Louisville Clay Members Gather for an Evening with Kristian Stephens

Kristian Stephens, as a ceramic artist and floral designer in Louisville, creates compositions that are sensitive gestures of calmness, space, balance and love of nature.

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The basis of Kristian’s floral arrangement is the practice of Ikebana, a refined expression of an artist’s personal philosophy. Add to this the unique sculpted vases she makes to interact sublimely with leaves and flowers, and we have one art form influencing another.

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Kristian explained that Ikebana is a form of flower arranging developed in Japan; was prominent in the 14th century; and is popular today, with over 3000 schools teaching the art form.

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Ikebana is a three-pronged process based on: simplistic design; a minimal number of flowers; and meditating while designing. The designer’s state of mind is actually more important than the flowers. As Kristian said; “Ikebana is all about the love and need of the artist.”

Using a highly systematic method of floral arrangement, the mind is freed to become integrated with nature and self. Only 2 or 3 flowers are used in which each flower occupies a specific space. The tallest flower represents the sky; the middle sized flower represents the human; the lowest plant, the earth.

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Integral to this meditative approach are the beautiful unglazed clays of Kristian’s vases. Here’s how she creates the natural forms that hold her floral arrangements.

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Begin with two pounds of wedged stoneware clay, formed into a pyramid or other geometric shape. Let the clay rest for two hours.

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In order to lighten the lower portion of the form, press a hole in the bottom of the clay that only reaches a few inches into the clay.

Take time to press the clay walls out to widen the opening and smooth out any air bubbles, leaving thick walls.

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When the clay form has dried to the “just right” consistency, begin shaving the outside walls. Kristian exclaimed that this is real fun and relaxing for the artist.

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The top is the last part to shave off. Holes are then poked into the clay to accommodate flower and leaf stems.

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The vases are bisque fired then fired to cone six with no glaze. For a vase to hold water, a clear glaze is added to the opening where the stems reside.

“It’s all about the way that the space is used. Every flower placement, every slice of clay, has a huge meaning and presence.” We all felt the importance of Kristian’s words.

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Following Kristian’s demonstration, the group’s energy level exploded. Our exuberance came from our understanding that our own art can be a successful expression of appreciation for nature, space, and raw clay. Thanks Kristian for creating vases that express Ikebana so well.

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And to make our evening more wonderful we joined Elmer Lucile Allen in celebration of her 88th birthday. She is a great friend to many of us at Louisville Clay.

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The work of Kristian Stephens can be seen at:
Lady Made Pottery
ladymadepottery@gmail.com

Shop Etsy at https://www.etsy.com/shop/ladymadepattery

Kristian Meade

Floral Design and Event Styling
Kristian Meade Florisrty@gmail.com

J. D. Schall; from clean design to narration

Artist Profile by Suzanne Adams, Editor

On a mid-November day I walked into a remarkable artist’s life, J. D. Schall. Creative studio and artistic home were shown to me, the fortunate blogger, by one of Louisville’s premier potters.

J. D. had just returned from a trip to Mexico and observed that; “Mexicans have symbols from their culture that have been given to them and used for centuries. I’m currently pursuing symbols that have meaning in our culture.” J. D. has spent the previous two years developing work that incorporates his unique interpretations of symbols, such as fleeing rabbits, onto his boldly formed functional works.

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Rabbit-Bowls

How did Schall get to this point in his career? In telling his story, J. D. revealed that his creative processes coincided with his choices of place and work. As a college student at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, he majored in English literature and minored in anthropology and religious studies. Imagine seeking knowledge from great minds and times while living in the rolling, isolated landscape of mid-Wisconsin. In his last semester, 1994, J. D. took a ceramics course and continued to make ceramics for three years thereafter; trading ceramic classes for job hours worked.

In 1997, J. D. moved to Baton Rouge, LA and formed Studio 801, a 15-member artists’ cooperative. He also became the head potter for Burts Cason Inc., a pottery design firm specializing in interior design. It was in Baton Rouge that J. D. began throwing large pots, sometimes handling 18 pounds on the wheel. His palette changed from the browns of Wisconsin to the intense colors of southern Louisiana. He learned the ceramics trade while working alongside American merchandisers and ceramic painters from Vietnam.

In 2002 J. D. moved to Louisville and founded Schall Studio and Design. At this point he began to specialize in clean modern design, influenced by 1950’s modernism and the Arts and Crafts movement. Ancient Asian and Greek ceramic influences are also present in his work. J. D. has been successful in building his career through representation at numerous wholesale and retail ceramic shows. He currently sells in galleries and interior design firms nationwide and takes private commissions.

