The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) is committed to creating and sustaining an environment and culture free from harassment in which all people are treated with dignity, fairness, and respect.
NCECA believes that organizations serving people, the arts, teaching and learning will benefit all when they develop, implement, and share policies that address harassment in programs and the fields they serve. Initiatives like these will be most effective when they are linked to broader efforts to achieve equality, inclusion, and fairness. NCECA will be adopting a policy on harassment that will be included in all future presenter, volunteer, employment, and board service agreements.
Opening this conversation, commemorating its effects on individuals and our work cultures is courageous and necessary. Collecting and documenting experiences of workplace bias and toxicity is an important step in helping us all come to grips with understanding the nature and causes of harassment with the ultimate goals of recognizing it when it occurs, seeking justice for those adversely affected, and mitigating against its continuation within our organization and the field we serve.
One way these intentions can become actionable is to provide a conduit for sharing and opportunity for the ceramic arts within a changing world. In doing so, NCECA recognizes that some issues and experiences that have harmed individuals working within our field may be difficult to look at. Making real and meaningful change that leads to more supportive and inclusive modes of working, hearing, and seeing one another may be even more challenging. In the natural world, experiences of growth and change are often accompanied with discomfort and pain. With the involvement of engaged and caring members, NCECA will continue to look for ways to provide avenues for difficult topics and conversations like this one during our annual conference. A new email-box has been created, firstname.lastname@example.org, which will enable members of our community to share, in confidence, reports of harassment that may occur and impact our programming and decisions as an organization.
Watch NCECA e-news and blog postings this autumn for more information about our 2019 conference program as it becomes available. It is our hope that Clay Conversations (formerly topical networking sessions) on Wednesday and a new open source programming space that will be available on Thursday and Friday of the conference in
Minneapolis will provide time for conversations on critical concerns issues including this one.
Edward Eberle’s studio in Homestead, Pennsylvania
In 1951, the poet Charles Olson returned to Black Mountain College after a period of declining resources and divisive faculty relations. Succeeding Joseph Albers as the primary visionary at the school. Over the previous several years, Olson had immersed himself in research of early Mayan ruins of the Yucatan peninsula. Intrigued with pictorial writing systems on building surfaces and objects, he was determined that a poet could just as well be an archaeologist. Olson’s physical stature (taller than 6′ 5″ in height with large frame) and freewheeling interdisciplinary intelligence, made him uncomfortable with professional mantles like poet or writer. “If there are no walls there are no names. This is the morning, after the dispersion, and the work of the morning is methodology: how to use oneself, and on what. That is my profession. I am an archaeologist of morning.” (Olson, Present is Prologue). Credited by some with preserving the clay studio at Black Mountain in part because his immersion in the ruins of the Yukatan convinced him of an authentic connection between physical form and poetics, much of Olson’s subsequent theoretical writing on poetry including his influential essay, Projective Verse, shed profound insights into the ways that poems function as energy in relationship to the breath, the eye, the mind, and the body.
“Edward Eberle in retrospect,” a 2017 touring exhibition originated by Contemporary Craft in Pittsburgh revealed an artist working primarily in clay while hewing to a no-walls approach not unlike Olson’s relationship to archaeology and poetics. Eberle’s wide ranging intelligence, sourcing of diverse historical traditions, continual experimentation in form and imagery, resonate with Olson’s inventive reconciliation of divergent interests and sources. Like an archaeologist of morning, Eberle too has sustained a deep refinement of methodology, employing it to dig into and reimagine shards of history, memory, and reverie as raw material for art. Rather than isolating these fragments with prescriptive labels, Eberle uses the forms of sculpture, pottery, drawing, painting to generate concretized experiences that reassemble familiar bits and parts into entirely new yet seemingly inevitable realizations. The working methodology resembles a kind of collage that blends the tactile and technical finesse of a highly skilled potter with the fluency of the jazz musician. Freedom of expression evolves out of deeply focused mastery of fundamental skills and scales, establishing a platform for improvisation without self-conscious intervention of thought.
Edward Eberle, Air
Beginning with European Dadaism at the end of World War I, collage became a central methodology of creative experiment and production. It opens doors to use of pre-existing materials permitting artists to reflect on, alter, and shift perceived hierarchies and cultural disparities to generate new relationships and messages. Its central mission is to create invented continuities out of discontinuity and disrupt fundamental concepts of artistic production. In modernity, collage also reflects the significant social transformation and violent change that runs throughout the twentieth century. In his iconic ceramic works, Eberle explores porcelain’s plasticity and material properties. Working with wheel thrown and hand-built elements, he interweaves vivid intricacies of imagery. Inspired by daydreams or reveries, these mash ups carry the freight of historic decorative and ethnographic objects. Committed to the notion that meaning is embedded in the making, qualities of touch play a central role in Eberle’s work–the ways that clay is handled, the layering of complexly drawn patterns and figures, and the energetic abstraction of gestural marks. This affinity to touch is embodied in both form and surface. Small works are often thrown so thin as to be translucent. Both larger and modestly scaled forms made on the potters wheel are manipulated, torn, broken and reconstructed.
