Kiwi Kraft pt 5: Windy Wellington and the Potters Association

New Zealand's capital, Wellington, is often compared to San Francisco for its rolling hills and cool sub climate. I spent a weekend working with a great bunch of potters from the Wellington Potters Association. They have an active club that hosts workshops, classes, and a residency. Most of the clay centers in NZ are club driven. By paying dues members are granted access to studio space. In Wellington you could be a member for less than $200 NZD a year. By far the cheapest deal I have ever seen for studio space. This dues-for-membership model could replace the class-fee model for many U.S. ceramic centers. Membership implies a deeper level of commitment and creates a positive sense of ownership that is much needed in educational environments.

My students came energized and ready to work. We were focusing on drop molds and surface design. Each participant was asked to bring in live florals to develop new patterns. Check out the sweet deco on the platter pictured above. This student used a paper resist technique to do a negative space drawing. The brown color you see is the clay showing through the white slip. The stippling and graceful sgraffito lines are a great addition to the drawing. I think I learned more from her that weekend than she did from me.

We talked a lot about food and the role it plays in culture. I explained that grits, barbecue, and biscuits & gravy have become symbols of the south. We had a good laugh because they were all repulsed by the idea of biscuits and gravy. One student chuckled at the connection between these dishes and the soft stature of many southern Americans. We had pot lucks each day filled with NZ dishes and old familiar favorites. My new favorite was a cake called Pavlova. It consists of three inches of meringue topped with goose berries and grapes. The cake was created to honor the dancer Anna Pavlova during her world tour to New Zealand in the 1920's.(For more history on Pavlova click here.) My students filled me in on the culture war that Kiwis and Aussies have over ownership of this cake. Both steadfastly claim to have invented the dish. It is safe to say that who ever actually invented it should be thanked because it is exceptionally good.

This post wraps up my travel series on New Zealand. I have many more untold stories but none will compare to your own experience of NZ first hand. There aren't many places in the world that offer beautiful scenery mixed with adventure sports and an excellent clay scene. I hope you make it there soon.

This post is included in Kiwi Kraft, a mini series of blogs about my visits to potters and pottery centers on the North Island of New Zealand. For related posts click on the following links.

Kiwi Kraft pt 1: Dive, Jump, Climb, Paddle....I'm in love


Kiwi Kraft pt 4: Francis Upritchard's Figures & Martino Gamper's 100 chairs

Tate Shots segment on Francis Upritchard's show "Save Yourself" at the 2009 Venice Biennale

During my stay in Hamilton, Charade Honey was firing a wood kiln with Kiwi transplant Francis Upritchard. Francis and her husband, Martino Gamper, live in London, where they have established themselves on the international art scene. Focusing mostly on sculpture Francis uses ceramics in her installations. Click here to check out her work at the Saatchi Gallery. It is always interesting to see artists from other mediums work clay into the high art scene. In this context technique/craftsmanship often take a back seat to concept. This can stretch the boundaries of clay but it can also misrepresent the cutting edge of contemporary ceramics. It would be great to invite non-clay artists to our conferences/studios in order to see how interaction with the greater ceramic world would affect their work.

Martino focuses on furniture design. His large project, A 100 chairs in a hundred days was pure genius. By setting up a simple set of boundaries (one chair per day from found objects) Gamper performs a meditation on the chair form. Many of these are amazing designs in their own right but the real power is in the variety of the collection. Here are a few that were of particular interest to me. Click here for more info on the project.

During the wood firing Martino suggested the group make firebox chicken. I have heard of kiln fired pizza and hobo dinners (chicken and potatoes wrapped in tin foil) but this was my first experience with this kind of recipe. A full chicken was surrounded by spiced sweet potatoes and covered with stoneware clay. This was then placed right outside the mouse holes of the firebox, where it was covered with excess coals. A slow roast dried out the clay, steaming the food inside. When the clay has hardened to simibisque you crack it open and its ready to eat. I didn't taste the final result but it sounded like a delicious idea. 

This post is included in Kiwi Kraft, a mini series of blogs about my visits to potters and pottery centers on the North Island of New Zealand. For related posts click on the following links.

Kiwi Kraft pt 1: Dive, Jump, Climb, Paddle....I'm in love


Kiwi Kraft pt. 3: The mighty Waikato and the meaning of Value

Much of my trip was spent in the Waikato region of the North Island. Named after NZ's longest river, the region is known for adventure sports and its grass fed cattle industry. The Waikato River stretches 425 km from Mount Ruapehu to Lake Taupo.

