New 2011 Artists
Kelleher- Cone3 Soda
Gallery BlogPosted February 18, 2013
Karen McPherson, Gallery Manager
Interview with Matthew Krousey
Matthew Krousey has worn many hats at Northern Clay Center over the past 4 years: studio fellowship recipient, teacher, gallery and exhibitions assistant, studio artist, and more. As of January 2013, Matt is a new addition to NCC’s sales gallery. Throughout his tenure in these many positions, he has also served steadily in the military. Gallery Manager Karen McPherson sat down with Matt to discuss his experience in the military, how this experience influences his ceramic practice, and affects his current role as a teaching artist with NCC’s collaboration with Veterans in the Arts.
Being an Art Student in the National Guard
KM: You grew up in North Central, MN, in Little Falls. When you came to the “big city” to attend the University of Minnesota, were you already in the military?
MK: After my first semester in school, I got the tuition bill and realized I would have substantial debt if I didn’t do something. I joined the National Guard in response. They pay full tuition, books, and a living stipend.
KM: Can you clarify—what is the GI Bill and how is being “in the Guard” similar or different?
MK: It is the same thing—the GI Bill was passed after WWII to help men and women, back from overseas, transition from military to civilian life. The GI Bill pays for education; they don’t care what the degree is in; they care that you get decent grades and that you graduate. These days, you can join “the Guard”, a part-time military post, and take advantage of the GI Bill.
KM: What role, other than financial, did the GI Bill play in your education?
MK: I went to school thinking I was going to study bio-chemistry. I changed my major to art once I felt the relief of having my bills paid by the GI Bill and knew that I would graduate without debt. I took a ceramics class from University of Minnesota Professor Curt Hoard.
KM: What were your responsibilities to the Guard?
MK: Generally, one weekend a month, and two full weeks a year, usually in summertime. When I joined, I went to Georgia for six months of basic training. I came back to the University of Minnesota for two months before I was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.
KM: After you returned from active duty and began studying again at the University, what, if anything, changed for you?
MK: Well, the GI stipend increased, so I could be in school, in the studio, full-time, and not have a job. Having been to war, my levels of frustration and anger were intense and clay is what saved me; it made me feel whole again. I will never give up clay; I believe in its tactile and healing properties.
The Clay-Military Connection
KM: Is being a vet important to you as an artist?
MK: Being in the military was a supercharged track to maturity. It helped me focus on my goals. Military life is really organized and disciplined. I organize my studio time in a similar way. I feel like the group of clay artists who took advantage of the GI Bill are do-ers: Peter Voulkos, William Daley, Paul Soldner, Warren MacKenzie, and Tom Lane all took advantage of the GI Bill. Warren MacKenzie is a great example: he wakes up, he goes to his studio every day, and he breaks for lunch at noon. He is disciplined.
KM: As a kid, did you have other role models in the military?
MK: My dad was an active guard reservist at Camp Ripley between Little Falls and Brainerd. A small part of Camp Ripley is used as the base and training grounds. The rest is essentially a huge wildlife sanctuary: the wolf was re-introduced to Minnesota in this sanctuary and they have the largest predatory bird population in the Midwest. So, I grew up fishing there on the weekends with my dad. Ironically, my work is not about the military; its about a childhood spent on a military reservation. And actually, now that I think back, part of my reason for joining the military at 18 was so I could still go fishing on military land.
KM: Your imagery of cranes, waves of water, wind-blown snow, and the barbed wire of rural fencing obviously pays homage to your childhood experience in North Central Minnesota. But, it sounds like you are just now connecting the subject matter of your ceramics specifically to your experience on this vast expanse of military land. What other connections are you now making between the military and your role as naturalist and artist?
MK: Growing up the way I did, I always felt a close connection to the land. It wasn't until my experience protecting our country that I realized these creatures and habitats needed protecting too. I wanted to bring attention to our natural environment and preserve it visually in a material that would endure. Just so happens that the ceramic medium is extremely durable, a way for me to draw attention to and visually preserve the vanishing landscape and natural habitats. Functional pots are a great way to get artwork into people’s hands on a daily basis. The imagery I use is meant to evoke memories and protect, in my own way, our natural habitats. I still go out into the woods and onto the prairie looking for new and better ways to represent the landscapes I love.
KM: And professionally?