Eberle’s vessels, sculptures, and paintings on paper convey varieties of touch as a primary experience. Through the marriage of vivid images that traverse the surfaces of his forms, a veil that separates states of daydream and cognitive observation of the world grows more transparent. The painterly drawings within a single object sometimes encompass a wide range of qualities from all-over abstraction, to precisely hand-rendered geometries, and lyrical figurative compositions. The nuanced detail of certain of Eberle’s figurative drawings sometimes entails line so fine as to be inscribed by brushes composed of a single strand of hair. On larger works, figures are painted in crowded compositions of interaction–with one another, with mysterious tools and objects, and within what can be described as architectural atmosphere. During the mid-1990’s Eberle’s vessel works take a marked turn to these architectonic renderings.
Edward Eberle, Cylinder
Over the next decade, this merger of architectural and pottery form evolves through a series of large porcelain lidded jars elevated on legs of thrown or hand-built construction. The elevation of these forms from the table surface separates them from the reality of their surrounding environments. This subtle lifting, a kind of levitation, results in a space of mystical or theatrical quality, linked to its surroundings, but just barely. While these objects remain jars and vases, they are decidedly less connected to pottery’s functional realm. One intriguing work, Double Take Revised (1998-2014) is particularly compelling for the way that it reveals a history of the drawing’s changes and accretion over time. The span of creation extends beyond the duration we typically associate with that of a ceramic object, which unlike a painting or sculpture, is subject to changes of state related to drying and firing cycles. The lidded form is perhaps vaguely influenced by the formal language of Robert Turner, one of Eberle’s mentors at Alfred University. (Turner’s jars and vases of the 1970s and ’80s evolved following visits with the Ashanti, Ife, Oshogbo, and Akan people of West Africa where he was deeply moved by the integration of art with daily experience, particularly through traditional forms of architecture, pottery, ceremonial objects, and decoration.)
The manner in which Eberle renders and sets his compositions into the built environment whether via graphic imagery or the form of the vessel itself suggests an interest in architectural phenomenology, a movement whose origins date to the 1950s. The publication of Gaston Bachelard’s the Poetics of Space in 1958 was particularly influential to artists working in the abstract expressionist framework. Its emphasis on architecture as a human experience that is historically contingent, stood in sharp contrast to the anti-historicism of postwar modernism, which was preoccupied with the invention of entirely new forms built with innovative technologies and materials. Bachelard captured this tension between modernity’s need to innovate with humanity’s need for interior reflection. “Sometimes the house of the future is better built, lighter and larger than all the houses of the past, so that the image of the dream house is opposed to that of the childhood home…. Maybe it is a good thing for us to keep a few dreams of a house that we shall live in later, always later, so much later, in fact, that we shall not have time to achieve it. For a house that was final, one that stood in symmetrical relation to the house we were born in, would lead to thoughts—serious, sad thoughts—and not to dreams. It is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality.” (Gaston Bachelard, the Poetics of Space)
Edward Eberle, Extramural
The works, Extramural and Four Fires (both produced in 2000), take the form of the house even more literally, further connecting to Bachelard’s idea of domestic space as a built manifestation of the soul, a phenomenological object in which personal experience reaches a highly attuned state of consciousness. With its exterior covered in white and gray figures over a black ground, one of the walls of Extramural is torn vertically. The form gently collapses and opens through force of gravity and heat to reveal a white interior into which a sphere inscribed with complex patterning is safely nested—a veritable metaphor of Bachelard’s conception that “imagination augments the values of reality.” Working only with black pigment on white clay, Eberle generates senses of movement and light that reference direct observation of life even as his image intensive surfaces bear witness to reveries of the imagination. One has to make decisions when looking at Eberle’s most visually complex pieces, alternating between enthrallment to the mastery of the work’s execution, or surrender one’s attention into the dream state with abandon. One can imagine the artist himself continually traversing the spaces between these points in the work’s creation.
