Marie-Elena Ottman, Ceramic Sculpture

Artist Talk Hosted by Louisville Clay at AA Clay Studio & Gallery September 11, 2018

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Louisville Clay members gathered at AA Clay for Artist Talk and Potluck
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President of Louisville Clay, Alex Adams introduces Marie-Elena Ottman

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.

Iguana

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 represented the integration of two cultures through visual metaphor.

Portrait-slide-Panama

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 ceramics and sculpture 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.

Marie-art

Robbie Merrick, Pottery Collector

 –  by Suzanne Adams, Clay Elements

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.

Robby-and-Wife
Robbie Merrick and Margaret Merrick, August, 2018

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.

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.

Arts-and-Craft
Arts and Crafts, Pottery and Ceramics, by Joanna Wissinger

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.

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.

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.

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North Carolina pottery

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.

Charles-Counts
Charles Counts  (1952 – 2000)   Rising Fawn, Georgia

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.

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Grueby Faience / Grueby Pottery  1897-1920  Boston, MA

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.

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Robbie Merrick at AA Clay Studio

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.

 

Experience Thermal Shock and Oxygen Reduction at AA Clay Studio & Gallery

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.”

Husband and Wife Invent Raku Pottery

Chojiro and his wife developed the raku technique

It all began in Japan. Here’s how it went down:

After 450 years of feudal conflicts, constant warring came to an end in the late 1500’s.

Zen philosophy, the belief that beauty resides in the simple, the quiet, and the imperfect, spread throughout the land. The tea ceremony embodied Zen philosophy.

The great tea master, Sen-no-Rikyu

A great tea master, Sen-no-Rikyu, officially promoted the clay works of Chojiro and his wife, who had developed the raku technique of making simple hand-made bowls.

The raku technique of respecting natural processes has continued to influence ceramic art worldwide.

Artist Matt Mitros at I.U.S. Ceramic Department – 3D Printer Technology

It takes a lot of skill and attention to be both a focused artist and teacher. Brian Harper, ceramic teacher at I.U.S., made this evident by bringing Matt Mitros to campus to work with students.

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Matt Mitros demonstrates 3D printing at I.U.S. Ceramic Department

If you read our previous blog you know about Matt’s innovative art. Let’s now take a look at his presentation about ceramic 3D printing.

Matt began by demonstrating Rhinoceros, a 3D graphics and computer-aided design (CAD) application. Using this software, Matt designs objects and molds for objects in his art practice. He uses Rhino to operate a CNC router to carve molds from solid blocks of plaster.

Aware that students learn best through hands-on involvement, Mitros facilitated group design of a ceramic vessel using Potter Draw software. Laughter ensued as students created a fanciful vessel on  screen.

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Students create design for 3D printing using Potter Draw

Next, Matt shot the design to a program, called Slic3r, located on a computer attached to a 3D printer. Slicer programs put designs into layers;  create codes that determine scale and wall thickness; and can design inside and outside walls of a pot differently. These aspects of 3D printing alone distinguish this technology from wheel-throwing, even hand building, with clay.

Clay printer top
3D printer before attaching clay extruder

As Matt worked with the hand-made 3D printer that he brought to class, we were able to watch the pressure extruder, mounted on the printer, as it emitted clay through a nozzle to create a vessel and a honeycomb relief pattern that Matt uses in his sculpture.

 

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Mitros operating the 3D printer

 

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Students watching exruder in action

Mitros made the point that he works with printers in order to be innovative with the technology and to add to the conceptual framework of his sculpture. Furthermore, Matt loves textural qualities of clay that physically show the process of creation. For example, he casts clay into plaster molds and doesn’t remove the seam lines. He often produces objects on printers that show each layer produced by the nozzle.

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Cup extruded from 3D printer

 

As a grand finale, Matt Mitros demonstrated a specific use of the printer that he uses extensively: one object, such as a clay-printed toy, can be attached directly on top of another, such as a clay-printed potato.

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Bio Rad #13, 2017, mixed media, showing printed honeycomb pattern

 

It’s all about having fun with machines to create new ideas and new art objects.

 

Amy Elswick; The Independent Artist

A Profile, by Suzanne Adams, Clay Elements

What is the life of an artist and what does it take to be successful?
Amy Elswick has the answers.

I met with Amy at her renovated, spacious studio/home on East Chestnut in Louisville, KY.

Amy’s Appalachian heritage includes parents, aunts, and uncles who took the opportunity to explore and learn at Berea College. She used her years at Berea to work in the ceramics studio as a production potter where she could experiment with numerous clays, glazes and techniques. Amy began as a Spanish major who subsequently found that clay “fit her hand like a glove”.

