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ClayElements.blog is easy to follow. Click the “follow” button to receive a notification every time we publish. Our schedule is, generally, a new post every other Friday.
Our blog will explore all things ceramic, such as how Raku got started and how mosaics developed over time. We take you into the studios of local potters such as Wayne Ferguson and Amy Elswick. We blog to magnify our ceramics culture. As you follow us through the blog we hope you comment on what you like and what you think we could do better. The comment link is located at the end of each blog. It is a pleasure to make this blog happen and we hope you enjoy it.
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Wayne Ferguson does not sign his works anymore and does no marketing. Yet he is most likely the best known potter in our region.
Wayne calls himself a potter. Nearly all of his works are functional: bowls, pitchers, bottles, ocarinas, platters, and teapots. He roots himself in timeless traditions of ceramic technique and design.
When asked whether or not he is a folk artist, Wayne replied that early on he questioned that too and was advised by educators that, no, he was not, since he had taken some ceramic college courses. Wayne is so uniquely and presently in touch with his surroundings, and presents his ideas so illustratively, that I have to question this judgement about folk art.
Wayne’s early folk art
The Big Labowski
Native American ark
How can it be that our own stories are told by works that are overflowing with details of Wayne’s own life and culture? I believe that it is because he puts us in places and times of fascinating peculiarity, and, by presenting just the right details, comes to the point of a grand idea.
Homeplace whiskey bottle
Wayne’s earliest memories of working with clay are the times when his mother made clay of flour and salt so that he and his brother, Lemuel, could play with little soldiers. He went on to play with clay from the creek near his house in northern Kentucky.
Middle and high school years were tough for Wayne who matched adversity with youthful wildness. He and his brother did things that would have led to reform school were it not for the interjection of his high school art teacher, Eva Hinkle. She was able to convince Wayne that his future was with clay and art. He graduated with straight A’s and, as is well known by his friends today, with a generous heart.
A major turning point in Wayne’s life occurred when he witnessed Ladi Kwali at Berea, c. 1970. She made huge, symmetrical pots with clay coils. It was then that he decided that he would become a professional potter.
How does he make his pottery? Wayne is a hand builder who makes “hollow-work vessels”. He pinches, coils, and presses clay to make forms that he can combine with other clay forms and finish with carving and letter stamping. Words, stamped into pots are a centuries old form of communication.
Over fired white clays, Wayne applies colorful glaze washes, making sure that detailed texture is apparent. Colors are representative of the world around him. Glazes are low-fired in oxidation.
Wayne makes commemorative objects and effigies to remember personal, environmental, social, and political events.
He draws from other cultures and times. For example, he combines semblances of pre-Columbian stirrup-vessels with playful criticisms of political figures.
He places B-52 bombers atop delightful clouds and palm trees amid the skeletons of war.
He uses the timeless art of individually designed whiskey bottles to express his views on Mitch McConnell, for example. Many of Wayne’s most grueling commentaries appear to be toys. The irony captivates viewers and keeps them looking. And thinking.
Some of Waynes commemorative sculptures can be disturbing or highly politicized. Yet, he notes that the Mayans made pots depicting the beheading of captives. Wayne does not hold back on his views either: his views have lead to censorship of his works from some national exhibitions.
You can see Wayne Ferguson’s work, uncensored, in Frankfort this fall. Visit his upcoming show at Capital Gallery of Contemporary Art; 314 Lewis Street; Frankfort, KY 40601. Opening date: Oct. 26, 2018.
Ceramicist Suzanne Adams and AA Clay Studio & Gallery owner Alex Adams talked with contributing arts editor Jo Anne Triplett about their new blog and newly introduced online ceramics gallery.
In this interesting talk Alex Adams describes the mission and highlights of AA Clay: aaclay.com. “Our mission is to create a community studio with access to ceramic equipment and working space for the pursuit of ceramics.”
One highlight worth noting is the Online Gallery, recently added to sales gallery which features local artists’ work.
Suzanne Adams describes the mission and highlights of AAClay’s new bi-monthly blog: clayelements.blog. “The blog’s mission is to magnify our ceramic culture in Louisville and southern Indiana.