Edward Eberle, Under the Influence of the Moon
In a 2010 oral history interview with Mija Riedel for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Eberle discusses his ideas about art, describing a tension between the visual and haptic. In the age of handheld digital devices, haptic response has become a term that scientists apply to understanding varieties of awareness experienced through touch and physical sensations of the body. Eberle’s conception of the haptic represents a multi-directional feedback loop that passes from mind to hand to material. The hand’s agency lies in its role as the intermediary of the mind as expressed through material, form, and image. For Eberle, the haptic encompasses varieties of expression emoted through the body and mind into the enduring world as objects. The hand is also a receptor of information from the material on which it is working. The continual interplay between material and maker is a kind of system that circulates through art-making across cultures and timespans as divergent as Mamoyama era in Japan (1470-1500) to the action painting school centered in New York (1940s-1960s). Another of Eberle’s mentors during his years of graduate study at Alfred University was department chair Ted Randall. Artist, businessman, and intellectual, Randall is also recognized as the founder of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, which was in its nascent years when Eberle was a student. In the essay Being and Meaning, Randall wrote, “I have stopped trying for the pot that has never been seen before and continue to try for the pot that recalls all pottery. I keep looking for that degree of innovation that refurbishes, renews, connects to old meanings, allows the fun of invention, but looks back at the past with respect, understanding and affection, opening the way for a continuous recreation of forms.” (Ted Randall, Ceramics Monthly 32, November 1984)
Edward Eberle, Catching Water Fetching Breath
Working with porcelain, the most unrelenting of clays, Eberle’s image-rich urgencies offer depictions of the human condition. Reducing his palette to black terra sigillata and black stain on white clay, the accumulations of abstract marks, geometric pattern, and figuration, link clay’s rich histories to a vivid stream of consciousness of imagery. In addition to his better-known vessel works, “Edward Eberle in retrospect” also featured the artist’s decades-long commitment to experimentation with other media. Departures from his focus on the vessel include abstract constructions, large and small works on paper, and a portfolio of small ceramic paintings on clay and paper dedicated to the form of the teapot. Over time, the works reveal more varied and deeper explorations of symbolism and abstraction than even those familiar with Eberle’s work might be aware of. Beyond the consummate commitment to craftsmanship and imagination, Eberle’s works reward viewers with a unique opportunity to explore the artist’s underlying interest in poetic imagism that has sustained his continued evolution. As a literary movement of the early 20th century, a key idea of imagism was to isolate a single image to reveal its essence. Much of the avant-garde art of this era manifested this concept through the development of Surrealism and Cubism. Eberle’s artistic evolution tethers to this spirit of experimentation. Some of his works from 2013-2014 propel the vessel more overtly into abstraction through the spatial explorations of Cubist logic. Other works evolve out of archetypal forms—vases, cups, bowls, boxes, houses.
Edward Eberle, Whiplash II
Poetry provides a continuous thread as both literary and imaginative vehicle. Several works incorporate free-form verse in handwritten texts. Hand lettering and sign painting played a role in Eberle’s early art experiences growing up in Tarentum, Pennsylvania, a small ex-urban community bordering the Allegheny River about 22-miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The town’s modest population (under a few thousand inhabitants during the time of Eberle’s youth) was immersed in the rustbelt industries of the region—plate glass and bottles, bricks, lumber, steel and iron novelties, sack and wrapping paper were all produced there. Among the local landmarks is a sculpture of the Greek goddess Hebe, cup bearer of the Olympian gods. The neoclassical resonance of this cultural feature of Eberle’s childhood reappears throughout his mature artistic output. Given that his early environs were filled with mechanization and manufacturing, it’s perhaps surprising that evidence of the modern machine world is mostly absent from the artist’s imagery. We find myriad figures, birds, insects, instruments of craft, crafted objects, and boats among others, but nothing overtly alludes to the massive shifts in human consciousness and condition wrought by the industrial revolution. The primary connections in the imagery are tied to the natural world, the handmade, and the mythic. With forms and imagery borrowed from and riffing on historic details of pottery’s ancient past and multi-cultural traditions, Eberle forges visual allusions to Islamic, Greek, and Native American artifacts to invent new and alternate realities. A figure appears in Pharaonic attire with a bird, perhaps inspired by a pre-Columbian glyph … a bumblebee hovers over the head of an angel. Eberle’s paintings on vessels, and paper present familiar though entirely unprecedented apparitions. He melds elements crossing boundaries of style, time, and culture with such fluency as to fee inevitable.
Edward Eberle, Molecule
Molecule (2008), one of Eberle’s more purely abstract works, consists of large, loosely thrown disc surrounded by seven smaller dish-scaled porcelains positioned at various distances from the central (nuclear) element. The large central element’s black pigment washes out to blue, as it flows in undulating rivulets downward over its surface. The smaller surrounding discs bear variations of surface process, one bereft of stain. Held directly to the wall through tear holes that pierce the porcelain skins, the overall composition invites us to renegotiate our physical proximity to the object. Our distance influences our perception of the piece—choosing whether to take it wholely in our field of vision, or to move into more intimate contact to examine details and interrelationship of forms. Within this purely abstract treatment of clay and surface, it’s somehow inevitable that we experience the body. Even without trace of Eberle’s masterful figurative drawing, the pierced and torn porcelain of Molecule is evocative of our mortal vulnerability.
Perhaps the best-known imagistic writer of essential consequences coursing through the veins of pottery’s embodied nature is MC Richards, who along with Charles Olson, was a key figure of Black Mountain’s literary culture. Her book Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person has encouraged us to view the potter’s craft as a process of self-realization rather than a series of physical and technical skills. She wrote, “One is supposed to be either an artist or a homemaker, by one popular superstition. Either a teacher or a poet, by a theory that says poetry must not sermonize. Either a craftsman or an intellectual, by a snobbism which claims either hand or head as the seat of power.” More than pottery or poetry, the subject of Edward Eberle’s lifetime of work is the power of the imagination. Like Bachelard’s exploration of the ways that intimate places hold memories and habitations of our childhoods, Edward Eberle’s work investigates how the images we retain from our most essential experiences and dwellings play upon our daydreams to construct our sense of self and well-being. The beautiful gift of this work is that it empowers form, touch, language and imagery to reveal things that do not exist at all. The imagination as manifested through Edward Eberle’s decades-long dialogue with clay, pigments, and paper, enable us to move from the world of common day into a realm of wonder.