MK: My status as a vet has put my name into the ring for various public art projects. Sometimes this is a federal government building project—the government and other public service organizations like to support veteran artists. I’ve had the opportunity to create a mural for the new wing at the VA hospital, platters for a heart clinic in Edina, and I am currently working with a group of veterans to make a mural for a homeless veterans drop-in center in Minneapolis.
Being an Art Educator for Veterans
KM: When did you start teaching clay to veterans?
MK: In 2010, I started working with Veterans in the Arts, a local non-profit whose mission is to introduce veterans to the arts (www.veteransinthearts.org). This organization approached NCC’s education department with the hopes of an ongoing collaboration. The Center assisted with the initial grant application, while I worked with Veterans in the Arts as a sort of consultant. We’ve all been working collaboratively since the program’s inception and NCC continues to manage the administrative pieces of the clay partnership.
KM: Does Veterans in the Arts have other opportunities for artists and veterans around the Twin Cities?
MK: FOCI Glass Studio, Highpoint Center for Printmaking, Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and the Playwrights Center are all partners with VIA, providing programs of a similar nature.
KM: Why is your work as a teacher to veterans important to you?
MK: My work with the vets is really meaningful to me and to the vets. Art can be daunting and intimidating to people who are new to exploring it and to using their creativity. To work with someone who has had similar experiences, who understands what is going on in their minds is crucial to the process… I feel protective of the veterans. I wouldn’t want them to have a teacher, or be in a learning environment, that wasn’t positive. I was distraught when I got back from my deployment, and immersing myself in the studio was critical; it was relieving. Clay is a very physical art medium; it is relaxing.
KM: How can the clay community help grow the participation of veterans in the arts?
MK: Encourage any veterans you know to take an art class. Locals should contact Veterans in the Arts. Arts organizations should seek funding (available through
private and government programs) and create partnerships with local organizations already serving veterans.
Posted November 19, 2012
Karen McPherson, Gallery Manager
Interview with Maren Kloppman
Maren Kloppmann moved to the United States after growing up in Northern Germany. She completed the undergraduate program at Kansas City Art Institute (KCAI), was a core student at Penland from 1985–87, a resident at Pewabic Pottery in Detroit from 1988–89, and finally, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota. She has had studio space in Stillwater, at the Jax Building in Lowertown, St. Paul, and in NE Minneapolis in the Northrup King Building (2001–2010). In 2010, Kloppmann moved to the Frost Building, her current studio and gallery space, also in NE Minneapolis. Maren began showing in Northern Clay Center’s sales gallery in 2003. Since that time, NCC has represented her functional tableware, vases, and serving pieces.
This past summer, Maren decided to take a pause from producing her functional work and instead focus her time and energy on the creation and marketing of her wall pieces. Navigating this shift in production—and potential shift in audience—is an exciting topic for established and emerging artists alike. Sales gallery manager Karen McPherson sat down with Maren to discuss her evolution as an artist and her new focus on wall pieces.
After high school, Maren did a traditional apprenticeship in a production studio in Bavaria. Her experience there was less about creativity and exploration, and more about setting up a production business. This experience resulted in receipt of her journeyman’s certificate, at which point, she was expected to “journey away” from home and train with others in the field. For graduation, Maren’s mother gave her a plane ticket to the United States. In 1984, Maren landed in Iowa City and soon developed a relationship with a German potter in town, Christiana Kunorr. Kunorr taught Maren the English words for clay tools and techniques, encouraging her to experiment and understand the material. At this time, Maren started down the path of determining what kind of work she wanted to make, knowing it could be a business.
KM: Can you talk a little about the visual and aesthetic influences on your work?
MK: I grew up in a port city on the Baltic Sea. My father was a cycling coach, so we traveled all over Northern Europe every weekend. I was influenced by Scandinavian ceramics and glass, specifically from Denmark and Sweden. The work in these areas has clarity of design and is very minimalist.
KM: Have you always made minimalist work?
MK: No, it took a while for me to get to minimalism. My first attempt to work with less surface decoration was at Pewabic Pottery, where I worked with limited glazes and explored gas oxidation (as opposed to wood or salt firing). At KCAI, part of the requirement was to explore glazes and firing techniques, so my work again became more expressive and less controlled. Finally, in graduate school, I “allowed” myself to make monochromatic work. In 2001–02, when I began experimenting with porcelain in cone 10 electric kilns, I started getting the really minimal results I had been searching for.
