Monday, December 31, 2007

Handmade 2.0

In my own work, I find that I am constatntly struggling to keep my interests in ceramics at the forefront of my day to day studio practice. In my time at grad school, I have been reading a lot about making art, what art is, the history of art and so on. I find that in the few minutes I have between coming home from the studio and collapsing into bed, I cant help but do a bit of catch up on the world of crafting and design that is so prominent on the web. This world of product reveiws and handmade movements seems so inline with who I would like to be as an artist. I feel as though I have been invited into a dialogue about what ceramics is for me--about the hand, about good design, about usefulness and accessibility and so on. The recent article Handmade 2.0 written by Rob Walker for the NYT was an excellent find. I cannot wait to read the book when it is published. Click here to read the article by Rob.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Back by Popular Demand

I recently deleted my original Blog titled: "Adventures of Stripes and Dots" and by popular demand, I have reposted all of my original positings from that Blog here on a new blog. My interest in this blog is to post articles I write and collect pertaining to my concerns with ceramics, both historical and contemporary. I will post images and articles written by myself and others that I find interesting and newsworthy, in addition to the occasional more lengthy and formal writings. I will be posting bi-weekly to keep things fresh. If you have comments, please share them--the blog will be more exciting and fun as a result of your participation.

Gwyn Hanssen Pigott


Gwyn Hanssen Pigott (born 1935, Ballarat, Australia) is a contemporary ceramic artist. With a career spanning over 45 years, influences from her early apprenticeships with English potters Ray Finch, Michael Cardew and Bernard Leach are still apparent in her current work. Hanssen Pigott wood-fires her porcelain still-life arrangements that are noticeably influenced by the still life work of Italian painter Giorgio Morandi. Her palette is clearly inherited from China’s Song Dynasty wares introduced to her through her various apprenticeships in the Leach tradition. Hanssen Pigott currently maintains a studio in Ipswich, Queensland where she is recognized as one of Australia’s most significant contemporary artists.


In 1954, Gwyn Hanssen Pigott received her Bachelor of Arts (equivalent to a Bachelor of Fine Arts) from the University of Melbourne. Hanssen Pigott’s first introduction to ceramics was in the 1950s while a student at University. She studied Bernard Leach's A Potter's Book, an influential text for potters both when it was written as well as today. In seeking to learn more in the Leach tradition, she sought out Ivan McMeekin who had apprenticed with both Bernard Leach and Michael Cardew in England.

Between 1955 and 1959, Hanssen Pigott held apprenticeships with several influential potters from both Australia and England. Her first apprenticeship was with McMeekin at Sturt Pottery in Mittagong, New South Wales, Australia, between 1955 and 1957. McMeekin established Sturt Pottery in 1953 as a production and teaching pottery modeled after the studio traditions of Leach and Cardew. McMeekin emphasized the use of local materials for small-scale studio production, a concept introduced to him by Cardew. Hanssen Pigott studied with McMeekin at a time when all clay bodies had to be made from hand-processed raw ceramic materials, they were not available as commercially pre-mixed
products. While at Sturt Pottery, Hanssen Pigott was exposed to an appreciation of materiality and process in addition to a learned admiration of form and beauty in a pot.

Hanssen Pigott’s introduction to the Leach-Cardew studio potter tradition via McMeekin more than likely encouraged her to go abroad to England to apprentice with Finch, Cardew and Leach. Hanssen Pigott traveled to England in 1958. She first worked with Ray Finch at Winchcombe Pottery. Michael Cardew established Winchcombe in 1926 by shortly after he left St. Ives where he had been an apprentice to Bernard Leach for three years. Cardew’s goal was to make pottery for everyday use and to make his pottery available at a price that most people could afford (in the seventeenth century English slipware tradition). In 1939, only three years after joining Cardew, Ray Finch assumed the management of Winchcombe while Cardew set up a new pottery in Cornwall at Wenford Bridge. In 1946, Cardew sold Winchcombe to Ray Finch.

In 1958, after working at Winchcombe, Hanssen Pigott apprenticed Bernard Leach at St Ives, and Michael Cardew at Wenford Bridge. In 1960, she left Cornwall with her newlywed husband, Louis Hanssen, to establish a studio in Portobello Road, London. During her time in London, Hanssen Pigott enrolled in evening classes at the Camberwell School of Art, with Dame Lucie Rie.

