As a student, I remember taking four field trips to ceramic factories. I think they were organized by the instructors to show us some of the diverse manufacturing methods and applications of clay. I loved seeing these places. They were big, elaborate operations doing what seemed impossible. I remember seeing four automated jigs running simultaneously, each producing a different shape, and feeding them onto racks in a drying chamber that was almost two stories tall. No hands touched the pieces, and the whole process took about five seconds. One particular factory prided themselves on the strength of their clay. I remember finding clay test bars in their dumpster. I tried to break the bars, but gave up because I felt I couldn't do it without hurting myself.
On one visit, a very proud guide showed us a plate they were making. It was a reproduction of a historic piece from early in the history of the company. It was carved and covered with multiple glazes to represent a medieval scene,. Apparently it was worth a large sum of money, because it was such a feat of engineering. It was also insipid and soulless. Industry will always be the clear winner when it comes to productivity, efficiency, and engineering, but there are some things that it doesn't do well.
As an individual artist, I am working in an extremely archaic method, almost guaranteed to never be profitable. Most people won't notice the work I make, many that do will see it as flawed. I am relatively inefficient at manufacturing pottery. I usually don't have a market or destination for the things I make. At the same time, I have the potential to make things that would never be done by anyone else. I am capable of making work as creative and eccentric as I am willing to be. Virtuosity and skill will continue to grow as long as I am willing to put in the effort.
Making pottery involves a lot of decisions that are purely practical. Combined with the “less is more”, “form follows function” ethos of modernism I discovered as a young student, this reinforces an idea that good pottery has to be austere. This idea may be true to a point, but there is always some conflict between it and the fact that I am making the work, not a machine. I am an individual with opinions and eccentricities: endless enthusiasm for historical ceramics, a love of victorian architectural ornament, and a fascination with ceramic materials and processes. Trying to make sense of the jumble of ideas and influences in my head, and apply them to making objects as simple as mugs and bowls is what keeps me motivated in my studio.
6858 Paoli Road • Paoli, Wisconsin 53508 • 608-845-6600 • Located just southwest of Madison