About Me, Pottery, and Some History...
Pottery to me has become a life's passion. I knew that by the time I was 35. Making pottery the rest of my life is my plan. I started making Stoneware pottery in my first year of college (1980). Little did I know then "I was smitten"! So I took several beginner classes in high fire pottery (stoneware) at College of the Siskiyous, a junior college, in Weed, Ca. Then I made my way to Sac State (chemistry major) to take a couple of still beginner pottery classes. I once had a counselor say to me "you need to focus more on Chemistry and less on pottery"; little did he know I would become a very good chemist and potter.
This is also the time I had my first love. She was so beautiful, young and vivacious. Although she was in remission from a form of cancer little did either of us know she had a terminal form. So she and I, with her son, had a relationship over some seven or so years prior to her death. During the time I had with her, as you could imagine, there was a lot of soul searching. What I came to realize is that, with all life there is death. With that knowledge I decided to make pottery for the rest of my life. It gives me comfort to make pottery that will last thousands of years with my name and date on it. During that time my mother (rest her soul) bought me a used, very old ($25) electric potters wheel at a garage sale. In those days I thought I could just stack up some old used red bricks I had to make a small kiln. Quickly I knew I needed some more education and went looking for a good book on kilns. Before I knew it, I had a copy of Fredric L. Olson's kiln book, and read it two times. I then designed, welded and stacked bricks for my own 30 cubic foot, cone 10 (2300°F 1300°C) reduction updraft kiln. What a journey it has been, now I can melt red brick and use it for glaze!
So there I was with a 30 cu ft kiln, no glazes and had never fired a kiln. The next author I needed to get to know was in the subject of glazes; Daniel Rhodes. I got a copy of his book "Clay and Glazes for Potters" and read it two times and started formulating glazes, all my glazes have worked. These days I have a small library of clays and glazes. As of late I like to use local clays (dirt) and ashes along with traditional (standard known; feldspars) materials to formulate glazes. I have now melted things from my fireplace and backyard to the top of Mt Shasta, Ca. There is no limit to mixing base glazes with wild local clays, sand and ashes. Then I just start adding in color as needed. The color comes from small amounts of metal oxides like Copper for red and green and Cobalt for blue, then, history is made. These "wild" glazes I use for the exterior (outside) of my pots. No lead is used on any of my pots; inside or out!
The glazes I use for the inside of all my pots are specially formulated using standard materials from around the world. Some of my formulas start from recipes that were first used thousands of years ago. We potters have handed down these recipes over all those years. They are smooth and sanitary. They are so hard that they clean like Teflon because of the high temperature I fire (heat) them to. FYI: the hotter a ceramic material is heated, the harder it gets once cooled. One of the greatest parts of being a modern potter is that I have materials available to me from around the world. The potters of the past were stuck using only local materials. They would find them in the local river beds and fields then have to clean out the unwanted sticks and stones.
I have been firing my kiln using my own formulated glazes, for almost 25 years now, to cone 10 reduction (2300°F). When I say "cone 10 reduction" I refer to the amount of heat energy and atmosphere it takes to make great Stone Ware Pottery as it has been made for thousands of years. This is some of the most coveted products that man has ever made. In a good year I get to fire the kiln 4-5 times. I sell most everything by having an open house once a year. About 2005, I thought I needed to come out of the preverbal "potters' closet" because I still did not know any potters. I was nearly self-taught. I took a local pottery workshop and spent one and a half semesters at a local junior college. I also joined the Sacramento Potters Group. Who would have known then that I would become the President of the group? We, the board members and I have updated that group into Northern California: Art by Fire! Check us out. I have started taking on a few students and plan on taking on more.
I find that pottery to me is a life journey, and I feel totally compelled to make pottery every year. This all started about 1980 when I was 20, and I hope I can find the will to never stop. It just thrills me to think we will leave these pots behind for so many generations in the future. I hope people use my pots for everyday events for generations to come. Some of my pottery is so big it's made for large celebrations (rights of passages), like weddings, birthdays, bar mitzvah, and funerals. These pieces will not fit into your cupboards they must stay to be seen by all!
Since my mid-twenties, I have been a chemist/engineer for a major aerospace and pharmaceutical company. So these days I have three types of chemistry/engineering talents: rubbers/plastics, pharmaceuticals and ceramic. Each of these are approached differently and it has given me a good rounded understanding of what makes the materials we all live with and use in our everyday lives.
I like to say "we had the pot before the plow". It's the technology of pottery that allowed us humans to extract the metals from the earth we live on. I have come to realize there are only four building materials: wood, plastic, metal and ceramic. Then if a person stops to think about it metal and ceramic is one in the same. Ceramic is just metals in an oxide form. It was without a doubt that, as the potters of the past became more in control of their kiln atmospheres and temperatures; they soon went from metal oxides to metals. It's been so long now we forget that people started working with pottery prior to wearing weaved cloth clothing, in those days we were just wearing animal skins. There were no refrigerators, no ice boxes and no comedies. If we didn't have pottery to eat and store our food in, what would you use? Would it be a piece of wood, a rock, perhaps leather?
My pottery is not only functional, it's an art piece. People enjoy the beauty and functionality of my work. The pottery I manufacture is some of the most durable in the world. It's true stoneware. Not only is the body stoneware, so is the glaze. This means the glaze is heat fused into the clay body. This gives the pottery a true durability that is unsurpassed. Stoneware pottery is safe and should be used in the kitchen. It's dishwasher, oven and microwave safe. No lead is used on any of my pots; inside or out!
True stoneware was first produced about 2000 years ago, about the time of Christ. Prior to that people did not have the technology to produce such wares. Since that time, those stoneware pots have been handed down through the ages. They were passed from mother to daughters on dirt floors. These pots have fallen into the seas and have been buried even with the dead. Over all those years they have never lost their beauty, luster or functionality. Those pots still today look and perform the same as the day they came from the hot kiln. If you don't believe me, just go to your local museum and take a look; they are there.
There are stories of the past when sailors brought pottery to people that had never see such a thing. Some of those people recognized that pottery as religious icons. Those people had never seen a material that was so hard, sanitary and beautiful. The story goes that other sailors came into port and stole the pottery and held the people hostage for fear the sailors would destroy the pottery or leave and take it with them. The sailors would demand trade of local items including gold in exchange for pottery. Even held to a higher level was porcelain. Fine porcelain is not only translucent it has a ring when struck that sounds of angels.
Pottery: it's in every one of our lives. It's the product that as it turns out we really could not live without. For me it's the thing I just have to make, see and enjoy at every chance I get. So drop me a line if you have any questions or stop by and see my work first hand. My work is also on display at Kennedy Gallery & Art Center. I really like people and I have to say I like their kids even better: they're even more fun!