Mar 7 2011

Are the forces of the universe with you this show season?

CameliaWell Spring has sprung and show season has begun!

If you’re down to the wire, it doesn’t matter how well organized you think you are or how meticulously you’ve planned out the final few weeks leading to a show, when you desperately need things to go more smoothly than ever, that’s when equipment is going to fail, bisques over-fire, glazes screw up, etc.. And if you live in the South, you also know that once its finally warm enough to work in the studio again, its going to start raining and the humidity will shoot up to somewhere around 400%, rendering pots more wet than when you first threw them! Well, maybe not quite that bad, but it does certainly become more of a challenge to dry those last few pots in time to bisque and get out in sufficient time for a glaze firing. Oh yes, and lest I forget.. If you have kids, that is the time that they will inevitably get sick. Once they’re finally better and back to school, you find you’ve come down with whatever they’ve just had, only worse!

I remember, years ago, expressing amazement to my teacher, John (a working potter), as he packed away the final pots he had made for the One of a Kind Show in Toronto, not the week before, but an entire month in advance. (Can you imagine?) He chuckled and then said “Anne… its taken me 30 years to become this organized. Believe me, heheh I’ve learned the hard way!” I think with all the extraneous things I have going on in my life (kids, classes, etc.) that I am much better with working smarter with the time I have than I used to be, but I guess I still have a few years yet to be in as good a shape as John. hehehe

Anyways, in my last post I asked you, if you were to attend a clay conference, what would you expect to see or want to get out of it? I know several people I’ve talked to who have just raved about the conference we just had here, but there was definitely grumblings from the less vocal.

Its been a few weeks and its taken me this long to digest my experience. I was certainly glad and appreciative that the conference was here in town for a change, and that I was able to go see the presenters, some of the exhibits, and the vendors room, but overall, I can’t say I came away inspired or really even.. well, satisfied. This kind of puzzled me as I have always had something to take away from any conference or workshop I’ve attended.

John Leach saggar fired vessel I couldn’t help but think back to the conferences I have been to that I’ve found most inspiring. My first ever conference had John Leach as the presenter. If you don’t know who he is, he is a working potter from England who apprenticed with his grandfather, Bernard Leach, and he makes good honest pots, both functional and art. He spoke, not only at length about the fundamentals of pottery, but also about his trials and tribulations in business and as a potter. Not only that, but he made a lot of pots in the 2 day period! Another conference I attended, the principle speaker was Val Cushing. Again, he gave a really well rounded presentation which included, the fundamentals of pottery making, glazes, as well as his philosophies about pot making and life in general. In retrospect, I have to say, both conferences had, in my opinion, something to offer everybody in that room, hobbyist, working potter, and academic alike.

I wish I could say the same about this last conference here, despite there being 3 presenters up on stage at one time. Each presenter made only a handful of pieces over the 2 day period and I found myself, on more than one occasion, taking refuge in the vendors’ room or in the lobby visiting with people I hadn’t seen in a while. I wasn’t alone either. It shouldn’t be that way. Cudos to the organizers for doing a great job organizing and putting the whole thing together (really they did), but for me, the conference had a disappointingly over-academic feel to it.

Its not that the presenters were not talented, qualified, or that they didn’t give a good presentation of what they did, but ALL of them made and presented work that very ‘ceramics monthly’/academic and more intended for a gallery than marketable elsewhere. Its great to see a masters thesis in clay, to know that they have collectors who will pay $5000+ for a sculpture or a $1200 for a teapot, but.. come on.. How do I put this.. this is not the real world. …and in this economy…? There was no mention of the fact that one of the presenter’s bread and butter in their business actually comes from production of tiles and that (for other unmentioned reasons) he doesn’t have to eat off his ‘pots’. Regardless, not one of the presenters spoke about the hardships they’ve encountered because of the economy or offered any insight as to how they are dealing with that regarding galleries, how to generate more customers, etc.. Everyone knows, bad economic times is not the easiest time to generate collectors or buyers, so why no mention of it? I don’t get it.

While its important to see something presented at a conference that we don’t make or typically see in our circles, I personally just didn’t feel any connection or anything that inspired me to breathe new life into my work, or benefit my business. Most (probably 90+%) of the people attending these conferences are not academics, and I think sometimes this fact gets lost.

With all that said, I’ll be interested to see what presenters Scott Bennett pulls out of his hat for next year’s conference.


Feb 22 2011

In the studio today

Well the conference is over, the weather is fine, and I’m finally back in the studio. Yay!

Bas Relief on porcelain

Continuing to work on carving some bas relief designs on porcelain pieces I had thrown before the weekend. Its a bit of a leap of faith.. you commit all that time carving a design and hope for the best that they come out fine in the firing and all the glazes do what they’re supposed to be doing. ..on to the bisque firing they go!

Dogwood relief

Well on Saturday, despite the greatest of intentions, I didn’t end up taking very many pictures at all, but here are just a few more shots from the conference for you, this time of the three presenters: Chris Gustin, Misty Gamble, and Christa Assad.

Chris GustinMisty GambleChrista Assad

(fyi Next year’s conference will be in Birmingham and run by Scott Bennett)

It takes a few days to fully digest what one has seen at any workshop or conference. Sometimes you come away just brimming with excitement, inspiration and ideas, and are just rearing to go! Other times, well,.. it just takes a bit longer.