My first weekend was spent with Duncan Shearer at the Waikato Society of Potters. He graciously shared his home and helped me with my workshop. As I was demonstrating the participants asked many great questions. I speak in my slide show about the labor of decoration creating value in the work. That was promptly followed by the question "what do you mean by value?" I find that I often say things that are filled with assumptions. Teaching helps expose those assumptions. I didn't have a concise answer for the gentleman at the time so I've been thinking about this ever since.

The value I speak about is two part: work value, or the accumulated cost of skilled labor (time=money), and cultural value, the accumulated meaning of visual symbols (pattern, image, etc). The work value is straight forward. Going back to preindustrial times skilled labor has a direct connection to monetary wealth. Objects like this couch where expensive because a skilled craftsman had to be paid to carve the rails, upholster the fabric, etc.

Cultural value is less concrete because it varies depending on context. Over time, usually decades/centuries, symbols accumulate cultural meaning. A quick example is corporate branding through logos. In the past thirty five years the Apple logo has become a symbol of innovation, design, quality, and a whole list of emotions the keep consumers attracted. As artists we have the power to use symbols appropriating the value the viewer places on the symbol. In my work this takes the form of using dogwoods, honeysuckle, and other botanicals that tie into regionalism and southern nostalgia.

As machines replaced skilled hand labor cultural value became more economically powerful than work value. This shift can break down when cultural symbols are divorced from their original context. When this happens people go back to evaluating craftsmanship and skilled labor. I see the aftermath of decontextualizing symbols in China where logos, patterns, and styles are intermixed with little regard for the original. In Chinese markets all western symbols become exotic and valuable even if there are great value distinctions in their original context. For instance, many times fake Rolexs and Casios are displayed together because the sellers don't fully understand the vast gap in perceived value that the objects have. I always get a laugh when the sales people swear the Rolex ($20,000 for a real one) isn't fake even when its displayed beside the Casio ($60 for a real one) (For an interesting look at webdesign check out the Rolex site by clicking here.)

Getting back to pots I am including a few pictures of Duncan's work and his house. He and his partner Charade Honey have a great collection of pots. I always enjoying picking through other potters cabinets. For more information on Duncan's work check out his website www.duncanshearer.co.nz. His experimentation with wood kilns is fantastic. He has built one out of phone books, a hollow log, and a block of ice.

This post is included in Kiwi Kraft, a mini series of blogs about my visits to potters and pottery centers on the North Island of New Zealand. For related posts click on the following links.

Kiwi Kraft pt 1: Dive, Jump, Climb, Paddle....I'm in love

Kiwi Kraft pt 2: Raglan, Tony Sly, and Clay Competition

Kiwi Kraft pt 3: The mighty Waikato and the meaning of Value

Kiwi Kraft pt 4: Francis Upritchard's Figures & Martino Gamper's 100 chairs

Kiwi Kraft pt 5: Windy Wellington and the Potters Association


Colin Meloy of the Decemberists first band- Tarkio

You might not recognize Tarkio but your probably familiar with lead singer Colin Meloy's current band The Decemberists. I was first turned onto Meloy when I heard a Tarkio song on a Wilco-based Pandora station.  Tarkio formed in the late 90's while the members attended the University of Montana.(Click here for more info) The music has a standard alt country back beat with lyrics that are seeds to Meloy's love for word play.

I have the bands double disk, Omnibus (pick it up on amazon). It plays like a greatest hits record minus the commercially successful radio singles. I posted a few highlights to the player at the top of page. Enjoy and let me know what you think. 

The track listing:
Weight of the World
Tristan and Iseult
Slow Down
Keeping Me Awake
Carolina Avenue
Neapolitan Bridesmaid

Lyrics to one of my favorite tunes, Tristan and Iseult
Would you like to go out tonight?
said Tristan to Iseult.
It's a lovely night
to go to the Odeon;
sit in the back row.
Sick of staying in.

So they threw on some clothes,
walked slowly down the street,
lit by lantern light,
through the market square,
studied the marquee,
bought two tickets and some popcorn.

And on the screen the hero stands,
the female lead, hand in hand,
and says,
God I love you,
but you trouble me.
She pushes him away.

And as the credits role,
Tristan turned to Iseult,
said, What did ya think?
It was okay, I guess.
That story's pretty old.
It's a bit cliched and hackneyed, I thought; I thought.

And back out on the street
they stopped for some ice cream.
Talking quietly,
there was nobody
in the room in which they sat,
as he reached across the table.

And just as their fingers caught,
timidly, he whispers to her
and says, God I love you, but you trouble me.
Said Tristan to Iseult.
Said Tristan to Iseult.
Said Tristan to Iseult. 


