Saturday, October 18, 2008

Underground Potters Annual Art School Show and Sale

It's that time! If you're in the New York City area, the Underground Potters are exhibiting again at:

The Art School at Old Church
located at

The exhibit starts October 24 and lasts until November 14, 2008 in the Art School Cafe Gallery.

[In the neighboring Mikhail Zakin Gallery, you can also experience the Wearable Art Exhibit.]

Join the Underground Potters at their reception on Saturday, October 25 from 2pm to 4pm. It's a great opportunity to meet them and ask them questions about their work. There's also a really good chance that you'll get to speak to Mikhail Zakin, the school founder, who often visits. The Underground Potters include:

Susan Bogen-Zarrabi
Alan Drossman
Itsuko Ishiguro
Ellen Mulligan
Sandy Pancrazi
Cynthia Shevelew
Ted Whittemore

By the way, in addition to meeting the potters, you can also buy beautiful pottery! Our work is quite varied, so there's sure to be something for all sensibilities.

[Note: The Art School is closed on Sundays.]

Related Post: Underground Potters 2007 Show and Sale

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Utilitarian Clay Symposium at Arrowmont

Itsuko and I were fortunate enough to attend this conference. It is held every 4 years, and only 200 participants are able to attend. We furiously dialed that phone, faxed that number, and our patience was rewarded. Unfortunately, Cynthia had got in, but came down with the flu on the day she planned on driving down to Tennessee, and had to stay home! What a shame.

The symposium was a wonderful collection of clay artists, focused on functional pottery. There was a keynote speaker, Polly Ullrich, from Chicago, who gave a thought-provoking talk on how artists from all fields were taking the direction of functional potters, and creating art that interacts directly with the ‘collector’. She showed slides of artists that are creating outerwear that has built in iPods, and sculpture installations that physically involve the viewer, like an adult-sized playground slide. No pots to look at, but a lot to think about.

The next three days were non-stop AM and PM demonstrations by some of our favorite potters: Linda Christianson, Mark Shapiro, Linda Sikora, Ron Myers, Victoria Christen, Bede Clarke,
Bruce Cochrane, Pete Pinnell, Daphne Hatcher, Jane Shallenbarger, Michael Kline , Ayumi Horie…it was a very intimate setting, and you were encouraged to wander from room to room,
joining in on discussions taking place in each workshop, about the life of a studio potter, the problems of this life while trying to raise a family, and some great techniques to inspire a potter at any level. There were some potters I wasn’t as familiar with, but the skill level, or enthusiasm for new forms of these potters was fantastic – Ursula Hargens, Lorna Meaden, Kari Radasch, Andy Brayman, Andy Shaw. I would encourage anyone to check out their sites for some really new ways to approach functional work.

There was a great panel discussion each night after dinner, with very passionate points of view on the Art vs Craft debate, Sustainability, with issues of the environment, retirement, physical fitness and finances being discussed. The final night’s panel was a wonderful presentation of each potter presenting his favorite pot, and discussing why it was so. Beautiful! My favorite description was Ursula Hargens, holding up her favorite 2 cups and saucers by Bernadette Curran. She has a young daughter, and she received these cups from Bernadette with a note that went something like this: ‘Perhaps you and your daughter will have some use for these’. How gracious! And Ursula went on to describe the ‘tea parties’ she has with her daughter, some stuffed animals, and the wonderful cups and saucers.

Blogging itself was discussed widely. Some of the potters demonstrating there had their own blogs, and I would really encourage anyone to check them out and see a great way to feel part of a larger clay community. Michael Kline has ‘Sawdust and Dirt’, Kari Radasch has ‘Wsup?’, and Ayumi Horie has a website with a wonderful feature of ‘Pots in Action’.

Oh, yes, the food was incredible!

