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