Kiwi Kraft pt 2: Raglan, Tony Sly, & Clay Competition

After ten and a half hours of red eyed anticipation I landed in Auckland just before dawn. As the sun came up I was struck by the clarity of the blue sky, the vibrance of the green grass, and the sweetness of the air. Compared to smoggy Shanghai it was like someone turned up nature's color saturation. After nine months in Asia it was high time to get out, recharge, and experience one of the closest western cultures.

I spent my first night in Auckland visiting one of my high school friends. We caught up on 10 years of lost time while she gave me suggestions for my trip. My fly by night vacation included only two solid commitments both on the weekends.  For two weeks I was in a state of active wandering. I bounced from hostel to hostel picking up travel suggestions from my fellow backpackers. I got in the habit of exploring until late afternoon and then driving to my next destination. This easy pace allowed for the maximum amount of experience without feeling like I was ticking activities off of a travel plan.

My first destination was Hamilton, NZ for a gig at the Waikato Society of Potters. I had a great weekend with Duncan Shearer and the Waikato crowd. (I’ll write more about this weekend in a separate post) My second destination was the world renowned surf spot, Raglan. This sleepy west coast surf town reached international acclaim after it was featured in the 1966 surf classic, The Endless Summer. I spent two days at Manu Bay learning how to fall gracefully off of a surf board with the Raglan Surf School. By the end I could pop up long enough to feel the smooth force of a 2 foot wave. I now have a huge respect for people that are riding eight to ten footers and a healthy fear for the people that ride twenty footers. 

My second afternoon in Raglan was spent resting my sore shoulders and walking around town. Duncan had suggested I check out Tony Sly, one of NZ’s longtime utilitarian earthenware potters. His newly rebuilt studio overlooks a large inland bay surrounded by rolling hills. (Tony’s original studio burnt last year after the neighboring fish and chip shop caught on fire.) The landmark wharf attracts tourists and locals who come to fish off the piers and buy pottery. 

In true potter hospitality Tony offered me a place to stay for the night. We spent the evening talking shop and comparing the pottery scenes in NZ/US/China. At one point Tony remarked “What is it with all these competitions? When did pottery become a sport?” I appreciate this sentiment. I am all too familiar with the emotions that follow the submission of images to a major exhibition. The high that comes from being accepted, or the massive let down of a rejection letter, don't contribute physical progress to my studio practice. Mostly the jury process taps into the athlete in me that loves competition for its own sake. At times this roller coaster has been a distraction that kept me afraid to make the decisions that create actual movement in the studio. In this respect I wish jurors had time to explain their decisions so the process could function like a critique.

About fifteen years ago Tony consciously shifted his work away from the one-of-a-kind art scene and into domestic home ware galleries. He now designs solely for the table with food being the predominate decoration. We talked a lot about pots that show well in galleries but don’t function well in the home. As an obsessive mark maker I straddle the line between decoration that adds interest and decoration that battles with food presentation. Tony has a good lineup of colorful translucent glazes that provide a versatile canvas for food. 

I got to see Tony work in his studio and I picked up a few tricks. He has a great system for slipping his earthenware. He suspends his pots on dowel rods over the top of a large basin. He then walks around the pot quickly pouring slip. This is a solution I will try with my larger horizontal pieces. I was also impressed by the organization he maintains in his studio. With his quick, but casual, throwing style he can produce shelf after shelf of pots each day. He had at least 50 pots in the green ware state while I was there. Every day some are ready to trim, some ready to slip, and some ready to glaze. He has an excellent system of day to day rotation that keeps his studio moving.

The oval server below was my favorite of his forms. The large coiled handles are a good complement to the form. His glaze pools nicely in the wavy scratch marks around the rim and handles. He fires to cone 2 in the largest electric car kiln that I have ever seen. Its stacking space was about 10 x 6 x 4 ft. If your ever in NZ I highly recommend stopping in Raglan to see Tony and his studio. For more information on Tony Sly Pottery please click here.

This post is included in Kiwi Kraft, a mini series of blogs about my visits to potters and pottery centers on the North Island of New Zealand. For related posts click on the following links.


Just in time for NCECA - Red Clay Rambler Post Cards - V 1.0

I decided to take the plunge, and fork over the dough, for the first set of Red Clay Rambler post cards. They feature two of my favorite images from last year's travels. The top image is a day of team throwing from the Lao Chang factory in Jingdezhen (check out the story). The second image is freshly made Jiaozi from the Sanbao ceramic village restaurant. (check out a related story) Since moving to China my trusty Canon EOS has been glued to my hand. Seeing through a camera lens keeps me focused on my surroundings. Every person, street corner, and food stall become potential shots. It has been a great lesson in mindfulness.