Baby Skutt 614 Kiln

Ellen and I used a Skutt 614 kiln this summer. I’ve had this tiny kiln for several years and I’ve never liked it. I mostly used it for glaze testing but I was frustrated about getting a different result each time. After I struggled with this baby kiln, I put it in the garage for a while. Last year I needed 4 goblets to be refired and my other Skutt 1027 was a little too big for them. I uncovered the baby kiln and used it. It was perfect! I have used it for bisque firing, glaze firing, and luster firing since then. It’s absolutely fun! It fits 10 teacups, 10 lidded containers, or one big canister! This summer Ellen made hundreds of buttons inspired by her fashionable mother Grace.

firing #2 underglaze and satin matt glaze

firing #3 Carousel color overglaze

firing #4 luster gold

Try it sometime! Itsuko Ishiguro

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Buttons for Big Grace

In this photo, my mom, Grace Higgins, is pictured with her sister, Rosalie, to the right. They are two very stylish young women, making due with limited means during the war. Note the flower in my mom's hair!

I have been vacationing in Narragansett, RI--right by the ocean. And while I was relaxing, I was organizing the buttons I have been working on all summer, making them into sets, picking out vibrant-colored embroidery thread and sewing them onto cards I had made with my mom's image on them. I am getting them ready for their 'debut' at the Peters Valley Craft Fair, taking place in September. Click here to get further information. I will be joining the New Jersey Potters Guild, along with Itsuko, Sandy and Susan.

These buttons were a summertime obsession. They are in honor of “Big Grace,” my mom, but never called that to her face – my petite sister is also called Grace.

My mom was brought up as a Bronx “princess.” She sewed all of her own clothes – dazzling outfits! One I found in the attic was a marine-blue bathrobe-styled coat with matching palazzo pants with a Hollywood waist (mom’s description). The shirt matched the lining of the coat – a bright red rayon printed all over with palm trees. I put this outfit on and felt like a bona-fide movie star! This was one of many, many outfits, some with matching hats.

All this glamour was left behind, regretfully, as my mom had six kids. She was widowed at a young age, 47, and had a bedridden mother in the living room. So the talent for sewing supported the family. The prospective brides, bridesmaids, mothers-of-the-bride, cocktail hostesses, cruise ship vacationers, and even nuns came in for fittings – she did all of the new, shortened habits for the local convent in the 1960’s.

As a child I was surrounded by the trappings of all this – beautiful tweeds, shimmering satins and silks, and buttons, buttons, buttons! There were the buttons covered with fabric that matched the outfits, the standard white shirt buttons, the fancy mother-of-pearl buttons, even ones with sequins and rhinestones!

We were able to play with the cookie tin filled with the odd buttons. These were boring sets, ones with no match, or ones not suitable for fine garments. But there were also those jars of real beauties, not to be touched.

When I was starting to work in clay, I asked Big Grace if I could borrow some buttons, to make stamps out of them. She resisted, out of habit, I think. But finally she relented and let me loose. I went carefully through the jars, looking for those unique patterns, collected from the many trips to the notion district in NYC – off 7th Avenue, just north of Macy’s.

I found a few choice ones and proceeded to make impressions in clay. To my horror most of them dissolved! Who knew what they were made of? But I was able to salvage a few and made some great stamps that I use to this day to impress my work in porcelain.

So my tribute to Big Grace is these buttons. There are 100 cards, with her image, of all varieties – colors, patterns and textures. The hardest part was stopping! But I had to control this obsession, and move on.

Now for new vases, inspired by my Aunt Rosalie....

Thanks to Itsuko for all your advice and help.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What images inspire you?

There have been many passing thoughts since I lasted posted a blog entry, and I wondered if anyone would have been interested. One of the most thought-provoking ideas, I think, is what inspires an artist in their day-to-day living: their home, family, the world around them, museums, other artist's work, media, animals, cooking, gardening, philosophy, science...

The photo above is an extreme closeup, from an article on the web 'Fractal Food'.

If you get National Geographic's 'photo of the month' in your email, you might have noticed a great short video 'Pattern Recognition'. If you missed it, check it out here, it's only about a minute long, but packed with visual inspiration!

A highlight of the NCECA conference (National Council for Education in the Ceramic Arts, I think) for me is the slide presentation of the demonstrating artists. After a day or two of seeing a person presenting their technical expertise, their working methods, the nuts and bolts of their work, we see them all tidied up, onstage, with a wonderful powerpoint presentation of their completed work, past and present, the world that inspires them, and the 'why' of what they do, so successfully. We even get a glimpse of the times they are unsure of their path, and what got them out of it. This is always a huge boost for me - not that I equate myself with an established artist, but that anyone dealing with creative issues has these 'bumps' in the road, which seem like major obstacles at the time.