Edward Eberle, Time
A visit to Edward Eberle’s studio in Homestead, Pennsylvania is an included stop on the Southeast Gallery Tour taking place on Wednesday, March 14 during the 2018 NCECA conference in Pittsburgh. To reserve your seat, visit the Lew White Tours ticket sales booth in the registration conference area of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh beginning at noon on Tuesday, March 13, or go to https://lewwhitetours.eventsmart.com/events/nceca-2018/. Additional exhibition visits on this route include those in Braddock, the South Side, Oakland, Uptown and Pittsburgh’s Hill District.
Edward Eberle will receive the NCECA Honors Award for significant contributions to the field of ceramic art during a ceremony taking place on Friday, March 16, 4:00pm-5:30pm in Spirit of Pittsburgh Ballroom A of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. His accomplishments will be discussed by journalist, critic, collector and gallerist, Graham Shearing, a longtime friend and collaborator. Others receiving the NCECA Honors award in 2018 include artist Clayton Bailey, curator Jo Lauria, and potter and visionary arts leader Bill Strickland. Through this award, their creative work, critical thinking, and exemplary accomplishments are recognized as essential to ceramic art’s cultural impact and continual evolution.
Since the conclusion of the 2017 conference in Portland, Oregon, 2017 NCECA Emerging Artist, Kate Roberts, navigated the end of the academic year at her teaching post as a lecturer in the 3D4M: ceramics+glass+sculpture program in the School of Art+Art History+Design at the University of Washington, Seattle. Reflecting earlier this fall on the impact of NCECA’s Emerging Artist recognition on her life and work, Kate shared the following:
The NCECA Emerging Artist award has greatly impacted my practice and life in the months following the recognition. It gave me the reassurance I needed to continue to push the medium of ceramics. Being able to have a show in conjunction with the award provided the platform to make a new body of work that I could then receive feedback from fellow artists and attendees at the conference. This body of work allowed me to play with scale and content that I might not otherwise have made without the challenge. The award also made possible an international trip to Portugal to continue to gain reference and inspiration for future projects to come.
The future can be difficult to imagine, let alone act upon. Yet, envisioning what’s to come is a process with which artists continually struggle and engage. Shortly, following her presentation at the 2017 NCECA conference, Roberts learned that she had been selected to create a new work for the 2017 Parcours Céramique Carougeois (PCC), a biennial exhibition organized by Fondation Bruckner, spread across about 30 different locations in Carouge and Geneva, Switzerland. Roberts next had to train her vision on her new project for this selective and innovative program involving artists from twelve countries—all fifteen years or less from receiving their degrees. The goal set by program organizers was to explore tensions between tradition and innovation.
The exhibition ran from September 16–24, but Roberts arrived a month early to build her piece on site in the Halles de la Fonderie, a central location for PCC. Her Gate to nowhere was made of fiber and unfired clay. At the closing ceremony of the symposium, Roberts learned that she had won the Fondation Bruckner Award.
Recently, Roberts took time out of her demanding schedule to consider some questions I’ve been formulating about her work since her presentation in Portland. The generosity and thoughtfulness of her responses provide an opportunity to dig deeper into her thoughts about clay’s aptitude to evoke fragility and permanence, the material’s evolving position in her own contemporary art practice, and her interest in the power of the ephemeral.
JG: The work you shared in your presentation to the 2017 NCECA Conference had a lot to do with working with clay in unconventional ways to engage with space. Your works interrelate to architectural settings and envelop the viewer’s experience of space. There have been rich diverse traditions of ceramics operating in architecture. How do you see your work as building on and departing from those legacies?
KR: I begin my installations in architectural settings in many of the same ways others throughout history have. I question what the function of the space is, how will the qualities of the ceramic material relate to it, and what are possible ways for viewers to interact. However, where I see my work diverging from this tradition is the fact that the installation is never meant to be permanent. It is always just a visitor.
The spaces I have been most drawn to lately are ones lingering between life and death. I study these spaces to discover their history and how they became the way they are now. The temporary installation is meant to highlight these discoveries and to empathize with the space. I see clay as the perfect medium for intervention firstly for the fact it is just dirt. This connects often to the foundation of these buildings or the materials that were used to build them. The addition of clay does not feel other in its use or positioning. Secondly, the use of the material in its unfired state emphasizes the state of the building itself. Each piece is there to visit, highlight, offer comfort, and then quietly depart.
View the video showing the deconstruction of Kate Roberts’ Gate to nowhere by clicking on its image above, or copy and paste this link into your web browser: https://youtu.be/TcJXU6xFpKc
JG: I wonder if you could share a little about how you see the content of your work beyond the materials and process you use. Some of the works you shared involve wall and gate-like structures. Others are evocative of feminine body and garments. In the current political climate, imagery may be viewed as issue oriented in ways that you might or might not have intended. How do you see your work connected to that of other artists working with similar content within and beyond those working in clay? Who and what are you looking at and gaining inspiration through?
KR: One of my favorite contemporary artists is Diana Al Hadid. A professor in graduate school introduced her to me and since then I have been consistently enamored by each body of work she creates. We share an interest in making art that is born out of its materiality and through years of studying her work she has taught me about time and the spirit. Her work is not overt but instead filled with symbols quietly baring light on her connection to two drastically different worlds, Syria and Midwestern America. Though the basis of our work does not interrelate, I strive to create work that lingers in this in-between where the audience is allowed to bring their own.