Our new blog directs the readers’ attention across interests such as history, technique, and all things ceramics.
We enjoyed our interview with Jo Anne Triplett at LEO Weekly and appreciate LEO’s support of the arts.
Ancient Greek mosaics are believed to be the earliest form of the mosaic technique. Greek methods began with the use of pebbles to form designs, binding the pebbles with compacted earth or a mixture of sand and lime. Artifacts, where pebbles were used to make patterned floors and pavements, have been found from the 8th century BCE.
Pebble mosaics persisted until approximately the 3rd century BCE, when they began to be replaced with mosaics of cut stone, glass, and ceramic cubes, or tesserae, which were adhered with mortar.
Tessera, (Latin: “cube,” or “die”) plural Tesserae, in mosaic work, a small piece of stone, glass, ceramic, or other hard material cut in a cubical or some other regular shape. (Britannica, 2018)
Mosaic art became the leading form of pictorial art, culminating in the extraordinary Byzantine period. The Renaissance movement, c. 1400, initiated the painted fresco technique through which artists were able to produce more realistic representations.
Use of the tesserae technique has ebbed and flowed over the centuries and has led to a wider skill set of varying techniques used by contemporary artists.
Enter AA Clay Studio and Gallery.
Ceramic pieces set in mastic, ready for grout.
Grouted ceramic pieces.
Grouted ceramic pies.
Step Four: Apply colored grout to each panel.
Still interested in mosaics?
Check out contemporary mosaic street art below.
The city of Prague, Checkoslovakia funds artists to enliven outdoor culture through ceramic mosaics.
Space Invader, influenced by popular arcade videos of the 70’s and 80’s, creates “invasion waves” in cities where he and his crew install 30-40 mosaics in various street locations. His goal is to bring art outside museum walls.
Jim Bachor uses contemporary subjects of pop imagery, like Starbucks and Twinkies, to fill potholes. He mixes cut glass tesserae with the gritty asphalt of Chicago streets. His art strangely refers back to ancient street pavements. Who would have thought?
AA Clay members are proud to be a part of the long history of mosaic art making. We offer our outdoor mosaic wall art to all who are a part of our ceramic and neighborhood communities.
Artist Talk Hosted by Louisville Clay at AA Clay Studio & Gallery September 11, 2018
Marie-Elena Ottman is a Louisville based artist with a story worth telling. Louisville Clay members enjoyed seeing images of Marie-Elena’s fantastical ceramic art, while hearing her compelling personal story.
Having grown up in Panama with an American father and Panamanian mother, Marie-Elena makes art about the symbiosis and the tension that can exist between two cultures. At age 21 she broke with tradition in Panama, where women stay at home until married, by emigrating to the United States to attend college in Montana. What followed was an art journey in which she has represented the integration of two cultures through visual metaphor.
Marie-Elena’s ceramic process is achieved through coil building and the use of extraordinary color. She also artfully combines glass with ceramics in her sculpture.
Her current images are derived from her homeland and include coconuts, cashews, iguanas, monkeys, coatimundis, exotic birds,Panamanian dress and vibrant color. The following images are metaphors about pregnancy, split personality, and greediness, among other life stories.
“I’ve learned to not forget culture, to embrace the past while also moving forward” said Marie-Elena as she closed her presentation. Ottman currently teaches Intro to Ceramics and Advanced Handbuilding at the University of Louisville. She and her husband have two children, ages 12 and 10, who are learning about their heritage by speaking Spanish as well as English.
Collecting is a process of selecting items which tell a story. Robbie Merrick, is fascinated by the beauty and functionality of ceramic art made at the turn of the 20th century and beyond. When asked: What motivates you more; the object or the search, he pauses to think and replies: “The search; it’s like peeling an onion. You learn about a potter’s life and culture which leads to the potters that influenced him or her. You learn people’s stories, their histories and their connections.”
Robbie kindly invited Alex Adams and me to see his ceramics collection where he lives with his wife Margaret on Kenwood Hill.
Robbie’s interest in ceramics began when he took a ceramics class in college. What followed was a career in education, along with a 40 year passion for motorcycles. At Margaret’s suggestion to “find a new hobby”, he began collecting turn of the century pottery and eventually relearning the art of ‘throwing’ a pot at AA Clay.