Schall-Design
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In 2009 Schall had a very impressive exhibition in which he showed large pieces which displayed his love of color, painted surface treatments, and the use of tarnished gold and silver leaf. Simply beautiful.

J. D. describes himself as a builder on the wheel. In his modern design series we see that this process suits the creation of works that confidently handle daily aspects of living, such as dining, gardening, lighting, bird watching. As a builder, Schall pays close attention to each component of each form: base/foot; body; and lip/rim. As a designer he delivers his art through sprayed and brushed color. By placing one deliriously exciting color next to another, often on a bold pottery rim, J. D. brings life and meaning to the sculptural pottery form.

During the past two years Schall has been developing another way to bring meaning to form. He is currently creating expressive narrative symbols and stories derived from nature and fables, such as birds, leaves and flowers, The Tortoise and The Hare and The Three Blind Mice.

We can glimpse the reasoning behind the symbols in Schall’s painting of the Three Blind Mice by viewing a vintage card in his studio where the mice are in danger of loosing their tails. J. D.’s mice have tails intact and are sporting halos.

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J. D. uses fine brushes and slip-trailing to create gestural marks with black and white slips and underglazes. He draws free-hand on fired clay or he uses tracing paper to repeat images, often dancing around clay forms.

It’s a pleasure to witness an artist as he uses seminal experiences from his past (college studies, wheel building, Asian painting techniques, cultural symbols) to structure a new process for his current works. J. D. explains his motivation: “Just as I have to justify selling modern design by pushing my works beyond the ordinary, I have to work out the reason behind my symbols.”

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J. D. Schall’s work is for sale on Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 23 and 24, at the Pigment Gallery, Mellwood Art Center.  He is represented at AA Clay Studio and Gallery in Louisville. He is also participating in the $20.00 sale at Copper and Kings on December 8th.

Wayne Ferguson, Ceramic Humorist

A Profile, by Suzanne Adams, Clay Elements

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.

 

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.

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Stories from American life.

 

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.

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Wayne holding pictures of Ladi Kwali at Berea.

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.

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Wayne in Louisville, Kentucky studio.
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Wayne using letter stamps.
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Pottery with stamped letters.

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.

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James Meredith, civil rights activist.
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War Canisters

He draws from other cultures and times. For example, he combines semblances of pre-Columbian stirrup-vessels with playful criticisms of political figures.

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He places B-52 bombers atop delightful clouds and palm trees amid the skeletons of war.

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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.

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Old Turtle Boubon bottle
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Donald Trump effigy

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.

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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.

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.

Artist Matt Mitros – Presentation at I.U.S. Ceramic Department, April 18, 2018

There was a lot to learn from artist, Matt Mitros. mattmitros.com

 

Matt uses his artwork to show us that ceramic art is about the process, not the product. And if we remember this, our products will astound us. Think about the pieces that we make that are important to our progress rather than being good products that we might exhibit or sell.

Pre-Columbian RAVE, 2013, ceramic, 12 x 12 x 7 inches

Matt’s work is all about ‘process frozen in time’. Assemblages give us a stop-action look into a time-based relationship between the mechanical and the organic.

Pronghorn, 2014, ceramic, aluminum, glass, 14 x 24 x12 inches

 

 

Objects made from: clay cast from items such as potatoes and toys; 3D-printed clay forms of cups and honeycomb patterns; plastic tubing; stacked plywood; aluminum; and cast urethane resins are captured by Mitros in engaging tableaus about life.

Bio Rad #9, 2017, mixed media

 

Let’s remember that Matt loves clay, began his career as a potter, has played extensively with raw clay. Over time his work has evolved into sculpture based on organic objects taken out of context, along with simulated built structures, such as walls and tubes.

Bio Rad #5, 2016, ceramic, wood, aluminum

 

Here’s a Mitros insight: clay is one medium that allows an artist to freeze a moment, like photography, because it dries and gets fired and this stops an action in time. Think of that every time you finish a piece of greenware and pop it in the kiln.

Matt Mitros, 2018

 

Another insight: “the future of ceramic art lies in young people who don’t feel that they have to pay dues to traditional techniques”. Many ceramic artists today know little about clay. He says further: “We can honor tradition by doing something that’s never been done before.”

Matt has chosen to honor and innovate with clay by producing pots on 3D printers. Check out the next blog to learn about his printing techniques.