KM: Can you identify some of the major transitions or shifts in your work over the years?
MK: Actually, being comfortable with minimalism came from a trip back to my hometown in Northern Germany after graduate school. I had been feeling like I was at a dead end: too many influences, too much moving around. I saw work that was austere, simple, semi-functional, and I immediately felt reassured. It was suddenly easy to let go of my adopted influences. That is when I stopped using soda and switched to electric firing.
KM: Your influences growing up in a port city on the Baltic sea—boats, water, horizon lines—do you find that your audience is seeing that in your work?
MK: People tend to place their own sensibilities onto the work, which I truly appreciate. My audience relates most quickly to the horizon references in my work. Most people connect with the simplicity of the shapes and surface designs, and respond to quietness and precision.
Navigating the Change to Wall Work
KM: In 2010, you opened your own studio and showroom in the Frost Building in NE Minneapolis. How have you used this new space to cultivate an audience with the design community—interior designers and architects—and those who have more interest in the wall sculpture?
MK: First, creating a showroom in the Frost Building put me in the context of other small businesses while still in the arts district of NE. The nature of my current work, as well as my showroom, has inspired me to invite designers and architects into the space to introduce them to my work. This has all happened through personal connections and my own initiative. Some commission work comes through art consultants who have become aware of the work through my website. I cultivate new audiences primarily through studio events, an e-newsletter, and occasionally through social media.
KM: Was your decision to transition from functional ware to sculptural entities dictated by finances or studio practice or both?
MK: Financial concerns are always present when you have a career as a studio artist and my awareness of changes in the marketplace has guided my decision to some degree; however the progression of my business did not happen by following an economic model. It is a matter of striking a balance between pursuing a creative endeavor and understanding the economic implications. Ultimately, the quality of the work and the motivation to be in the studio every day are the most important parts of this equation.
KM: You are not completely abandoning function, but focusing the majority of your efforts on wall work and sculptural vessels. What are you risking with this change in direction?
MK: I do not see risk in following my passion. My work is not changing; it is simply changing focus. I recently applied for my first public art project and am currently a finalist, which is most thrilling. I am at the start of a process of artistic change, and the decision to begin a functional sabbatical, presents the freedom to dedicate my time differently. Now, sculptural and architectural interests will influence future functional work, instead of the other way around.
KM: How will this change affect your relationship with galleries?
MK: At this point, I have taken my functional work out of galleries. The NCC Holiday show and the January Artist of the Month opportunity will conclude the availability of my functional work in craft-oriented sales galleries. NCC is now the only gallery to have my functional work, but I will continue to be affiliated with galleries that feature sculptural work. Even though I have my own studio gallery, I think gallery representation is important for reaching new audiences.
KM: How do you expect this transition will affect your ability to sell directly to buyers?
MK: The functional sabbatical is only part of my story and I hope my core audience will be interested in following this development. Dinnerware and signature functional forms will remain available in my studio-gallery.
KM: Do you feel like you have "arrived"?
MK: I am very grateful and humbled to have met my goal of creating a viable studio business. Looking back on 30 years of working with clay and 16 years of pursuing artist-hood, it feels like I am at the beginning of my arrival. The belief that there is unrealized development ahead of me is feeding my motivation.
Northern Clay Center will celebrate Maren's break from functional work in January, 2013, by showcasing her remaining functional work, as well as her last "new" body of functional wares intended for gallery sales.
Posted July 30, 2012
Karen McPherson, Gallery Manager
“Somebody recently called my work ‘eye candy’ and I find that liberating….Why not create a visual crescendo?!”
Artist Spotlight: Kate Maury
Two years ago, Kate Maury was making cups and bowls out of highfire porcelain. Then, at the age of 47, she got to the point where she wanted to “toss pre-conceived notions and habits to the wind. I grew up near the Dickeyville Grotto and recently, when I was traveling throughout India, I realized how strongly I was drawn to embellishment and visual celebration. I realized this kind of work makes the most sense to me.” Serendipitously, casting slip, molds, and other materials became accessible upon Maury’s return to her studio. She started making assemblages. Her current body of work in the Locals We Love show at NCC is an entirely new pursuit.