In 1966, after several visits, she moved to Archeres, France where she set up her own pottery. Hanssen Pigott became more and more well known in the ceramics community internationally. Around this time she lectured in the United States as well as Holland. In 1973, she returned to Australia, moving to Tasmania in 1974 with her second husband John Pigott. Hanssen Pigott and her husband set up a pottery workshop in Tasmania with financial help from the Crafts Board of the Australia Council.

Some of her many artistic accolades include the following: in 1980, Hanssen Pigott was a “tenant potter” in Adelaide at the Jam Factory Craft Center, from 1981-1988 she was the potter in residence at the Queensland University of Technology. In 1989 she was the artist in residence at the Fremantle Arts Center. In 1993 Hanssen Pigott was awarded a three year Artist Development Fellowship from the Visual Arts and Crafts Board of the Australia Council. In 1994 she was the artist in residence in the Ceramics Department of the School of Mines and Industries, Ballrat.


Gwyn Hanssen Piggot’s work has a wide range of influences. The variety of influence from Song Dynasty glazes and palettes to Leach-Cardew forms can be clearly seen in her work. Hanssen Pigott has written about her interests in Buddhism and the meditation accompanying the practice as well as her interests in the quiet still-lives of Italian painter, Giorgio Morandi—all of which influence her work.

As previously discussed, Hanssen Pigott was influenced early on by the text A Potter’s Book, written by Bernard Leach. Artist and author Edmund de Waal describes A Potter’s Book:

A Potter’s Book, finally published at the start of the war in May 1940,
stands as both manual and polemic. Indeed its significance and popularity are due to the complex way in which Leach’s technical descriptions are bound up in his values. It is a book that seems to encode the whole meaning of being a potter and working as a potter, not simply the making of pots. From his introductory chapter ‘Towards a Standard’, through the technical chapters to the description of an imagined month in the workshop life of a potter, Leach rehearses his convictions about the place of handwork in society…Leach starts from the presumption that there is a need for a common standard of ‘fitness and beauty’ and that such a standard is lacking in the West where the appreciation of pottery is a marginal activity…His judgments are expressed as absolutes: ‘a pot in order to be good should be a genuine expression of life,’ ‘it is true that pots exist which are useful and not beautiful and others that are beautiful and impractical, but neither of these extremes can be considered normal: the normal is a balanced combination of the two…(Leach states) The potter must be symbolically independent of contemporary society…The gravitas of Leach’s book, though, lay in the feeling that art was not various but very particular indeed. It was the very absoluteness of Leach’s ‘Song standards’, ‘the ethical pot’, that were to define the post-war agenda on ceramics.

Through her study with McKeenin, Hanssen Pigott’s sense of the Leach tradition was sharpened. McMeekin set up the Sturt Craft Center based on Michael Cardew’s philosophy of self-sufficiency. McMeekin relied on local clays and raw materials to make his work. McMeekin wrote his own influential book published in 1967, titled Notes for Potters in Australia. Clearly Hanssen Pigott chose to learn more about Leach and his family of potters in her decision to apprentice with Leach, Cardew and Finch in the UK. De Waal’s description of Leach’s high regard for the aesthetic of China’s Song Dynasty wares, specifically the objects made for meditation in the monasteries, has been incredibly influential on Hanssen Pigott’s aesthetic.

The Song Dynasty wares, so influential to so many contemporary potters, are known for their simple glazing, soft colors, elegance, poise, restraint and peaceful qualities. Bernard Leach might be considered one of the most notable contemporary advocates for this aesthetic in the West. Chinese firing technology had become quite advanced during the Song Dynasty, allowing for the development of more sophisticated high temperature glazes. More important than decoration, the shapes of this dynasty became complex and engaging as the focus of the wares. Many potters made work with tradition in mind, aiming to recreate the look of jade stone in their glazes.

In Hanssen Pigott’s pottery, you can see a heavy influence of specifically the Northern Song Dynasty wares. The Northern Song wares concentrated on the meditative qualities of form. Glazing was rich in color, but decoration on the surfaces was minimal. What decoration that was used was delicate and restrained. The work is technically very accomplished.