JG: What, if any role does work in media and modalities outside of clay have in your creative process? In what ways do practices like journaling/ writing, drawing, and or digital work feed into your practice?
KR: Recently I have been listening to the journals of the critic Susan Sontag. In her earlier journals, she states “I intend to do everything… I shall anticipate pleasure everywhere and find it too, for it is everywhere! I shall involve myself wholly…everything matters!” I try my best to live in such a way as well. This stems from a residency I had in Paris when I first graduated from undergraduate school. I didn’t have access to a ceramics studio, so instead every day I would pick a part of the city and explore. I would go to museums that had no direct relation to my work because I felt like I never knew what would and wouldn’t have an impact. I took tons of pictures. That was six years ago and I still find myself going back to those images and notes I made while there. It was an image that I collected of a blueprint of the gate at the Palais Royal that led to an entire body of work dealing with gates. I wish I drew more. My form of drawing is listing questions, drawing webs, and listing words that relate to themes I am dealing with. Probably my biggest challenge but experience that often comes with the greatest reward is getting out of the studio and traveling. It can be hard to do because of time and finances but when it happens it leaves me salivating for more.
JG: You have been balancing your studio practice with extensive commitment to teaching. In what ways does your passion for your work as an educator affect and influence your own studio practice?
KR: Balance is something I’m still trying to figure out and I assume will always be this way. Teaching has made me accountable. Accountable for my practice, my work, and for the future of this medium I love. Teaching has challenged my own sense of questioning. I ask students all the time not to assume they know how a material works or what the outcome of an idea is going to be. In telling them, I am constantly reminding myself to do the same thing. The most influential aspect being an educator has had on my practice is being part of a community dedicated to making and learning. At the University of Washington, I am surrounded by artists who work with different mediums such as glass, metal, painting, printmaking and come from different backgrounds. It challenges my assumptions and expands my ever-growing toolbox.
JG: What was the most valuable advice you received through your experiences in art education, whether as a student or a teacher?
KR: I mentioned during my artist lecture how John Gill once told me “Just date it, you don’t have to marry it.” My interpretation of this was just do it. I believe this fully and I don’t think I would be where I am today if I didn’t just do it. I can think of many times throughout my short career that I didn’t wait for someone else to do it for me. For instance, in-between degrees I didn’t have opportunities to show work so I contacted local galleries about curating my own show. The show gave me a deadline and goal in my studio, allowed me to interact with artists working in mediums that weren’t my own, and enabled me to produce the work I would then apply to graduate school with. Sometimes you just need to take it upon yourself to get you where you need to be. This isn’t always easy and often ends with disappointment; though it sounds corny, at least I know I tried.
JG: What would you like to share with students today that may not have been shared with you when you were a student?
Kate Roberts in the studio
KR: Making art is a struggle. There will be highs and lows and most of the time you will fall somewhere in-between. When I was going through school, discussions never were quite this candid. I watched professors have show after show, and from my perspective they were constantly working in their studios. I never questioned if they had self-doubt about their practice or work. Since leaving the comfort of school, the struggle expands. Obstacles and concerns such as life, jobs, the comparison of ourselves to others, the need to push yourself harder in the studio, to dig deeper, and to make better work becomes even more real.
Just the other night I attended an event for an arts organization. In a grant recipient’s acceptance speech, I found his proclamation that making art is a struggle comforting. It’s okay to feel this way. Without this struggle, [there] will be no high. Let it feed you and create a drive to overcome those obstacles. Keep placing one foot in front of the other. And when something great happens to you, soak it in so that it nurses those moments when you feel low.
JG: Many artists are navigating new challenges in building their careers in an evolving marketplace where traditional galleries and gallery representation appears to be waning. How have you affected by these kinds of challenges and what strategies have you been pursuing to make your practice more visible to collectors and the public?
KR: Two years ago, my practice primarily became about making ephemeral work. This has presented a new set of challenges that are different than many of my peers:
–How can work that is ephemeral be collected? A photograph is often the only way someone will ever see your work. In this case, when I take photos of my work I think of them as a piece of art themselves. I have always tried to make sure that the photograph will give you as much information about the piece as possible in order to allow the viewer to feel what someone in the space might have experienced. Artists in the past have used this as a form of collectability, issuing editions of prints.
-Will galleries exhibit work that might not be sellable? The nature of my work has closed many doors for some commercial galleries. My strategy for showing is constantly changing and evolving. I first started by looking for exhibition opportunities that provided stipends for shipping and installation. The way I make is often considerate of what my budget is, so I have been forced to be creative in how I ship work. I wasn’t always so considerate of this, and shipping was an afterthought. I now try to make that part of the conception of the piece. Recently, I have been looking into opportunities where a residency is involved and I can make work on site.
-Will galleries show work that is unfired? This has not been as much of a challenge as I thought it would be. If a gallery is open to showing work that isn’t to be sold, they usually are okay to showing ephemeral work. I do have to be aware of the material of clay and how it contains silica. The installation needs to be so that it is not harmful to those that view it.
JG: What is happening in your studio right now that you are feeling most excited about?