“My education is rooted in strong forms. As an under-grad at KCAI, Victor Babu encouraged us to make the form and release it—don’t carve it, or put lines in it. However, since the early 90s, I have been watching artists like Julia Galloway, Kristen Kieffer, and Ursula Hargens; they have brought to my attention the importance of mark making on the pot. I have also traveled extensively throughout China and India, collecting tribal and commercial textiles. These richly embroidered surfaces are a catalyst for what I am making now. Two-dimensional motifs have become three-dimensional, freestanding, hand-built forms.” “It is still important to me that my work is functional. Making functional, but also highly decorative ‘celebratory’ work is a dynamic challenge. I’m really happy with where the work is taking me, the conversations it has prompted.”
Kate Maury is a studio artist at Northern Clay Center and a ceramic teacher at the University of Wisconsin–Stout. She graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1990 with her BFA; she then earned an MFA at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University in 1992. She has had multiple residencies at the Archie Bray Foundation and the Jingdezhen Sanbao Ceramic Art Institute in China.
Posted July 12, 2012
Karen McPherson, Gallery Manager
Sanam Emami is a year-round gallery artist represented by Northern Clay Center’s Sales Gallery. She is an Iranian-born American who is currently a professor at Colorado State University. I spoke with Sanam to satisfy our curiosity about how she creates her surfaces. The interview, however, went well beyond talk of process to include the history of decorative crafts, storytelling, and the tension between the making of labor-intensive work and the marketplace for such pottery.
Interview with Sanam Emami
About the Work
KM: Describe some of the major influences for your work.
SE: History is an influence—the way different cultures record stories and events, especially in art and architecture. Islamic art deals with representation and abstraction and rationalizes or interprets the world through ornament and pattern. I am interested in the way something so vast and seemingly chaotic, like nature, can be pared down into a geometric system. To me, this is both visually compelling and pleasurable. This is a way of storytelling—taking the experience apart and building it back up again—putting an experience through your own filter, interpreting it, and re-creating it.
KM: What stories are you interested in understanding or telling?
SE: The Silk Road—trading routes from Europe, to the Middle East, to China during the sixth to ninth centuries—may have been one of the first recorded global exchanges. The trading of goods and ideas had profound effects on production and demand— especially in the pottery made in China and Iran. That time has an interesting correlation to what is happening now. I like to fantasize about those cultural exchanges and imagine how the exchange of goods and ideas was translated into art objects.
KM: Your undergraduate degree is in history and you studied the Middle East, women in art, and architecture. Then you took a few years off to find your way to clay through residencies and apprenticeships with potters. Did your academic studies stay with you during those years, or were you more concerned with making bowls and production pottery?
SE: The academics definitely stuck with me, but I was very concerned with making something functional. My entry into making pots was tied to their accessibility and intimacy, but also to the complex set of criteria required to make a functional pot. Because of the Middle Eastern influence, though, I wanted to make work that was also very personal. In the mid- to late-90s, the landscape of pots was very different. Not a lot of people were interested in decoration. Decoration didn’t seem as ubiquitous. I wanted to take the pot, and my interest in patterns and building surface, and put them together.
KM: Why do you think decoration and pattern making may have gone out of style or become less ubiquitous?
SE: Decoration, pattern making, and ornament have always been a part of visual culture. Fashion trends change, and ornament and decoration are affected by the style of the times. I do think there are historical examples where the attempt to eradicate ornament has been more forceful. In the early 20th century, with the rise of Modernism, writers like Adolf Loos portray ornament as uncivilized and criminal.
KM: What do you think accounts for the (relatively recent) rise in decorative work?
SE: Contemporary pottery is just more diverse today. Yes, there is more decorative work, but there is also a wider range of production modes (slip casting and 3d modeling in addition to press molding and wheel throwing). The field is more inclusive, and the desire to bring beauty and decoration back into the discourse and the visual culture is part of that diversity.
KM: So, are you a potter or a decorative artist?
SE: I would say both categories describe my work. The functional pot is the framework for the decoration. I could be doing this on a canvas—and sometimes the clay feels more like a three-dimensional canvas, especially when I am making tiles— but the malleability of clay allows me to shape the canvas and record all the marks in a physical material and in three-dimensional space. My work is rooted in the craft and concept of function, and the forms are rooted in historical archetypes. The starting point in the studio is to reference an object such as a cup or bowl that has been made thousands of times. I can then decide all the details— the mode of production, the subtle details in the form, and the visual ideas of the relationship between form and surface.
