This article writes about responses to the look of these pots. I have only seen pictures, but I expect they also feel attractive, complex, and calm to the hand.  Oh, yes.

And if you are interested in technical aspects of what he does, look at this way of loading platters in a kiln, to direct the flow of melted glaze.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Eva Zeisel

 I am reading On Design, by Eva Zeisel. Partly I read it for a bit of design education, something I have never really had, and lack.

Mostly I read it because she is my hero.

 I like her work, especially these soft, warm, curvy styles.

In herself, she is Ms Mid-Century, an influential product designer and teacher for decades of the 20th century. She encouraged her Pratt pottery students into competitions and into industrial work, in other words, into modern ceramics work.

And she is a wonderful model for daring and doing. She died in 2011, at age 105, working creatively almost all the way. She made her own path through life.

She grew up in an eminent scholarly family, and turned to art. Wanting a practical art to make a living, she learned pottery. In her cultural environment, handwork and practical craft could not have been much valued. My father grew up in a similar context; I've got a feel for this. He also would have loved to do more with his hands, but went, respectably into science and music.

 For adventure and opportunity, she moved from Hungary to the Soviet  Union, and made a career success, in a new country and language. Yes, she spent time there in prison. With her major scholar husband, she came to the US as a refugee from Hitler. She is quoted, in a video about her, saying about that time: "We were never poor; we just had no money." True: they had education, contacts, past successes, confidence, adaptability. But such courage and will.

Her son, John Zeisel, was an important teacher of mine, so I feel a personal connection to her. I'm finding it a pleasure, just to write about her.