A couple major events happened in recent months that have enlivened my studio practice. Firstly, I installed a piece in Carouge, Switzerland as part the 15th Parcours Ceramique Carougeois. I spent a month building the work in an old foundry building. The piece was up for a week and at the closing the organizers of the event conducted a performance of it being cut down. I have never filmed the removal of one of these installations. This has created many possibilities the removal of work could play or become part of the installation itself. Secondly, I received a Grant for Artist Projects from Artist Trust, an organization based in Washington state, to buy my own portable theatre lighting. This will allow me to install pieces in spaces that may not be set up for installations or art at all. I can play with light in ways I have never been able to. And lastly, I am continuing to research and make with clay dust. As I worked on the piece in Switzerland, I listened to a book about the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s in the Midwest and was in awe of how the dust lingered in the air. I think this visual will find its way into a new body of work.
Kate Roberts’ reflections on her work offer all of us an opportunity to be mindful of our own efforts to balance the durable with the ephemeral in our lives and work. At the heart of ceramic art and education, we share our love of making. Teaching and learning through tactile experience with materials and objects link us to one another and to history. As we enter the season of thankfulness, NCECA wishes you and yours peace, safety, and the freedom to create and connect through clay in your lives, studios, and classrooms. The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Art is immensely grateful to the Windgate Charitable Foundation for their support of NCECA’s Emerging Artists program from 2013-2017. Additional blog entries will appear on other 2017 recipients of the award before our 2018 cohort will be announced in the month leading up to the conference in Pittsburgh.
Below enjoy Roberts’s presentation from the 2017 NCECA conference:
Jessica Brandl, one NCECA’s 2017 Emerging Artists has had a busy time since delivering an outstanding presentation on the final day of the conference in Portland, Oregon. Over the summer, she relocated from Philadelphia, where she had been teaching at the Tyler School or Art at Temple University, to Canada, where she is presently teaching at the Alberta College of Art and Design. In October, her work, Humunculus, was honored as the 1st place vessel award in the Zanesville Prize Exhibition. About the impact of NCECA’s Emerging Artist recognition on her life and work, Jessica shared the following:
Jessica Brandl at work
Since emerging at this year’s NCECA Conference, I feel a great relief, a quiet internalization of having addressed my peer group and presented my story. As a direct result of this public presentation I have been invited to demonstrate and speak at numerous schools and community art centers, and the added visibility has encouraged greater support and connoisseurship of both my work and research. The formal recognition by the NCECA board and committee provides value to my academic and studio endeavors, and the opportunity to present supported my assertion that I am a devoted member of the NCECA community willing to work and contribute to the creative grow of ceramic art and research to come. However, the most important impact of this award came to me as an unexpected private transformation. In preparation for the presentation and show, I found myself looking deep within, searching for the most accurate way to describe what I do. I found the clarity and focus I needed through my feelings for ceramics and personal history rather than objects and practice alone. By retracing my own journey in clay, I was confronted with my strengths and weaknesses and realized that I had to speak candidly about this history in order to be most accurate about where my work comes from. Accepting vulnerability and having the fortitude to express this has been the most profound impact of having been an NCECA emerging artist. Thank you for allowing this public platform, and thank you for listening.
Jessica Brandl, Vessel B
Limited to 12-minutes at the conference, Brandl was kind enough to respond to some questions I recently posed to her via email correspondence. Her generosity of time and thoughtful response offer an opportunity to dig deeper into some of the decisions and motivations Brandl is exploring through her creative practice.
JG: Why do you find the vessel such a compelling framework for sharing your stories?
JB: I admire the vessel as a visual framework in all of its historical iterations, but the most potent attraction to this context has to do with my personal history and how it satisfies my sense of balance. The vessel is a fascinating object, the void interior defines the exterior, it can physically contain something but it can also hold images and subsequently display ideas and narrative as symbolic language. A vessel is a container, but its interpretation permits a multifaceted understanding of utility as literal, metaphor or both.
Jessica Brandl, Vessel C
My attraction is grounded in the overt utility that a vessel suggests; it permits a connection to my Midwestern upbringing that established the premise that an object should be useful. It was the identification with labor and its value, which gave craft and craftsmanship high praise in my childhood home. What I now identify as high art, was viewed with suspicion in its seemly functionlessness and reference to decadence and collected wealth. The logic of childhood was flawed; however, my desire to mediate past and present perceptions through an object locates me at the contextual humility of vessels and pots.
Jessica Brandl, Ruin A
The narrative vessels I construct are beyond practical utility in most ways but my adherence to the void interior and vestigial function permits me to use the language. The linguistic ties are as important as the literal context and form. While many viewers understand what a vessel is, the appearance of novel content situated within the context of a familiar utilitarian form can be a disruptive experience. By calling what I make a vessel, I have framed the comparative conversation. Vessels and pottery preserve a formal levity, which permits me to address culturally averse subject matter.
Jessica Brandl, plate with birds
JG: Could you share a little about how you see your work connected to that of other artists working with narrative content within and beyond those working in clay? Who and what are you looking at and gaining inspiration through?