I have a question for you now.. If you were to attend a clay conference, what would you expect/like/want to see? What would you like to take away from the experience? Any dislikes…? Please comment


Feb 18 2011

Throw me something, Mister!

On stage at the Alabama Clay Conference

Just got back from the first day at the Alabama Clay Conference that’s being held in downtown Mobile this year (yes, I know, I slipped out of town before the Mardi Gras Parades began.. sad huh?). This year’s presenters are Chris Gustin, Misty Gamble, and Christa Assad. I’m not quite decided if I like all three presenters on stage at once, but thankful there were big screens on stage (and that I had enough coffee this morning to keep up with it).

Conference continues tomorrow, but in the meantime, here are just a few of the pictures I shot today at Space 301 and at the Eastern Shore Art Center (in Fairhope) last night.

Show at the Eastern Shore Art CenterEstella FransbergenClay exhibit at the Eastern Shore Art CenterSpace301 clay exhibitAlisa HolenChrista AssadMisty GambleSpace 301


Feb 1 2011

Presenters and Conferences on the coast

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What a nice way to start the day.. watching a pottery demo. This is North Carolina potter and glaze guy John Britt. He was one of the main presenters along with, PJC instructor, Bill Clover, at the Gulf Coast Clay Conference I took part in last February.

John Britt's Shino test tilesDo you get tired just looking at this? I took a glaze course with Ron Roy back in the mid 1990s, but seeing John’s impressive array of shino glaze tests spread out on the table at the clay conference like this, bowled me over and was a reminder (!) that we need to get back to testing regularly.

Shino first or be cursed!Here are Larry Manning (of Magic Kiln Pottery, and the conference coordinator) and Chris Greenman (Asst prof at Alabama State) hamming it up for the camera. Chris’ button bears the warning “Shino First or be Cursed!”

Regarding the 2011 Gulf Coast Clay Conference ..I learned this morning that this year’s conference will be taking part over in Mississippi this year on May 26-28th. I’ll post more on it later as I get it.

Speaking of clay conferences, the Alabama Clay Conference will be taking place in Mobile this year, February 17-20th, smack dab in the middle of Mardi Gras. The featured presenters are Christa Assad, Misty Gamble, and Chris Gustin. Other things associated with the conference are gallery exhibitions downtown (I’ve heard good things about the one at Space 301), and on Sunday, a demonstration at University of South Alabama’s new glass studio.


Nov 17 2008

Even the big boys have disappointments

Ontario Clay and Glass AssociationSeveral years ago, when I was *very* new to clay, I attended my very first clay conference.    It was really my first introduction to the clay community.  I remember it being a wonderful and unforgettable experience.  I got to try rakuing for the very first time at the preliminary workshop hosted by Ottawa Valley artist Leta Cormier in her, as I remember, extremely immaculate studio.  I also got to take part in my first mug exchange in which I remember receiving a lovely salt-glazed mug by potter Jackie Seaton.  My name was even drawn and I won some nice oriental brushes. But that was not all (and this was the pinnacle for me), John Leach, of  Muchelney Pottery, was the main presenter.  His pots were like nothing I had seen before (I told you I was new to clay) and I was impressed by what a real person he was … very gracious, generous, and down to earth. He left a lasting impression on me.

I recently discovered John’s brother Simon Leach has posted a series of videos on YouTube over the last year or so, showing demos, kilns, visits back to England and to friends’ studios, his philosophies, etc etc.  What I like is he presents things face on and shares his victories and disappointments, the good and the bad,  taking it all in stride.  I don’t think a lot of people are aware how hard it can be to be a potter and that things, quite beyond your control, can go extremely wrong after many, many hours of hard work, and all for naught.  Here is the 2nd of 2 of Simon’s videos taken while unloading Seth Cardew‘s kiln:

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Jul 25 2008

NCECA in Jingdezhen China

Have you visited the NCECA web site lately?

For those who are not potters, NCECA is the “National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts”. Their objective is to enrich and promote the ceramics through education. Most people know NCECA for its annual conference they put at different locations across the country, their exhibitions, and publications.

One of their upcoming events will be a symposium this fall in Jingdezhen, China!
NCECA/Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute International Symposium –
Shared Journeys: Chinese/American Ceramic Art Education

October 22 – November 2, 2008

On the Preview page of the Symposium are slideshows from around Jingdezhen, the Ancient Kiln Museum, as well as a few great Quicktime videos of people there skillfully making and decorating pots, all compiled by Richard Burkett and Joe Molinaro when they were there earlier this year .

The pure magnitude of some of the pots produced there and the skill of the craftsmen is, to say the least, somewhat humbling. ..five foot platters, 4×8′ handmade porcelain tiles, 6/9/12+ foot tall urns… almost unfathomable, especially to those who have worked in porcelain before and know its finicky and particular nature.

So what is their secret? Apparently, I was told, the porcelain in Jingdezhen isn’t like the smooth plastic body we know here in the west, in fact its not very plastic at all, but they have learned to work with this. They throw thick There’s a picture of one segment of a particularly large pot on the Symposium page being thrown by a team of 3 people. For large pieces such as the massive urns pictured on the website, sections are thrown separately, let dry to bone dry, then the segments are bonded together using slip. Once that’s done, they trim the assembled vessel and decorate.

There are still some spots available too.. I sure wish I could go.