In addition to her adherence to the aesthetic of the Song Dynasty wares, Hanssen Pigott describes her own sense of form, which is aligned with the Cardew Leach philosophy of the importance of the everyday and humility in pottery:

About form. I am sure that the forms of the most common, everyday utensils can evoke so much that is inexpressible in any other language, about humanness. That with only the very slightest gesture, the merest suggestion of the lip of a jug, or pouring spout, or the lightest softening of a curve, there can be expressed a sort of vulnerability, or a tenderness, or an attentiveness that causes us to pause. That the scale alone of some objects can touch us, and a small jug of open and generous form can somehow seem brave and absurd and a bit like ourselves.

It is later on that Hanssen Pigott describes how her work differs from the aspirations of Leach and Cardew:

I no longer care if the cup, with its careful handle and balanced weight (the heritage of years of teaset making), stands unused among a quiet group of table-top objects arranged as a still life, somewhere higher than table height. Aait is still a cup—an everyday object as ordinary and simple as can be—but from somewhere, because of its tense or tenuous relationship with other simple, recognized, even banal objects, pleasure comes.

I am surprised. It is a weird idea. It is not what I thought my work would ever be about when I tried to live like the unknown craftsman in a hamlet in France, or a hillside in Tasmania. It is alarmingly contradictory; to make pots that are sweet to use and then to place them almost out of reach. To make beakers that are totally inviting and then to freeze them in an installation. Worse still, to take so much time with each piece, carefully trimming and turning and removing most marks of the throwing….Old friends indeed be worried. And yet it has come slowly, out of observation, out of what cannot be refuted. These forms, these assemblages and groupings and jostlings and juxtapositions sometimes have a power to move me, and others. Strange, I cannot understand.

Hanssen Piggot might have come to arranging her work in groupings as still life compositions reluctantly, but it was not without influence. Hanssen Piggot describes her interests in the paintings of Italian Giorgio Morandi:

Thankfully there are masters I can look to, who never seemed to miss. The makers of the Korean rice bowls, Giorgio Morandi. Their works confront and inspire, and imply humility, unconscious or highly, intensely conscious, they express a sure understanding. Of something. What? Is that truth in form? Are their forms true? Well, they have left us some sort of man-made, material, tangible expression in real stuff, real clay, real thick paint, which in its pulled back simplicity satisfies a suprising longing. And because I can appreciate it (a little), or feel it, then that understanding must be in me too—as deeply as I allow it. And also, perhaps, the potential to express it. Worth pursuing, would not you say? But perhaps, after all, not to be spoken about too much. Words get too big. Leave them.

Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) started painting still life compositions in the 1920s. His style of painting was minimal in its use of composition, quiet colors and line quality. His colors often used whites, muted blues, browns, iron reds, cobalt and ochre creating a very specific palette. Author Karen Wilkin writes of Giorgio Morandi:

This is true even among the still lifes constructed of utterly familiar, repeated objects. In some, Morandi gangs those objects together so that they touch, hiding and cropping one another in ways that alter even the most recognizable features; in others, the same objects are treated as distinct individuals, gathered on the surface of the tabletop like an urban crowd in a piazza. In Morandi's closely linked "serial still lifes", apparently identical groupings of familiar objects, altered by the addition or subtraction of a single element, the presence (or absence) of one more bottle, one less box, as casually placed as an afterthought, can serve not only to completely shift the dynamic weight and the spatial logic of a given composition, but to change its color harmonies, and even the entire proportion of the picture.


In her early work, in the 1950s through the 1970s, Hanssen Pigott focused on producing functional ceramic wares. She is most well known for her more recent objects--three dimensional still life groupings, which she has worked with closely since the 1980s. Her influences from the Song Dynasty wares show early as she was working with McMeekin in the 1950’s, who was also heavily influenced by the work from the Song Dynasty. This early engagement with the history of ceramics has proven to become an old friend for Hanssen Pigott in her later works.

Owen Rye writes of Hanssen Pigott:

Had I come to Pigott’s work with knowledge of recent art history, and none at all of her journey, I might sat that her work is much more suggestive of the modernist movement than of its beginnings in a love for Song Dynasty ceramics; more redolent of Bauhaus Germany or later Scandinavia, than distant China…the group carries an alternating current, a constantly reversing flow from one polarity to another; from abstraction to reality… Early in the evolution of the group concept, Ian McKay, in 1990, discussed the inherent contradictions in the grouping that arose at that time from considering each item in the group as a functional object, for example, a bowl or cup for daily use. These functional pots if used and replaced would constantly modify the group. Or, if the group were retained in its original format, then quite usable objects could become solely objects of contemplation. In a prescient manner (the article was written just before his death) McKay suggested: "The still lifes should be thought about again, both by enthusiastic critics and the artist".

