Sunday, January 31, 2016

Coffee & Conversation: Confessions of a Pottery Addict

Left: Karen Windchild's work, which was part of a Fall 2006 exhibit at the DFAC, intrigued Lee enough that he signed up for a clay class.

"It wasn't something I would have wanted in my living room," Lee told the group gathered in Studio B at the Dunedin Fine Art Center a couple of weeks ago. "But my mind couldn't get over -- still can't get over -- what she had done with clay."

"It" was a ceramic sculpture, similar to the one in the photograph, by Palm Beach artist Karen Ann Sholmberg Windchild. For our anniversary at the end of 2005, I had given Lee a gift certificate to take a class at the Dunedin Fine Art Center. I had thought he might take a drawing or painting class, as every Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. he had a date with Donna Dewberry and also had started watching Terry Madden and Bob Ross

He also had taken some blacksmithing classes at Heritage Village in Largo and, over the years, had done some woodworking. But he had never even considered working with clay.

Towards the end of 2006, when we were concerned the gift certificate might expire, we stopped in at the DFAC to see what classes were being offered. That's when Lee saw Karen Windchild's work and decided to sign up for a clay class.

And he was hooked. More than hooked. It was the beginning of an obsession -- the good kind.

In the almost ten years since then, he has taken many, many classes and workshops covering different ways to form, finish, and fire clay. He has hunted books on clay in libraries and bookstores, finding them in the art, craft, science, technology, industry, and history sections. Through the wonderful world of YouTube, he spends hours watching village potters in parts of Asia, industrial ceramicists in Europe, and artists around the world -- and he tries much of what he sees and reads about other potters doing. He also has put his mechanical skills to use building, rebuilding, and repairing different kinds of kilns.

Ironically, that day in 2006 that we saw Karen Windchild's work and he signed up for a clay class, we stopped at the library for books on blacksmithing -- his interest at the time. And the first book he opened said that working with clay was one way to learn blacksmithing because the clay can be manipulated in the same way as hot iron -- without the heat or noise or time constraints.

In another post, I will show the one piece he wrought out of clay using blacksmithing techniques. For now, it is enough to note that the anvil he had bought remains unused. The clay has formed the artist into something other than either of us ever expected. 

Below: Some of the items Lee has made over the almost ten years he has been working with clay. The two small horsehair pots at the left were made about seven years apart; although they are the same size, the older one is noticeably heavier than the other, which demonstrates Lee's increased skill in throwing. The black-and-white pot at the far right is hand-built using a slump technique. Although it appears round, you can feel the joints -- unlike the thrown pot at center right. At the back are various books I have collected that offer a more literary look at clay, pottery, and potters.

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