These were printed using overnightprints.com. They are a reliable choice for print quality, price, and super smooth rounded corners. They are currently having a winter sale that makes most sizes and quantities affordable.(click here for specs) I will be distributing these at the Pottery Workshop table at NCECA. Please come by for a quick visit. If you won't make it down to Tampa send me your address and I will drop one in the post when I get to the U.S.


Alchemy: From Dust to Form at UF's Harn Museum

The University of Florida's Harn Museum is currently hosting Alchemy: From Dust to Form. This show of 50 works covers functional pots, sculpture, and installation work from emerging and established ceramic artists. The exhibition coincides with this years NCECA conference and the UF preconference Creating Meaning. The show has an excellent online catalog. Check it out here or visit in person until September. I'm looking forward to seeing it when I visit in a few weeks.

Here are a few highlights:

Jennifer Allen  Oil and Vinegar Cruets

2010 – Porcelain 
Fired cone 10 reduction
6.5 x 13 x 6 inches

Modest volumes and tailored profiles transition into generous knobs and ruffled edges. Details such as folds, seams, darts, dimples and pleats record the hand’s process of making as they relate to my love of fabric. The exterior surface contains patterning inspired by a fondness of textile design. I glean from post WWII textiles, Arts and Crafts Era designs and Edo period kimono fabrics as sources that historically honor and celebrate everyday life.

Amanda Small    Zoetics

2008 – Porcelain, slip, fiberglass, insulation foam, resin, digital imagery, vinyl
Dimensions Variable

Technology allows us intimate views of otherwise invisible worlds. Our relationship with nature is vastly explored and exploited through this technology. Access to inter-cellular landscapes offers elaborate glimpses of chimeric worlds. Delicate layers arranged in undulating patterns reference internal structures found in nature, biology, and plant life, and discuss the relationship between ourselves, our technology, and our subsequent experience of nature. I signify my ideas about a living web through metaphor, using sacred geometry, radials, and lattice patterns to reference architecture found within living structures. Repetitive patterns common in nature act as an allegory for a collective identity, and reference the inter-connectedness of living things. Parallel symmetries found beneath the surface of organisms suggest kinships beyond comprehension. Simultaneously, my employment of unfired clay and slip remind us that our own subjectivity and relationships are in flux.

Garth Johnson    Made in China 1

2010 – Porcelain
6 x 7 x 2 inches

The lure of porcelain has always been powerful, sparking dreams in consumers and makers alike. Seventeenth century Europeans also developed "Chinoiserie," a sort of ersatz "Chinese-esque" set of motifs based more on what Europeans thought Chinese decoration should look like, rather than what it actually looked like. The Chinese responded in kind, creating their own "authentic" Chinoiserie geared for export rather than domestic consumption.
Porcelain has always called to me. The stuff is finicky and hard to work with. It never does what you want it to: cracking, slumping, shirking off its glaze... yet as a material, is so incredibly beautiful that I keep swearing it off, yet crawling back to it like some ceramic Tammy Wynette. Porcelain has such a hold on me that I had to visit China. I wanted to find the source. This was made during a residency in Jingdezhen, China, as a response to the images and materials that surrounded me.


Kiwi Kraft pt 1: Dive, Jump, Climb, Paddle....I'm in love.

Sixty seconds of bliss with Freefall Taupo. (Click here for more info)

Bungy jumping with Taupo Bungy. (Click here for more info)

Froggatt Rocks in the Waikato Region on the North Island. The climber was an English guy who was climbing a seriously hard pitch. I climbed the easy climb beside him to snap these pictures. (Click here for more info)

Kayaking down the Waikato with Kaituna Cascades (click here for more info)

Great weather and waves at Raglan Beach. Took a few lessons at the Raglan Surf School (Click here for more info)

I'm in Auckland for my last night of a refreshing two week trip to New Zealand. I spent the weekends teaching at the Waikato Society of Potters and the Wellington Potters Association. Throughout the weeks I traveled around the North Island taking in all the adventure sports I could handle. Within the nine hour drive from Auckland to Wellington I was able to go skydiving, bungy jumping, surfing, climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, and running. I have never been to a place that is so dense with beauty and variety. If I could have a country as my soul mate New Zealand would be it.

This post kicks off Kiwi Kraft, a mini series of blogs about my visits to potters and pottery centers on the North Island of New Zealand.For related posts click on the following links.

Kiwi Kraft pt 1: Dive, Jump, Climb, Paddle....I'm in love

Kiwi Kraft pt 2: Raglan, Tony Sly, & Clay Competition

Kiwi Kraft pt 3: The mighty Waikato and the meaning of Value

Kiwi Kraft pt 4: Francis Upritchard's Figures & Martino Gamper's 100 chairs

Kiwi Kraft pt 5: Windy Wellington and the Potters Association