About the Process
KM: Briefly describe your process—what are the major steps taken in order to have a final piece? It seems like there must be 17 steps!?
SE: I throw, hand-build, and slip-cast. The designs—or stencils—are usually found images that I play with in Photoshop. I make silk screens out of them and screen commercial underglazes on to newsprint. When I am ready to use them, I cut them out, wet them with water, and press them on the leatherhard piece. Using silk screens and commercial underglaze allows me to utilize a range of colors. My decoration often happens in the green state. Silkscreen prints on newsprint are great because they go on green. When I put the cutout silkscreened image from the newsprint on to the pot, it is a positive image, but it is also a negative because I brushing slip over the cutout. Then I put more transfers on top, so they start to camouflage or overlap. When I peel all the transfers away, you start to see layers of slip and transfer decoration. Then it gets stamped. I make my own stamps. Mostly made out of clay and bisque. Some are wood. Then I fire the piece.
KM: And when you get to glazing…?
SE: Glazing is another layer of information—it allows me to bring back some idea of a grid. The stamping originated from a grid system, and the stencils break up the grid, usually moving in a curved way around the form. The glazing can draw attention to the curvature of the form, or to the grid of the stamping.
KM: What clay are you using?
SE: I tested white clay with colorants. I ended up trying to create a clay body that is reminiscent of the Meissen (German ceramic factory) brown porcelain. It is a combination of a brown Mason stain and Albany or Alberta clay that I wet mix. I love the way the white slip looks over the chocolate brown clay. The slip-cast pieces are cast porcelain—I recently started using black Mason stain in my porcelain casting slip. I glaze fire to cone 6. About Pricing
KM: How could the time it takes you to make each piece possibly allow you to compete in the pottery marketplace?
SE: That is a great question and something I think about often. The Bernard Leach and the Yanagi model of the unknown craftsman seems less influential today, but there is marketplace pressure to keep prices at a point that both encourages sales and prevents the pot from sitting on a shelf and never being used. There is a lot of time spent designing and researching my work. Part of my job as a professor in a research university is to push the research component of the work and not only focus on production. Calculating the time spent researching ideas and designs, manufacturing prototypes in clay and in the computer, making molds, stamps, silk-screens are all part of the design research. Then I begin to make the work in clay and experiment with bringing all the parts together to create a cohesive whole. Calculating the cost of all of this is complex and challenging and your comment about design versus execution seems relevant here. How do we value the skill and experience that a potter or artist develops over time relative to the time spent making each object? Perhaps as a society, we are still questioning the connection and value of thinking versus making. How do I compete in the marketplace? I make a limited number of pieces and continue to push the research and development of the work, and I make work that can sell at different price points. The cups, bowls, and plates (no matter how time consuming and complex) stay at a lower price point. The vases and other large objects are priced higher and produced in a much more limited number.
Posted July 12, 2012
Karen McPherson, Gallery Manager
Munemitsu Taguchi is featured as one of our March Artists of the Month. For this show, on view March 1 - April 1, Taguchi sent in all new work and asked that we send his old work back. I spoke with him about his new line of work.
NCC: What do you think are the biggest markers of this transition--new forms, new glazes, new markets?
MT: All of the above. I am making all new forms focusing on expanding volumes, with three colors instead of one and looking for new markets and venues to get the work out, but the biggest of these would be the forms.
NCC: What do you mean by expanding volume?
MT: The old body of work dealt with the formal principle of compressed volume, external forces compressing the form. The new body of work was a natural response, allowing the volumes to expand, to breath. I am trying to reduce the formal elements of the object to curve and line.
|Taguchi's previous body of work showing "external forces compressing the form."
Taguchi's new body of work, which explores the idea of expanding volume.
NCC: What were you looking to evolve, and what where you looking to leave behind?
MT: I still love the pots I was making before, but I feel it’s important to move on. 10,000 hours to master anything right? Well, I’d been making that work for five years and it had stopped progressing. For me, it was easier to make a big change rather than an incremental one.
NCC: The forms may be a big change, but those celadons are pretty incremental! Did you try more color and then come back to "barely there"?