In a 1999 review, Helen Stephens writes of Hanssen Pigott:

She (Hanssen Pigott) says in making her forms, she dared herself to go to the edge of formlessness and, she wrote: "To my delight the pared down forms remained pots; glazed, strong, usable. What is more, this eccentric presentation, unframed, unboxed, completely floating on an idea, was accepted." She says she is wary of design: "Skill is one thing but a pot has to breathe." These groups have a meditative value -- we take time out to consider them in the rush of life. People who purchase these groups of pots set aside alcoves, shelves, specially designed locations for these object groupings. Their strength and individuality; their cool composure; their certainty; their lightness and depth have the power to move and reassure. Pigott says they have, "for a moment pulled on our attention, with, perhaps, a reminder of our own vulnerability, and beauty and possibility of transformation and repose". The range of colours also have a powerful effect -- from pure white groupings to rich and intense browns that seem to glisten out of the darkness.

Gwyn Hanssen Pigott’s work can be found in the collections of: the Art Gallery of South Australia, Australian National Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Boijmans Museum, Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Winnipeg Museum and numerous others. Her recent accolades include: 2001, Order of Australia Medal; 1998, Australia Council Fellowship Award; 1985, Queensland State Ceramic Award, Toowoomba; 1963, Fellow, Society of Designer Craftsmen, UK; and numerous others.


Garth Clark Gallery:
Sturt Contemporary Australian Craft:
Galerie Besson:
Ceramics Today:
Smithsonian Freer Gallery of art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery:
Chritine Abrahams Gallery:
National Gallery of Victoria:
The Leach Pottery:
Wendford Bridge Pottery:
Winchcombe Pottery:
Museuo Morandi:
Song Dynasty Wares:

Mark Pharis

[Functional forms] "have been a source of curious and engaging problems for many years. I suspect it is because the nature of the pots is multifaceted and unfolds over time. Utility or function is but one aspect of a pot. Use and its connection to the domestic arena form the framework and a context in which I work. The themes provided by function are familiar-vases, cups, teapots, etc. And they may be thought of as a kind of shorthand for a longer and less obvious list of concerns, which includes-in no particular order-interactivity, material, chemistry, the realm of ideas, metaphor, formal constitution, social and cultural context, a pot's relationship to 'fine art' and function as 'idea." –Mark Pharis

"Just as in music we find that the simpler the theme, the more thorough must be the knowledge of the musician in order to compose acceptable variations thereon. So, in fact in every Art this rule obtains, and the simpler the apparent result- assuming, of course, that such result is really beautiful the greater the art care knowledge and taste required... The problem presented is practically one of elimination. To include all that is necessary and eliminate all that is unessential..."

Mark Pharis is an American ceramic artist and professor residing in Roberts, Wisconsin. Pharis is currently the Chair of the Department of Art at the University of Minnesota where he has been a faculty member since 1985. Pharis is most known for his exploration of functional vessels: namely the teapot, vase and soy bottle forms. Pharis is well known for his unique method for handbuilding using cut paper templates and slabs in a way very similar to sewing with fabric. Pharis comes from an important lineage of potters having been a student of Warren MacKenzie, an influential American potter formerly an apprentice of British potter Bernard Leach.


Mark Pharis received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis in 1971. Between 1971 and 1985, Pharis was employed by many Universities (mostly Midwestern) as a visiting faculty member, sabbatical replacement and summer session faculty. During this time Pharis showed in many group and two person shows as well as several solo exhibitions. In 1985, Pharis began his long-term career as a professor in the Department of Art at the University of Minnesota, where he is currently the Chair of the Department.

It was as a student at the University of Minnesota that Pharis studied with Warren MacKenzie. Sandy Simon, also a student of MacKenzie, describes the importance of MacKenzie: “I remember what brought me into the world of pottery—coming of age in the midst of the Vietnam War, kids we knew in high school were getting killed; our college campus was closed. Violence was everywhere and for reasons we doubted worthwhile. Pottery making was a vital practice of living. Warren MacKenzie, as our teacher, encouraged us to follow our vision, allow our talents and trust ourselves. The world was a healthy place: compassion and confidence in humankind not only existed but thrived, and feeling it was just the beginning; living it was just down the road.”

