Someone asked Duke Ellington “What is Jazz?” Ellington replied, “It is the sound of surprise.” I have always liked that quote. It captures the spirit and essence of jazz. To paraphrase Ellington, I work to keep a element of surprise in my ceramic pieces ~ the sense of the spontaneity that I find in wet clay while I am working with it.
I began making pots as an apprentice to Milwaukee’s nationally renowned potter, Abe Cohn. It was a priceless education and experience. It began a lifelong love affair with clay and the whole process: making clay, testing glazes, building and firing kilns. I went on to study at the University of Southern Illinois and get my master’s degree from the University of Minnesota.
My work is based on traditional classic forms that go back to the ancient cultures of japan, Korea and Africa. I will make 5 or 6 thirty pound vessels on the potter’s wheel. The next day, after the clay has firmed up, I cut them apart and reassemble the more interesting sections. This construction process leads to many discoveries and surprises. Because the clay is still malleable, pieces sag or distort; so a lot of improvisation takes place. It is similar to a jazz musician ~ altering the cords, changing the tempo and rhythm of a familiar song to make it more personal when performed.
To keep the spontaneity in the finished pieces that I find while building the pots, I wood-fire most of my work. Pine slabs are stoked into my anagama kiln for five days. Flames flow through the kiln, largely uncontrolled, leaving wonderfully unexpected and unplanned for colors and firemarks on the pots. The wood kiln is a true partner in the design of the pots.
This firing process is as improvised and unpredictable as the construction process of my work. It is all done by hand. I adhere to the ancient Japanese adage: give your pots over to your kiln and accept what the kiln gives back to you.
As life becomes more automated, homogenized and impersonal, I strongly believe that unique hand-made art ~ be it clay, wood, steel, glass, etc. enriches our lives beyond measure. Because these things are hand-made, they connect us directly to our humanity. Hand-made art in a room gives personality and character to a home.