The glaze palette is purposefully muted, partially to not conflict with the food or flowers, but also because I like these colors. They all use the same base glaze, in the same [cone 10 reduction] atmosphere, so as to keep the same color family. They all use small percentages of oxides for colorant but it’s true, the degrees of separation are incremental. The biggest change in my surface is the use of three colors.
NCC: Do you think it is possible to reduce the lines and curves of the pots so much that they are too clean? Is it possible to reduce pots so much they lack voice or authorship?
MT: I have always been attracted to minimal form. I think that it is possible to oversimplify, but I try to keep the lines and curves so precise that they read as clean, not oversimplified. When the form is reduced, it ups the stakes because there is nowhere to hide, so it has to be right, every time.
NCC: What did you try out in this process that didn't work?
MT: I made a lot of bad pots in this trial period. I played with form and proportion, different types of objects, went through a lot of trial and error.
NCC: What has been your process for developing, testing, and revealing this new line?
MT: The roll out of this work has been methodical and pre-planned. I was testing glazes and new forms while fulfilling my obligations with my old work for most of last year. In June, I released the work to one venue to test the market and get some feedback, which was overwhelmingly good. I unveiled it in mass this fall at a big craft show and am now switching out all of the work at my galleries.
NCC: What about that business research and development do you think is important for other artists to pay close attention to?
MT: I would recommend other artists not be afraid of change. I knew in the fall of 2010 that I wanted to start a new line of work. I took my time and finally, 18 months later, have made a full switch. I needed to have this transition happening in my studio to keep me engaged.
NCC: How do you think your current audience will receive the new work? Who do you imagine might be a new audience for this work?
MT: I think that this work will appeal to a broader audience than my last line. I love food; I love to eat my wife's food and one of my goals in making dinnerware is to make pots that don’t get in the way. Simple palette, with simple yet considered forms, so the food doesn’t have to compete with the pot.
NCC: What kind of food does your wife make?
MT: We are pretty into the farm-to-table thing; we have a share in a local CSA and do what we can to accentuate the produce. We usually make Asian and contemporary American food.
NCC: How do you make sure the pots don't “get in the way" of the food or presentation of food?
MT: The idea of not getting in the way is both physical and visual. By dealing with line and curve, the pot can be described fully without getting in the way visually. Physically, polished bottoms keep tables from being scratched. Aside from the aesthetic reasons, vitreous porcelain is wonderful for utilitarian reasons, microwave and dishwasher safe, not impeding utility.
NCC: How do you reach your audiences?
MT: By sending my work to NCC!
Posted October 10, 2011
Karen McPherson, Gallery Manager
I am on a treasure hunt for keepsakes, covered jars, and small treasure boxes. I am inspired by my toddler, fortunate enough to work in a place surrounded by amazing objects, and thrilled to share some of my favorite pieces.
I have a little girl at home and am suddenly needing to organize and find a place for all her personal "stuff"—hair ties, mini toys, and the like. I have started to buy her lidded jars in an effort to compartmentalize. They are all ceramic, breakable, sometimes delicate or valuable, and totally illogical for a small child. Right now, though, I don’t really care. I am thrilled by the idea of my growing collection of jars as a mother-daughter heirloom, which I am cultivating on her behalf. I am inspired by her precious little trinkets needing special little places. I also see this as a teaching collection, so to speak, a stylistic ceramic guide for her to follow (should she choose to, of course!) and add to someday herself. It feels a little bit self-indulgent and a little bit "very important to do as a parent."
Feel free to email me and let me know what you think, or drop me a note with a recommendation of your own.
Posted August 2, 2010
Karen McPherson, Gallery Manager
Earlier this summer, Northern Clay Center completed its biannual jury for new gallery artists. Four artists were invited to join the NCC gallery: Nicholas Bivins (MT), Lisa Buck (MN), Mike Helke (WI), and Kyla Toomey (OH). These new gallery artists will be previewed in the gallery immediately following the American Pottery Festival. Each artist will show 10-15 pieces in the Artists of the Month area from September 15 - October 9. On behalf of the rest of the gallery staff, other gallery artists, and the NCC community, I would like to extend a warm welcome to these new artists!