JB: I see my work as another iteration of a long and continuous human tradition of narration and communication. The telling of an epic or in my case an un-epic, with a cast of characters conveying something other and universal seems to be a part of human nature. Artists that work with clay and clay-like materials speak the most directly to me. I examine how they have managed to communicate and what those technical strategies are; lastly, I like to ask why they are clay and not something else.
Jessica Brandl, Ruin B
I have always been fascinated by the raw clay bison formed on the floor of a cave in France some 14,000 years ago, those figures exist right alongside representative drawings of animals, abstracted dots, and incised geometric patterns. An important part of my personal narrative investigates why I insist on clay. Looking at other humans that use clay I am able to gain a better perspective through comparison.
Jessica Brandl, Vessel A
Therefore, I am inspired by human experience, specifically as it is represented in mythology, literature, science, history, ecology, phycology and culture. I compress the visual richness of the centuries into my own ceramic vessels, forming a distillation of historic and personal symbolic language. Any visual or narrative similarities that my work possesses are the result of communal proximity informing my conscious and unconscious decisions. I do not worry as much as I once did about copying or nuance, I have a better understanding of myself as a unique person from a specific time and culture. Themes, material, and methodology are the stuff of generating narrative and symbolic language. Each individual is different, but as members of the same species quite similar; circumstances and luck take care of the rest.
Jessica Brandl, Fintch
The National Council on Education for the Ceramic Art is immensely grateful to the Windgate Charitable Foundation for their support of NCECA’s Emerging Artists program from 2013-2017. Additional blog entries will appear on other 2017 recipients of the award before our 2018 cohort will be announced in the month leading up to the conference in Pittsburgh.
Below, watch the video of Brandl’s 2017 conference presentation at the Emerging Artists Session on Saturday morning in Portland:
It may be that the craft arts have become so important these last several decades because we have lost our imagination for a living reciprocity with earth. We need to reimagine the reality of that connection. Putting hands-on helps.
~ Paulus Berensohn
Paulus Berensohn, 2010 film still from Fetzer Institute
From the age of about four, Paulus Berensohn knew that he wanted to dance. Initially, his parents resisted until a close friend admonished his mother, “But Edith, to dance is to spring from the hand of God!” While it may seem unlikely that Paulus himself could remember this exchange so vividly, the moment features large in his personal coming of age story. Described as the incident that led to Paulus’s first art lesson, passionate advocacy for art’s transformative power remained a central theme throughout his life’s work.
Paulus Berensohn, ca. 1954
Growing up in New York City’s East Village and Greenwich Village, Berensohn attended experimental and preparatory schools before being admitted to Yale University. He studied there only for a few days prior to withdrawing and returning to New York. On the advice of a friend in the city, he travelled to Vermont and enrolled at Goddard College where he remained about a year. Once more returning to New York, Berensohn enrolled briefly at Columbia University before auditioning for the dance department of the prestigious Julliard School. Despite his less than rigorous technical preparation and formal training as compared to other candidates, young Paulus earned a spot. Finding the conservatory model of Julliard too rigid, Berensohn subsequently transferred to Bennington College, which although a women’s school at the time, was recruiting for male dancers. At Bennington, Berensohn not only continued his work in dance, he also immersed himself in literature courses with several of the college’s leading writers including the poet Howard Nemerov. His final choreography project in school was selected for a performance at New York’s 92nd Street Y and received a positive review in the New York Times. However, a mentor whose critical recommendation on the piece Berensohn decided not to incorporate, gave him a failing mark in his final term, and he never received a degree from the college despite the support of other faculty members.
Returning once more to New York, Berensohn became immersed in the city’s burgeoning experimental dance and theater scene, while also studying and working with Merce Cunningham and members of his company. One Sunday in the company of these friends, Paulus visited the Gate Hill Cooperative in Stony Point, New York. An intentional community and haven for artists founded in 1954 by graduates and former faculty of Black Mountain College including M.C. Richards, David Tudor, John Cage, and others, while wandering the Gate Hill grounds, Paulus came upon the workshop of Karen Karnes. Quietly observing her concentration and coordination of mind, body, and breath, the course of Berensohn’s life shifted. “I stood there and watched Karen from the back, sitting on her old Italian kick wheel where the wheel head was to her left. The first thing I saw her do was to pull up a cylinder of clay and at the same time lengthen her spine. And then—this was what got me—she reached for her sponge in the slip bucket, picked up the sponge, without taking her eyes off the cylinder, and squeezed some slip onto her work. The gesture of sightless reaching her hand made was elegant and inevitable. I thought, that’s a dance to learn.” Much later, Berensohn elaborated meta-cognitively on the memory, “What happened was a desire to de-professionalize my interest in art… As much as I admired the technical brilliance of my colleagues, I am very interested in the behavior of art rather than the achievement of art. I see all the arts as apprenticeships for the big art of our lives.”
That day was auspicious for another reason. Paulus met Karnes’s studio-mate M.C. Richards, who was also teaching clay classes at Greenwich House Pottery and City College. Richards encouraged Paulus to enroll in a workshop she was about to teach at the Haystack Mountain School in Maine. It was a pivotal time for Richards, who not long before, had left Black Mountain College to resettle at Stony Point. On her way to Haystack that summer, she had stopped in Connecticut for a lecture sponsored by the Wesleyan Potters Guild. It was this talk and the response that followed that led Richards to committing ideas on which she had been ruminating for some time into the book Centering: in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person (1963).