In an interview with Jeanne Quinn (faculty member of the Department of Art and Art History at the University of Colorado at Boulder) Quinn describes McKenzie’s artistic strength as his very narrow focus in clay—his ability to work within a structured set of rules to work within. Quinn queries Pharis about his own rules or parameters for working with clay. Pharis responds stating that it is his choice to make functional vessels that is a parameter in his work. He states: “I was in love with the whole functional world and I could operate confidently in that world—I like the fact that this is [function is] structured—functional pots happen in a certain framework, both defining and liberating at the same time. It is interesting to investigate the boundaries of that.”

Apparent simplicity of form and decoration in Pharis’ vessels allow for a revealing of the subtle complexities in the work over time and through the use of his work. His interests in function are clearly both literal and conceptual. Pharis states: "I want my pots to have that potential to flip or alternate, to appear to be about use at one time, but to be visually independent and clear enough to be other than functional as well." His process of folding and joining slabs together that have been cut using templates similar to sewing patterns gives a sense of volume to his closed vessels that speaks to the softness of clay in the green state. Where the slabs are joined as seams the process of assemblage is apparent.

His exhibitions are numerous and his work can be found in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, England, Gardner Museum, Toronto Canada, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, Ferguson Collection, the Kansas City Art Institute, The Woodman Collection, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, Everson Museum, and Los Angeles County Museum of Art, amongst many others.


What Follows Interview at the University of Colorado at Boulder:
Akar Design:
Department of Art: University of Minnesota:
Ferrin Gallery:
Trax Gallery:
LaCoste Gallery:

Eva Zeisel

Eva Zeisel (born in Hungary, November 13, 1906) is a ceramist and an industrial designer. Zeisel declares herself “a maker of useful things.” Ziesel’s career spans over seventy years. Her work pioneered modernism into the home. Her forms are often abstractions of the natural world. Zeisel currently resides in New York where continues to design furniture as well as glass and ceramic objects.


Eva Zeisel (nee Eva Amalia Striker) was born into a wealthy Budapest family. At 17, Zeisel entered Kepzomuveszeti Academia (the Budapest Royal Academy of Fine Arts). She left the academy in 1925 to work with a potter in Budapest learning to design and make ceramic objects. For ten years Zeisel employed herself as an apprentice, then a journeyman in a guild. In 1928 she went to work at the Schramberg factory in Germany where Zeisel became one of the earliest designers of mass-produced contemporary ceramics.

In 1932, Zeisel moved to the Soviet Union. In 1935, at the age of 29, after working several jobs in the ceramic industry--inspecting factories in the Ukrane as well as designing for the Lomonosov factory—Zeisel was named the artistic director of the Soviet ceramics industry.

It was only a year later, in 1936, while living in Moscow Zeisel was accused of participating in an assassination plot against Stalin. Zeisel was arrested and held in prison for 16 months, 12 of which were spent in solitary confinement. Zeisel was released and deported to Vienna. It was while in Vienna that Zeisel met her husband Hans Zeisel. In 1938, shortly after her arrival and marriage, the Nazis invaded Vienna encouraging the couple to move to New York with only $64.00 to their name.

Zeisel’s career in design continued to develop in the United States. In addition to designing for companies such as General Mills, Rosenthal China, Castelton China, Zeisel taught one of the first courses in industrial design at the Pratt Institute in New York. In 1946, Zeisel had the first one-woman show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Zeisel stopped designing for industry during the 1960’s and 1970’s, returning to work in the 1980’s. Many of her recent designs have found the same success as her earlier designs. Zeisel’s recent designs have included a teakettle for Chantal, glasses for Nambe, a sink and bathtub for Signature, ceramics for KleinReid as well as the designer of one of Crate and Barrel’s best selling dinner services.

Zeisel’s works are in the permanent collections of Brohan Museum, Germany; the British Museum; The Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Musée des Arts Decoratifs de Montreal; The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Brooklyn, Metropolitan, Dallas, Knoxville, Milwaukee. In 2005, Zeisel was awarded the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Eva Zeisel’s designs are made for use. The inspiration for her sensuous forms often comes from the natural organic curves of the body, taking advantage of the softness of clay. Zeisel’s more organic approach to modernism most likely comes as a reaction to the Bauhaus aesthetics that were popular at the time of her early training. Her sense of form and color show influence from the Hungarian folk arts she grew up seeing. All of Zeisel’s designs, whether it be her furniture, metal, glass or ceramic, are often made in sets or in relationship to other objects. Many of Zeisel’s designs nest together creating modular designs that also function to save space.