Posted May 5, 2011
Karen McPherson, Gallery Manager
Northern Clay Center gallery artist Matt Kelleher used to soda fire stoneware to cone 10, but recently sent in a shipment of cone 3 soda-fired earthenware. I spoke to him about this technical change and the challenges and benefits it has presented so far.
NCC: What was the impetus for you to go from cone 10 stoneware to cone 3 earthenware?
MK: I wanted to change the background of the pots. I started layering high-iron slip on stoneware before my flashing slip and it dawned on me, I could use a higher-fire earthenware body instead.
NCC: How did you know which cone to go to?
MK: Good Question. I know back in the 50’s and 60’s cone 3 was considered “mid range” and people were getting bright colors, but they were also mostly using lead glazes. High-iron clay at stoneware temperatures, especially when it is reduced, can cause a lot of problems. At cone 04 the clay is still so porous, so I thought, how far can I stretch an earthenware body?
If I had to move to cone 1 or cone 4, I would be fine with that, but cone 3 is where I started. It has been about 5 months since I started this quest, and I am not entirely happy. I struggle finding slips that work. Most glazes cloud or bubble. The majority of my testing has been in an electric kiln and then when you put them in the soda firing, they tend to freak out and wrinkle or bubble.
NCC: Do you still reduce at cone 3?
MK: Yes, by reducing I am able to create more flash, but have to balance that with a higher tendency to bloat. The reduction will cause the iron in the clay to flux and this melt ultimately makes it weaker. So I am going for a mild reduction to try to reduce the surface flashing slips.
|Matt Kelleher Soda Fired Cone 10 Stoneware Pitcher (L), and detail (R).
Matt Kelleher Soda Fired Cone 3 Earthenware Cup (L), and detail (R).
NCC: Have you used a specific book or reference person to help you through this process?
MK: No, I took a lot of clay and glaze chemistry classes in school, so I am trying to work through this with triaxial blends and get to know the materials again myself. I started with materials I know work at cone 10, hoping that I could still use them at cone 3. But, feldspars have not worked—I have had to use frits, which are weird to me.
NCC: Have you had any aha moments or big disappointments?
MK: My biggest disappointment has been that Gillespie Borate hates reduction and soda—it wants to bubble. Also, Kaolins (Tile 6, Grolleg, EPK) except for Helmer Kaolin, all tend to go grey. Goldart has worked great. I have needed to use a much “dirtier” material to get flashing whereas at cone 10, I almost exclusively used Tile 6. So, I wonder what is happening in that 200 degrees that flashes Tile 6?
NCC: Are you using your same kiln?
MK: I actually built a kiln out of gathered materials. I wanted to use soft brick; hard brick is where so much of the gas expense comes from. The kiln I have now is about half soft brick, half hard brick. I did put a commercially made high refractory coating from Larkin on the soft brick and--I have only done about 10 firings--but it is holding up fine. I thought I would cut my gas cost in half by using soft brick and it has been more like a cut by 60%. However, gas prices are going up so much, I am not seeing as much savings. And they will only get higher.
NCC: Any other thoughts you would like to share about this transition?
MK: Nothing I am doing now is set in stone—this is a curiosity I am exploring. By doing this, I’ve heard of others working at cone 3. I know Alfred is teaching a variety of mid range possibilities, which is exciting. It comes down to formulating the materials at the temperature you want in order to get the results you seek. I am encouraged by the conversations I have had with others exploring different mid range temperatures. People seem to be getting in better touch with materials.
This interview was inspired by the fact that Northern Clay Center just worked with Donovan Palmquist to re-build its 12 year-old soda kiln. While he was here building the new kiln, we talked about mid range soda firing, and Donovan recommended a 1982 Ceramics Monthly article on Neil Tetkowski. It is written by Janet Kopolos and shows some of his gorgeous salt fired earthenware work.
NCC offers a Soda Firing class twice a year; between students, studio artists, and staff, the soda kiln usually gets fired two to three times a month. There are quite a few people in the Northern Clay Center Gallery who soda fire: Matt Kelleher, Leila Denecke, Bill Gossman, Lee Love, Josh DeWeese (a combination of wood, soda, and salt), and Jeff Oestreich (salt/soda fired in oxidation).
Please feel free to email me with any comments or questions about this interview. Thanks for your interest! - Karen
Karen McPherson, Gallery Manager
On April 14th, Northern Clay Center hosted an ART@HAND and AoM Open House. We were pleased to have the Minnesota Ichibana Society here to demonstrate flower arranging.
