Lately / Ceramics

During my month of transition from this phase of my life to the next new journey, I took a ceramics class up at Baltimore Clayworks.  I’ve always had an acute tactile awareness, which is partly why I’m so drawn to textiles and ceramics.  So I thought it would be good for me to learn the wheel at last.

This is part of a longer process for me of reclaiming a sense of belonging and freedom in visual art.  It’s so creatively enlivening to explore these second mediums — ceramics and drawing and film photography.  It adds a loosening and layering to my primary creative work in fiction.

Learning the pottery wheel wound up being particularly apt at this moment as I get ready for my research trip, which includes a study of Japanese ceramics.

And I love this little olive dish I made.  It’s being bisqued while I’m away, and when I come home in March, I’ll glaze it and send it downstairs to the kiln to be finished.

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Alison Evans Ceramics

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In Yarmouth, Maine, I had a chance to visit Alison Evans’s ceramics studio.  Alison’s work is influenced by the organic shapes and textures of ocean life, and she has some really beautiful pieces.  (How stunning are these shell-shaped teapots?)

The space itself has a great energy — lots of natural light floods the room, which includes a selection of furniture and paintings by fellow Maine artists, in addition to Alison’s own work.  The studio itself occupies the back two-thirds of the shop, and even the floorboards bear the chalky traces of this ongoing artistic production.  Alison wasn’t there the day I stopped in, but I got to talk to her assistant, who was working on some pieces in the studio that morning.

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I’ve been interested in arts entrepreneurship recently, and in the ways that people are able to create a life and livelihood from their creative work.  Alison’s example struck a cord with me.  About five or six years older than I am, she has made grounded choices: to leave New York and root her life in Maine, and to build a collaborative business that stretches to hold her family and her own creative experimentation.

The shop at the front of the Yarmouth studio sells pieces from various collections, along with occasional seconds.  She’s been doing an oyster series I really like, and I picked up a small piece from the collection while I was there.

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Alison’s oyster dish now lives in my kitchen and holds teabags and the occasional mixing spoon.

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I especially like the detail on the back of the dish, which sits next to an actual oyster shell — brought home earlier this summer from the oyster cellar down my street in Baltimore.

Ceramics Sale

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This weekend I finally made it over to Baltimore Clayworks’ annual Seconds Sale in Mt. Washington.  Some of the pieces were nearly flawless, clearly overstocks and donations.  But even the obvious seconds — misshapen, with drips of glaze — had an appealingly hand-wrought quality.  They offered a glimpse into process, a touchpoint.  Given that I always want to touch the pieces at ceramic exhibits, at this sale, I touched nearly everything.  It felt nice to move through that airy space, letting the ceramics’ shapes fill my hands, feeling that variety of heft and texture.

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If you haven’t been before, mark your calendars for next summer.  A fundraiser for Clayworks, the sale includes seconds, overstock, and pieces donated by its students.  And it includes lots of them.  Even on Saturday evening, well into the weekend-long event, there were still tables and shelves packed with great pieces.  This sale thrives on its stylistic variety and its (very) low price points.

I wish I’d made it back Sunday night for the end-of-weekend box sale.  It would have been great to pick up a couple more pieces.

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Interplay / Contemporary Japanese Ceramics

The Walters Art Museum is currently showing a special exhibit of contemporary Japanese ceramics.  I feel sort of the same way about ceramics as I do about textiles.  I love the infinite range of textures they carry.  They seem to invite touch both in their making and in their appreciation.  Which makes visiting textile museums and ceramics exhibits a little bit of an exercise in frustration.  I always want to touch these pieces.

The Walter’s current exhibit showcases the variety of approaches, processes, and aesthetics that define (or refuse to define) contemporary Japanese ceramics.  I was drawn to many of the exhibit’s more organic pieces, those influenced by natural shapes and textures.

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These you almost do not need to touch in order to engage in a tactile sensory experience.

Even the piece below, which plays on more traditional motifs, has a distinctly tactile quality in the organic shape of its handle.

The exhibit does a good job of contextualizing these pieces in the tradition of Japanese ceramics and floral arranging, and in providing insight into the philosophical values with which they engage.

“Objects that express the wabi aesthetic are irregular, rustic, and tinged with sadness….” one of the display plaques explains.  How lovely and unexpected and true that feels, that tinge of sadness.

The curators have also given us a sense of artistic interplay: the exhibit is layered with haikus and luminous painted screens, the vases sometimes anchored in the context of interior decor and domestic display.

This is a fascinating glimpse into how dynamic contemporary Japanese ceramics are; both the radical reinvention of the vase in contemporary work, and the vibrant interconnections between art forms and traditions.

“Designed for Flowers” at the Walters closes on Sunday.  If you’re able to, I highly recommend going.  And even if not, there’s lots more to learn on the museum’s website.