As our tour of the collection began, Robbie enthusiastically presented the book which began his collecting career; Clear as Mud, Early 20th Century Kentucky Art Pottery edited by Warren Payne.
Clear as Mud, Early 20th Century Kentucky Art Pottery by Warren and Julie Payne
Time spent with Kentucky pottery led Robbie to an interest in the Arts and Crafts movement in England and the U.S. (1880 – 1920). If you are a ceramic artist today, your roots are in the Arts and Crafts movement which espoused the artful, handmade creation of crafts as a needed cultural reaction to industrial production.
Using the many reference books which give detailed histories of potters, pottery factories and the developing art pottery market of the turn of the century, he began collecting pieces of Clewel, Weller, Roseville, Paul Revere, Fulper, Marblehead, TECO, Clifton, Owen, Hampshire and many others. He made his finds at auctions, on ebay, and antique stores throughout his and Margaret’s travels.
American Art and Clay Company, AMACO (30s & 40s) Indy, IN
Turn of the century art pottery
Ruskin Pottery (1989-1933) Smethwick / Birmingham, West Midlands
Turn of the century art pottery
Robbie had realized early on that women were influential in ceramic artistic development throughout the turn of the 20th century. Some women established or managed pottery businesses, while many others were employed as producers of greenware, glaze painters, and designers. For example, the four Overbeck sisters began Overbeck Pottery in 1911 in Cambridge City, IN. They were known for imaginative figurines, matte glazes, and painted plants and animals. Their pottery business operated until 1955 when the last of the sisters passed away.
Overbeck sisters, Cambridge, IN
Overbeck pottery example (1911-55)
Other female potters of note in Robbie’s collection are Clarice Cliff, Charlotte Rhead, Beatrice Wood, the founders of Rookwood, Mary Chase Stratton of Pewabic Pottery, the women trained at Newcomb Pottery and Polia Pillin.
Pewabic Pottery (1903 – 61) Detroit, MI (Mary Chase Stratton)
Polia Pillin Pottery (1948 – 92) Los Angeles, CA
As a finale to our visit, Robbie led us to his North Carolina collection of traditional folk potters who focused on practical shapes and function. His finds include Jugtown, BB Craig, Pisgah Forrest, pottery of the Owens and Coles and a pot turned by Oscar Louis Bachelder at his Omar Khayyam Pottery in the early 1900’s.
And then our conversation turned to a pot by Charles Counts at Berea College. Charles Counts was one of those names only ‘mentioned’ in the Clear as Mud book. His books Common Clay and Pottery Workshop became constant reminders of what it meant to become a ‘craftsman.’ We had come ‘full circle.’
Robbie’s philosophy of collecting: “I try to collect one piece from each artist who fascinates me”. For example, work made at the Grueby Pottery (1897-1920 Boston, MA) is difficult to afford; however, I was happy to buy a small piece of tile that represents everything wonderful about Grueby Pottery.
To sum up, the best thing about Robbie Merrick is that he spends many working hours in the studio at AA Clay throwing pots on the wheel and applying glazes.
Why does Robbie devote time to learning the craft? He wisely states that he studies pottery so that: “I can engage in knowledgeable conversations with collectors and potters who know more than I do”. This is a devoted collector.
April 14; 5 – 8 pm —— AA Clay Studio and Gallery, 2829 South 4th St, Louisville, will present a rarely seen clay firing process, called raku. The event is free and the public is invited. Enjoy watching the artists as they remove their clay objects from the open, roaring hot, outdoor kiln.
The AA Clay raku workshop raku workshop & kiln firing includes an evening of raku firing on April 21 in which ceramic objects, previously made by workshop participants, are fired in an outdoor kiln. This is an exciting event for artists and viewers alike, as the firing process, from loading the kiln chamber to removing objects from the hot kiln, takes only 45 minutes.
Artists and art lovers at AA Clay want to share their enthusiasm for ceramic art with other art enthusiasts in the community. They say: “Bring a lawn chair and experience the drama of clay heated to 1600 F.”