Zeisel describes her designs in a New York Sun article: “I don’t create angular things. I’m a more circular person—it’s more my character….even the air between my hands is round.”

I came to the Pre-Colombian exhibit at the Denver Art Museum with the expectation to see more pots that depicted daily life, more illustrations of people and what I think of as particularly Aztec imagery. This expectation is directly related to my memories of and familiarity with the Pre-Colombian collection at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

I chose this seated female figure from the Pre-Colombian ceramics because it seemed to me to be a calm, almost meditative figure. The quality of quietness in this figure is important to me in that I enjoy art that makes me step back for a second—this reflective quality is one that I am drawn to because my own work is not quite there yet—but I am aiming to get it there if I can.

I do feel that this object is sincere, mostly thanks to the attention to detail in the surface treatment. I also feel that it is very related to death and the stillness of the dying, something about the eyes suggests this to me. I think it is the darkness and the closed quality of the eyes that stands out in this way. Though there doesn’t seem to be humor here, there is a sense of the sublime in regards to the spiritual. Much of my sense of this figure comes from speculating answers to some questions in regards to the physical, social and historical aspects of the work as follows:


This female figure was made form local earthenware and slips and resists, it has no glaze but has been highly burnished. This burnishing indicates a high level of skill in the maker. The smaller than life size scale of the figure in relationship to the amount of detail on the surface also indicates skill. It is a hollow female figural sculpture, which seems to have been made for religious use, maybe even for a tomb.


Because the time spent is valuable time in any agrarian society and because this object was clearly not made for everyday use, I have to conclude that it was most likely made for the private use of an upper class citizen. I imagine that this figure is valued for completely different reasons today than when it was originally fabricated. I believe the cultural influence on this object is regional rather than far-reaching. There appears to be much attention to realism in the rendering of the female body, but more stylistic rendering of the face, legs, hands and arms. This makes me wonder if it is an idealized representation of the female figure? The tattoo-like detailing on the skin also points me to this conclusion. The body has been made beautiful and aesthetic through the use of iconic imagery, symbolism and patterning—perhaps even through the seated positioning and the specificity of the eyes.


It is not particularly clear what the purpose or use of this object is, it is dirty and aged. It will appreciate in value over time because there are only so many Pre-Colombian objects out there in the world to own. The figure could still be used today for what it was originally intended for. I would say the modern equivalent would be the tombstone and the objects we are buried in/with. The object seems well cared for and not damaged by time.

Aesthetic Push and Pull

Initially, I expected to write about the Ninsei teabowl as representative of my aesthetic heritage. But as I looked at the two objects more and more, I find myself most attracted to the Kizaemon Ido teabowl. There are several reasons for this. The foremost being that I am most empathetic with the Ido bowl. This empathy is for the imperfections and irregularities in the bowl, which in the western aesthetic I would argue we tend not to value. It is this sort of natural beauty that reflects human nature and imperfection that I find more attractive than the precise technical skills of the Ninsei bowl.

The contemplative simplicity of the Ido bowl is something that I am attracted to, most likely because my own work is more didactic and illustrative. I am also very attracted to the clear evidence of the hand of the maker in the Ido bowl. The direct connection I feel with the maker when i use a pot similar to this is very exciting for me. I hope that my interest and appreciation of this quality will allow me to incorporate it into my work formally as well as conceptually.

I do think that I have been trained to be attracted to this simpler aesthetic over the Ninsei bowl. I feel that our (Western contemporary ceramists) lineage of aesthetic was directly handed down to us via Bernard Leach and Leach's relationship with Hamada and his admiration for Japanese ceramics. I feel this particularly, due to my time working as a production potter in a studio very much of the Leach tradition. As an undergraduate student, I think that I would have been more excited about the Ninsei bowl. I think this because at that time i was very interested in the technical capabilities of ceramists. The question--"How did they do that?" was often one of my first when looking at ceramic work. As a graduate student, I feel that my aesthetic lineage is more and more apparent as I am able to focus energy on the analytical aspect of making more than the technical.