In light of this event, I looked around the gallery at all our assorted flower vases and flower bricks. I thought to myself, what is the history behind a flower brick? How is it different from a vase? Below is an interview with two NCC gallery artists who make flower bricks, Margaret Bohls (MB) Kristen Kieffer (KK), to address these questions.
NCC: What does a traditional flower brick look like? Is it defined by a certain shape or amount of openings?
MB: They are the size and shape of a large brick; no feet or handles, with a varying number of holes cut in the top.
KK: The antique ones I've seen are indeed shaped like a brick and about that size (sitting horizontally on the skinny side), having about six or many more dime-sized holes (though sometimes both holes and an opening).
|English Delftware flower brick, 1740 – 1760, Liverpool,
Chinoiserie floral spray tin-glazed earthenware
|English Delftware flower brick, approx. 1760, Liverpool, Tin-glazed earthenware||Credit Information Un-available
NCC: What is the history of flower bricks-- are they specific to a certain region or culture?
MB: My understanding is that the flower brick form emerged in the 18th century, around the same time as the Dutch “Tulipiere” form. Its history is connected to the import of both Chinese porcelain and tulip bulbs from the Middle East via the silk road. Both were extraordinarily valuable, and generally available only to the very, very wealthy.
To satisfy the desire of the less wealthy to own porcelain, Dutch potters began making direct imitations of Chinese porcelain using earthenware coated in a lead glaze, opacified with tin. This ware became known as “Delft” after the town in which it was made.
This ware was exported to other European countries, especially Britain, which did not at that time have a very developed ceramic industry. Most wares made in Britain were fairly rustic. Inspired by the “Delft” imports, British potters also began making tin glazed earthenware pottery, which is also, confusingly, called “Delft”. In general English Delft remained less refined and more “folky” than its Dutch inspiration.
I believe that the flower brick form is of English and not Dutch origin. However, there are certainly Dutch examples of the form, which were likely made for export to Britain. The form is probably a more “plebian” version of its high-class cousin, the Tulipiere, but designed for more common flowers and used by the lower and middle classes who could not afford tulip bulbs.
NCC: Do most people who make flower bricks abide by the "tradition" of making them -- a surface, clay body, shape, etc-- or is flower brick a loose term?
MB: Definitely a loose term. Almost all of the historical flower bricks I have seen are similar in shape and size. They are usually decorated with floral motifs inspired either by Chinese blue and white, Ming era decoration, or by what is called Deutche Blumen, or German flower style. However, contemporary artists’ flower bricks vary widely and rarely, if ever, resemble the originals.
KK: I think of a contemporary flower brick as being distinguished by small holes for flowers vs. a larger, single opening, but could be any shape or size.
NCC: What sort of technical advice would you offer other artists interested in making flower bricks?
MB: Well, I have been told that they are vastly easier to clean if the top is removable, but mine aren’t.
NCC: Do you own any flower bricks by other artists?
KK: I own a Linda Christianson flower brick (see image at right - tulips from this last Thanksgiving, which are a little long, but look gorgeous in her piece). As well as a Kathryn Finnerty piece which I actually use for napkins. Both of these pieces are low, long and narrow, and despite my comment above, do not have holes, but a full opening.
NCC: Flower bricks seem to lay somewhere between functional pottery and functional sculpture. Does this seem limiting or limitless in terms of your creative energy?
MB: Vases in general are quite open to interpretation, and not at all limiting in terms of function. Broadly speaking, as long as it will hold water and not tip over when you put flowers in it, it can work as a vase. Of course, those whose avocation is flower arrangement might say different. The aesthetic challenge of any vase form is for the form to look good both with and without flowers. The brick form provides some guidance for the flower arranger, and allows for a nice arrangement with fewer flowers.
KK: Flower vessels in general are a fun form to play with as a maker because, as you suggest, they can lie on the sculptural side of function. Like the tulipiere, or even the teapot, flower bricks give the maker an interesting parameter with which to play, stretch and re-imagine.
|Margaret Bohls, Flowerbrick with decals
||Kristen Kieffer, FlowerBrick
Please feel free to email me with any comments or questions about this interview. Thanks for you interest! -Karen