I was watching 2 wonderful documentaries on the Ovation channel recently. One was on the photographer Sally Mann. She was very controversial during the 1980's (not sure of the year) when her book 'Immediate Family' was published. It featured nude photographs of her three children, and started a huge public uproar about whether it could be considered child pornography. I even remember a local Montclair grandmother getting into trouble when picking up photographs from her local Moto photo (I think), who turned her in for taking nude photos of her grandchildren. Anyway, Sally Mann discusses this controversy. She felt that she had been looking so long for inspiration for her work, and very suddenly saw that the beauty of the world was right in her own backyard, swimming in the water, playing dress up, and getting a swollen eye from a bug bite. The nudity was just a fact of daily live in the country. Her intense visual reporting of all these details is beyond a retelling, but more of an invitation into a very private world. She wants us to see what she sees. It's a great film.

The other documentary was called 'Matisse and Picasso', and it dealt with the lifelong friendship and rivalry between two geniuses. Picasso had a painting of Matisse's that he held onto all his life, and one of his final self-portraits pictured him wearing one of Matisse's peasant blouses. And Matisse, lucky enough to have a Russian patron buying a number of his works, immediately then steered him in the direction of Picasso. This film was a great look into their friendship, with wonderful footage. 

My favorite clip was of Picasso forming a bird out of a clay pot, fresh off of the wheel, flipped sideways. And you can catch a glimpse of the potter at the wheel, over his shoulder, looking on in fascination, as he continues to turn the wheel and work. I would love to download this clip, but I think it may be a copyright infringement. So, if you get the Ovation channel, look for the documentary. It has wonderful old footage. If I can get a still from the movie, I'll include in the future - it's choice!

bye for now, Ellen Mulligan

Thursday, July 3, 2008

First of all, I have to mention how excited I am about my first blog entry! I have been reading blogs from fellow potters for at least a year, but have been much too shy to start my own. But leave it to the natural sense of community that potters have – the group of potters I belong to, the Underground Potters, have started a blog that we can all participate in. So, shared responsibility, shared pleasures. Here we go!

My first experience with this world of blogs was when I researched any information available online on the potter that made a wonderful teapot I had purchased at the NCECA conference that took place in Baltimore, MD. It was at a show of salt and soda fired pots at the Potters Guild. And the potter’s name was Ron Philbeck.

I was so lucky that his blog was the first I came across, because even after extensive reading of all kinds of pottery blogs, I still consider his to be the gold standard. It is personal, gentle, and his generosity of spirit comes across in his writings, just as it did in his work (my lovely teapot). And once I read his entries, there was again that fantastic sense of community, in the list of links, and cross-referencing that takes place.

So, if all goes well, all my friends in the Underground Potters will enjoy sharing their thoughts, their work, and their lives with you. We all met as students at the Art School at Old Church in Demarest, NJ. This is a fantastic community art center, with a wonderful staff and some of the best pottery teachers around. My first class was with Frank and Polly Martin, and every teacher I took a class with was someone I felt honored to know, and learned a tremendous amount from. Now I look back and am still amazed at how fortunate I was when I went to my first show there, curated by Karen Karnes, in 1999. I was exposed to the best work around, and was hooked from the first class I took.

I am still constantly trying to find my own personal style, but I know now how to continue exploring, and all these voices are still in my head, helping me ask the right questions: Mikhail Zakin, Ina Chapler, DeBorah Goletz, Bea Bloom, Susan Beecher, Eric Lawrence, Sara Patterson, Judy Schaeffer, Ruth Borgenicht

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Last Pottery Show

Here are some of the photos from the last show The Underground Potters did at The Art School at Old Church in Demarest, NJ, in November of last year, showing the work of all 7 of us on display.

Both photos include pots from all seven of the group, who are Sandy Pancrazi, Ted Whittemore, Itsuko Ishiguro, Susan Bogen, Ellen Mulligan, Allan Drossman, and Cynthia Shevelew. Below are pots from us individually.