In addition to pottery making, Amy learned pottery selling at Berea. The Craft Marketing Program taught students to use craft as a career. She sold her student work through the college gallery and learned basic marketing techniques.

Imagine a young potter who also had the dream of promoting exchanges of the arts throughout the Americas (remember her studies of Spanish cultures). Amy traveled to the American southwest to test her role in the local environment. She returned to her hometown Louisville ready to make pottery that connected her traditional Appalachian background with the clay works of Pre-columbian pottery and architecture.
Take a look at Amy’s website clayhousepots.com and you will recognize that her imagination takes hold when she uses clays, glazes, brushes, and carving tools. She consistently produces dinnerware, gondolas, platters, drinkware, bowls, and vases.

Amy’s work includes sensitively carved vases, fluid spiral patterns painted on inviting bowls, gondolas with surface treatments that are as intriguing as the food within. Notice the earthy, restful glazes that are reminiscent of colors in the Kentucky mountains.

In short, Amy Elswick makes pottery for lovers of the expressive range that only clay and glaze can create.


Amy’s work has evolved into large hand built vessels made to hold such items as magazines and fireplaces accessories. Her architectural mirrors are particularly strong in ceramic form and pattern.

Asked what she plans to do in the future, Amy presented a large (approx. 6 ft. by 2.5 ft.), nicely carved ceramic relief of Louisville’s downtown profile, mounted on a lighted glass background suitable for fronting a counter or bar in one of Louisville’s commercial establishments. I like the way she thinks.

We shouldn’t leave this profile without mentioning Amy’s marketing skills. As a young potter, Amy worked for two artists who sold pottery and art nationally, at high prices. Three years with Dana Major and Serge Isupov provided her with the knowledge that pottery is a business that requires organization, confidence, and a practical, energetic work ethic. It even requires that the potter become artful at packaging ceramic works.

Amy’s business is one in which she makes gallery connections at national wholesale markets, such as the American Craft Council show. She reliably fills orders by first determining how much money she needs to make at a show or gallery, then outlining production methods and outcomes that succeed in fulfilling her plans on time.


We see in Amy Elswick a potter who knows the business front and back; a potter who is a model for anyone with the passion to combine creativity with ceramic technique to produce forms that exemplify a sincere personal philosophy. We in Louisville are fortunate to recognize her as a successful, Independent Artist. Thank you, Amy.

Spraying Glazes Is Easy at AA Clay Studio & Gallery

Cave-PaintingAs early as 37,900 BCE a human hand was placed on a rock surface in Indonesia and pigment was then blown through a hollow tube (bone or reed) in a diffuse cloud over it, leaving a silhouette image of the hand on the rock. Such images occur in many prehistoric sites all over the world and were created by people of all ages and genders.

Spraying glazes is currently a popular technique for the surface decoration of ceramic art. Spraying underglazes, glazes and colorants can be done with a variety of tools including systems comprised of compressors, spray guns and ventilated spray booths.

AA Clay Studio and Gallery now offers studio rental of such a system, along with training in the application of sprayed glazes.

Glaze spray facility at AA Clay Studio, Louisville, Kentucky
Spraying glaze

Two contemporary potters, Martha Grover and Stephen Hill, describe their reasons for spraying.

Martha Grover:“I started spraying my glazes about 4 years ago. I found that I was unable to achieve evenly layered surfaces and color transitions through traditional methods of dipping and pouring. By using two sprayers, one small for my bright colors concentrated at the edges, and a large one for the overall piece, I am able to create a varied, even surface that shifts from a bright color to light seamlessly.”

Martha Grover pottery

Stephen Hill: “Spraying permits me to blend multiple glazes together seamlessly and also gives me the ability to isolate colors on the rims handles, and feet of my pottery.”

Stephen Hill pottery

Following are some general tips for spraying glazes.

  • All materials must be finely sieved, preferably through a 100 mesh screen.
  • Keep the gun tip at least 6 inches away from the object.
  • Keep the gun pointed squarely at the work.
  • Spray in long even strokes. Make each stroke separately and release the trigger as you finish each stroke to avoid pile-up.
  • Make several passes over each area, with thickness testing using a needle tool.
  • Wear a properly fitted respirator with a hepa filter.

 

Stephen Hill demonstrates his glazing process

Figure 1

A transparent green is sprayed to emphasize a spiral movement.

Figure 2

An iron saturate is sprayed over the green strontium mat to turn it into a Tuscan orange.

Figure 3

The wide rim is sprayed with a mat black glaze to frame and contrast with the interior of the platter.

Figure 4

Stephen Hill, completed platter.

As you see, spraying a glaze is no more complicated than spraying paint. You may need only to cover a sculpture or vessel with an even coat of glaze. Additionally, this technique has many decorative advantages.