From 2005

To Be More Clear


To Be More Clear 

I have said things and written articles that I believe have been misunderstood. I want to reiterate my thoughts in hopefully a clearer venue. The first point is to realize that I am from the Academic University School of Ceramic Art. Studying in the 60’s in the Midwest was a wonderful experience. The Contemporary Ceramic Art movement was really just getting started and there was incredible activity. Each state had their Craft Council and each state had their representative to the American Craft Council in New York City. There were new programs, new teachers, new workshop leaders, new shows both invitational and juried, and everyone was trying to learn more.

Even in the 60’s the schools and students were trying to follow Peter Volkous’ lead with Abstract Expressionistic clay. There were those of us who were totally taken by the art of the potter and a few of us even wanted to be potters. But in America in the mid 60’s where would one go to learn to become a potter? Few of us could go overseas to apprentice with Leach or a Mashiko potter. We were not told about the southeastern folk potters who had somehow struggled through the depression and the 40’s and 50’s and were still making pots the same way their ancestors had. So we were left with the option of studying in the University system with teachers who were great teachers, but none that I can remember were potters. Thinking back surely Peter Volkous had been a potter at the Bray; as had Ken Ferguson; but that’s all I can think of that had a real potter’s experience. Peter Volkous made some of the greatest pots the 20th century had ever seen before he followed the New York painters into Ab-Ex Clay. He totally understood the art of the potter. Sure there were others who journeyed to England and Japan, but they never worked fulltime, or made their living as a potter. I have stated before and will again, our teachers were not potters, but they were incredible teachers. The great teacher sees the spark and nourishes the flame. I wouldn’t be the potter I am if it weren’t for my high school teacher Mr. Joe Corsello. Once Mr. Corsello helped steer me into college, then Mr. Jim Wozniak took over and helped me learn all that I could learn with the situation we had at Illinois State University. Woz, as we affectionately knew him by, brought the best teachers to us for workshops and brought the best work to us through a national invitational craft show.

Through the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s the emphasis at the University was away from crafts towards sculptural clay and on into installations and conceptual “Art”. The only problem I have with that is that pottery was looked down upon and in many cases removed from the curriculum; not always in writing, but surely in practice. As I have mentioned before, wheels were thrown out, sold, moved into the corner, or allowed to be played with one semester before moving on the serious sculpture. You can blame funding, but it was more attitude than funding.

If people know anything about me, they should understand that I have dedicated my life to “The Art of the Potter” and certainly I would like to see pottery taught in the Universities at the same level as sculpture. Let’s be honest here too and admit that many Ceramic Art teachers know very little about “The Art of the Potter” due to their interest in sculpture, but yet have to teach pottery. How is that done? Poorly at best. So yes, I am disappointed with the state of pottery in the art world and our society in general. But then if we are not educated in our homes and schools, where do you expect that to come from? 

I have been in Ceramic Art for 44 years now and I have studied it, practiced it, taught it, documented it, ate it, slept it, and observed it. I would like nothing better than to see The Art of the Potter understood, appreciated, and supported in the United States, but I do not. So my comments are not that I do not want it taught, my comments are that since it is not being taught as it should be, then where do we turn to get back on the right road? I understand that art is the first to be cut from school funding, but if we are to pass on our knowledge, then we have to get ceramic art education back into the schools, starting at kindergarten. I would like to see the Universities reinstate pottery of the highest level back into their programs and taught by the most competent teachers available. 

Aside from the tea ceremony, why is pottery the highest art form in Japan? Why do North Carolinians stand in line to buy pots at potter’s sales? WHY, because they grew up with crafts all around them and it was appreciated and respected. The bond to the crafts has never been severed and it’s part of their lives. 

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