For the Love of the Northern Song

Recently, I have been focusing a lot of my thoughts on ceramic form in regards to my own work. So, in a trip to the Asian Collection at the Denver Art Museum, I think that it was natural that I was drawn to a piece that was white and without decoration--a piece that relied on form as a strength. It was the quiet softness of this ewer from China's Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) that made me want a second (longer) look. 

In Regards to the Physical
This ewer is made of stoneware, probably local stoneware as that was what clay was available. This piece was thrown on the potter's wheel as you can clearly see the throwing rings (especially in the spout and handle). The technical proficiency of the maker(s) seems varied, which makes me wonder if it was made by several potters and assembled factory-style (the body and the neck are very well thrown, but the spout and handle seem dischordant). The piece appears to be made of a gray stoneware with a white slip applied to the surface and a clear glaze applied over that. There are visible wadding marks from the firing on the foot, drips in the glaze (uneven application), there is a large iron spot in the glaze as well as a couple scratch marks visible in the slip. All of these imperfections point to a less skilled maker(s) or an object made for everyday use. What lends to the elegance of the ewer is the dramatically narrow foot in relation to the narrow neck and spout and the wide lip. The effect of these proportions is a form that is reaching up and out--if I were to make my body take the shape and gesture of this ewer, I would put my feet together and take in a deep breath forcing my hands in the air above my head and at about a 45 degree angle from my shoulders.

It seems that this piece was valuable for contemplation as well as use. It is not decorated at all, which for this time period makes me think it might be made for the temple/monastery. So if this is the case, then the white, undecorated surface would make it valuable. If it is for everyday use (the strangeness about the handle and spout would point at this piece being made by a potter in training, making it less valuable for ritual etc. and more utilitarian).
 It is a rather large ewer, making me guess that it is for a liquid that is plentiful--not so special or the ewer would be smaller. It seems proportionately functional--it wouldn't be akward to use. It appears to have all of its parts, though I cant help but wonder--where does the liquid go? Cups? A bowl?

In Regards to Society

This ewer was possibly made by multiple people, most likely all men. I am going to say that it was made from parts thrown by several potters and assembled. This might mean that the piece was made in a large pottery, implying that the potter was probably not paid immensely well (though that might be my contemporary prejudice viewpoint). The skill levels of the potters who made this varies so widely that I am inclined to think that this piece was made as training for more well made pieces to go to the Monastery for contemplation/meditation. So in this way, the object was made with the public in mind, but became private and for non-spiritual use. It is beautiful in its simplicity and interesting in its varied technical skill levels.

In Regards to History

Time really hasnt changed this object at all. There seems to be very little evidence of time passing on this piece. There arent even visible bracks (okay, I’m going to stop highlighting your typos now: you get the idea), chips or breakage. I am sure the value of this peice has been affected by its ability to have withstood time and avoid any visible damage. I am sure that it is also valuable as a representative of the Song Dynasty purely because there are a limited amount of objects that are still intact fromt his period--and there will most likely not be any more available any time soon. This ewer was not as valuable when it was made as it is now. It was not considered art at the time it was made. The object could still be used today for what it was made for originally, I also feel that most anyone could intuit how to use this object today because of a similarity to contemporary objects in use now. I have a feeling this object was not meant to last but for whatever reason--it did.

Phrases and Philosophies

Paul Greenhalgh's essay Social Complexity and the Historiography of Ceramic addresses several ideas concerning the ceramic medium's relationship to Modernity. I enjoyed Greenhalgh's definition of the term Modernity, especially after he quoted Wilde's comments and categorizations of Victorian Society. I would be curious to hear a conversation regarding Modernity between Greenhalgh and Josiah McElheny--as McElheny is using glass as a material which has a "historiography" I might compare to that of ceramics. I would be curious to know if Greenhalgh would conclude from their conversation that McElheny is an artist who is exploring the next phase of modernism, dubbed "complex modernism" by Greenhalgh.

Greenhalgh aslo briefly addresses the complexity of ceramic's historical realtionship to the decorative. He states "Ceramic is a discreet set of stories within the history of ornamentation" as one of his bulleted points. I would love to read more regarding this topic as this seems to be such a loaded statement. What are these stories? What would Greenhalgh write about in his history of ornamentation?

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Greenhalgh's use of Wilde's writing style in his essay as described above tickled me. It was an effective and humorous way to categorize ways of looking at ceramic objects.

