We are a group of potters living in the Portland area. We met while playing with clay at the Multnomah Arts Center and have been friends ever since. Forming this group gave us an opportunity to explore, learn and share our knowledge and passion for clay with each other and with anyone that finds us.
Ha Austin: Science and Art
I had put off using the artistic side of my brain and pursued a path in science and healthcare. While teaching at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa, I wandered into a ceramics classroom. I was immediately overtaken by the endless possibilities and freedom to explore and express my artistic half. Ever since that cataclysmic day, I have evolved from creating pots from earthenware to functional stoneware to decorative porcelain. Since relocating to Oregon in June of 2009, I directed my focus on crystalline glazes in a high-fire electric kiln and Sgraffito decoration in a high-fire gas kiln.
My ceramic education has been self-directed, taking classes at: community colleges, art centers, workshops, reading numerous books and surfing the Internet. The more I learn, the more I realized that working in clay combined science and art and I found myself right where I wanted to be.
Most of my forms are created on the potter’s wheel using porcelain clay. My crystalline glazes are all hand mixed and I often spray the glazes onto my forms. The intricate and meticulous nature that is involved in measuring and mixing my crystalline glazes as well as the mystery surrounding the determination of the appropriate firing schedule, appeals to my science-based education. Sometimes I feel like I am a mad scientist toiling in my lab, mixing up various chemicals to form the ultimate glaze and then “throwing the switch” to see what “life form” (crystals) will emerge from my kiln. Crystalline glazes can be a time consuming endeavor but the rareness and beauty of each ceramic creation makes my journey worthwhile.
To balance out the more intricate and meticulous nature of crystalline glaze work, I also decorate pots using the Sgraffito (to scratch) method to create whimsical images for my “Art for the Table” utilitarian daily ware. These pots are high-fired in a gas kiln making them durable enough to be placed in the dishwasher, microwave and oven.
Melanie Bjorge: Nature and Community
I didn’t use my college degree for a career. But after some time I wanted to reconnect with botany. I joined the Oregon Native Plant Society. To really appreciate native plants, one must get out where they are. Out there, one becomes aware of other attractions such as birds, butterflies, mushrooms, rocks…..it just keeps going. All this natural art that was exposing itself to me was pushing me to create something. MAC seemed to be a great place to learn something new, ceramics.
I’m a rather social person, so the MAC studio was perfect. Learning is acquired not only from the instructors, but the technicians and other students. They share the best Utube videos, magazine articles and workshop information. I learned about wood fire events through MAC.
Wood fire projects require a lot of wood, people, time and effort. They are a community event. Much is shared and learned in the process. Using the wood as fuel produces fly ash. It accumulates on the pots in the kiln and forms a glaze. I’ve learned the type of surfaces that collect ash best. I’ve narrowed my ceramic focus to wood fired birds (owls in particular). They seem to do well wherever they are placed in a kiln. And it is great fun to see them looking out at you during unloading.
Jean Teitelman: Clay is an Adventure
I’ve been working with clay for most of my life. My interest in 3-D design started in high school and has continued into my retirement years. In between, I have taught middle school, high school and had a graphics business.
While teaching high school I had the opportunity to teach students hand-building techniques, wheel throwing, decorating methods and the complexities of glazing, as well as, art history. It was gratifying to watch students reach their creative potential and allow them to enjoy the world of studio art. My goal was to give them the skills they needed and the desire to make art a part of their life.
Teaching left me little time to pursue my own clay adventures. In retirement, I have had the opportunity to experiment with new techniques in firing, glazing and wheel throwing. I have taken classes at the Multnomah Art Center, which allows me to advance my skills, and learn from instructors and other students. Reduction firing in a gas kiln is another benefit of taking classes at MAC. Previously, I was limited to firing only in oxidation (electric) kilns.
I have been focusing my work on carving graphic patterns into my pots using colored slips. The interaction of the slip and the glazes causes interesting effects on the clay. It is exciting to experiment with patterns on a variety of clay forms. Many of my forms are wheel thrown and functional but I also do some hand built forms.
I have always enjoyed the versatility of clay and it’s limitless possibilities. Clay is an adventure. There are so many variables. Always-new glazes to try and techniques to experiment with. That is why I love to work with clay.
Jenny Watson: Ceramics is My Avocation
Ceramics is my avocation, which I took up full-time when I retired four years ago. Until then I was an appreciator and consumer of the art form.
What I am trying to achieve in my work is a harmony of form, design and function. I want my pieces to be pleasing to the eye and to the hand; to have decorative surfaces, which enhance the form they inhabit; and to be objects useful in every day life.
Ceramics is a many-faceted art form. Given the variety of firing methods, glazes, and decorative techniques, I have been working at identifying a small range of techniques to master that seem to match my talents and interests. Currently, I am working with under glazes, experimenting with how pattern and shape work together. My pieces are going into both high-fire, gas reduction kilns and soda/ salt kilns. The former leaves the designs intact, the latter makes its own addition to my design depending on how the soda/salt vaporizes and flows through the kiln.
One of the reasons I appreciate this art form is that every time you open the kiln it is like Christmas morning. There is the anticipation and excitement of seeing what you and others get. The communal feeling as we talk over how it came to be. Like Christmas gifts, you may not like everything that comes out of the kiln; though there is always something to appreciate.
Understanding what went right and what came out differently than expected is part of the process for the next time. When the process goes right, there are nothing like the satisfaction of using a well-balanced cup or eating a salad out of a bowl which complements its contents.