As a result of brainstorming about the questions I often ask as I look at ceramics, I will categorize and phrase my own list in the following manner (please keep in mind that many of these questions can be asked of many of the categories--not just the one it is listed in) :

1) In regards to the PHYSICAL

* What materials were used? (regional vs. far reaching--what materials were available?)
* How it was made? (Handbuilt, wheel or cast? Mass produced? What kinds of glazes? Technical proficiency of the maker(s), surface treatment,specific color choices, time involved in making the object, what does the bottom look like? With what tools?)
* How does material choice affect value?
* Why was it made? (for what specific function, purpose, does it belong to a larger group of objects?)
* Where was it made? (regional or "folk tradition")
* How big it is? What does it weigh? How does it relate to the body?
* Does it have all of its parts?

2) In regards to SOCIETY

* Who made it? (what is the role of the object for the person who made it? WHo were the artist's teachers? Gender of the artist? Age, work enviornment, politics, education, lifespan of the artist, how did these factors afffect/not affect their career?)
* Who was it made for? (why? who paid for it to be made? What class was it made for? What was the class of the maker? Is it valued the same by the society that made the object as the society that purchased the object?
* What is the cultural influence on the object? (far reaching? regional?)
* Was there an inspiration for the object? If so, what was the inspiring factor?
* Was it made for personal or public use? (religious or secular, everyday or ceremonial)
* Does the conext in which you regard it affect its meaning
* Is it beautiful? Interesting? Is there visible iconic or narrative meaning or information present?
* What does the object say about the person who owns it?
* Can it be shared?

3) In regards to HISTORY

* How has time cahnged the object?
* Does the permanence of the object affect its value? (Will it appreciate? What is its worth? Says who?
* Was it considered art when it was made (How does that change how we regard the object? Is it original? Was originality valuable at the time it was made?
* Could the object still be used today for its original function? What is the modern equivalent? What is its historical equivalent?
* Does it have a title?
* What is the provenance of the object? Was it well cared for?
* How does it relate to other objects of its time? Was it meant to last? How does it relate to the history of similar objects?
* Why is it displayed the way it is?

What Class

The relationship of class to my work has become more apparent to me over the course of my time in graduate school, though I think that there is still much remaining to understand about whom I am making my work for.

My attraction to ceramics has habitually been through the usefulness of utilitarian objects. I love the inherent intimacy we have with pots, which makes them more approachable on so many levels. Everyone knows how to relate to a cup, everyone understands the basics of a cup, making cups a valuable and subversive place to put the drawings I was making as an undergraduate. It still is this ability of pots to slip into the home and our everyday lives that excites me in the making of my current work. I hope that the people using my pots are engaged with them in a way that makes life slow down a little. I think this is mostly because that is my favorite kind of experience with art—the kind that makes me pause for a moment.

When I left the Museum School, I went to work as a production potter for Miranda Thomas. At that time, I had very romantic notions of being a full time potter and what that lifestyle was, ironically based on Bernard Leach’s presentation of the socially significant potential of the potter in his book titled: A Potter’s Book. The irony lay in that I was, unknown to me, about to work as a “master potter” under the tutelage of Miranda Thomas and Ara Cardew, both having studied (or grown up with) Michael Cardew who was one of Bernard Leach’s first apprentices at St. Ives in Cornwall, England. It was the Leach Cardew heritage at my new job that excited me, but almost immediately I realized that the unknown potter actually kind of has to be known and marketing themselves to make a living. And a sort of pathetic living at that, considering the enormous amount of labor involved in production.

At the moment, my work is affordable to a middle class, though I imagine that it is more affordable to the upper classes. I find that I personally am interested in purchasing work form other potters, despite my lack of income. I feel confident in stating that that is rare and unusual in the grand scheme of things. In the past, I have wanted my work to be for anyone and everyone. More recently, I have come to understand that there is a certain romance for me with upper class society and what I perceive as a somewhat more leisurely lifestyle. I find that I am secretly excited by the fact that my pots (which I think of as representative of me, as born of me) are living in this class that, in some ways, I socially aspire to.

I am interested in how teaching and a salary will help me be more confident in my relationship to class. In many ways, I feel that it would be the right thing to do to make my work affordable to anyone and everyone, but I also know that I probably wont ever make that choice…