M.C. Richards, ca. 1950
The sense of connection between Berensohn and Richards developed with great and fluent immediacy. She was 17 years his senior and he likened the ease, flow, and meaningfulness of their conversations about creation to being engaged in a choreographic experience. That summer at Haystack set a path of poetic and creative inquiry through clay, writing, reading, and teaching that Berensohn would follow for the remainder of his days. At the end of the summer, rather than return to his life in New York as a dancer, Berensohn went to Pendle Hill, a Quaker adult school in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia where he began to teach crafts. Swarthmore College was nearby, and the following year, Berensohn was invited to begin teaching there. The studio at the time was an empty room, and he rallied the woodworking skills of Larry Wilson, a local teen, to help him build potters wheels from diagrams in Bernard Leach’s A Potter’s Book. Student interest in the studio grew robust, and Berensohn began to produce, exhibit and sell his work. He purchased a farm near Scranton and after four years of teaching at Swarthmore, decided to settle in there to work as an artist. The property came to be known as The Endless Mountains Farm, and Berensohn invited several close friends to live with him there—Larry Wilson, Laurie Graham and their infant daughter Sheligh, lived there for several years and built a gas kiln. Others included the dancer and author Remy Charlip, June Ekman, and Burt Supree, who had been the dance editor of the Village Voice newspaper.
Around that time, Berensohn developed a friendship with Byron Temple and became involved with the Wallingford Potters Guild. Richards, who was living and writing in New York at the time, began to develop a series of experiential hands on workshops for the group that integrated clay, movement, and poetics. In the late 1960s Paulus was invited to Penland through his long-time friend Cynthia Bringle who had been a classmate during his first workshop at Haystack. Over the years they had continued to connect through a women-led kiln building festival that Ann Stannard and Karen Karnes had initiated. (During the early to mid-1960s, the few leaders of kiln building workshops, otherwise excluded participation by women.) Around this time, Berensohn recalls having a dream in which he stuck his hand into the earth and drew out a ball of clay. Blowing on it, it became a bowl. He was also increasingly interested in reading scientific considerations about clay and energy. The image of clay receiving energy, storing energy and transmitting energy captured his imagination. Being a body-oriented person the leap between clay and the body and energy and the body was both natural and profound. After three weeks of teaching with Cynthia at Penland, Berensohn was fully committed to a new, yet very old way of working with clay. These experiences were journaled and captured along with marvelous photographs by True Kelly to ultimately be published in Berensohn’s Finding One’s Way with Clay: Pinched Pottery and the Color of Clay (1974).
Paulus lived for nearly forty years in the Penland community, a home from which he piloted learning experiences and ultimately travelled away from to lead workshops integrating clay, journal making, poetics, and deep ecological thinking at colleges and art centers throughout the United States and abroad. His approach to and work with journal-making inspired Penland’s outreach program in the Mitchell County North Carolina public schools, which has run continuously since 1997. For several years, he also co-led similar workshops at Penland for urban teens from Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh that had cross-over with multiple studios there. Along with colleagues at Penland, during these week-long residencies, Berensohn facilitated interactions that co-mingled urban and rural teens. In a time of political, social, and environmental dissonance, Paulus remained committed to the notion that art and connection to the earth were essential to the well-being of all life, the planet, and the human spirit.
Berensohn’s work as an artist and educator focused on restoring the lost harmony between humanity and earth, while combatting alienations of race, gender, and class. He was recognized by the American Craft Council, which elected him to be an honorary fellow, and the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, which awarded him an honorary membership. He was also the recipient of the Distinguished Educator’s Award from the James Renwick Alliance in Washington DC. A film about his life and work, To Spring from the Hand: The Life and Work of Paulus Berensohn, made by Neil Lawrence, was released in 2013. The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver wrote about that film, “Paulus Berensohn, whether he’s speaking slowly and thoughtfully as he does, or just smiling, is a gift. With his presence, life takes on a new radiance and energy. He teaches. He shines.”
Paulus Berensohn, photo by Naomi Boyle
Learn more about Berensohn, M.C. Richards and the Endless Mountain Farm at http://www.marywood.edu/galleries/docs/EndlessMountainsSpiritCatalog.pdf
Read the full transcript of Mark Shapiro’s 2009 interview with Paulus Berensohn at https://www.aaa.si.edu/download_pdf_transcript/ajax?record_id=edanmdm-AAADCD_oh_296474
Watch a 10-minute film produced in 2013 by Neil Lawrence on the occasion of Paulus Berensohn’s award as NCECA Honorary Member of the Council https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92YYT9sYZi0
Donations may be made to the following organizations that provided care and support for Paulus.
- Hospice and Palliative Care of the Blue Ridge, 236 Hospital Drive, Spruce Pine NC 28777.
- Center for End of Life Transitions, 32 Mineral Dust Drive, Asheville NC 28806. www.ceolt.org.
A memorial celebration of Paulus Berensohn’s life will take place at Penland School of Crafts later this year.
This flat plate. This ladle and bowl.
Clay whirled on a wheel, raised slowly to the table.
Straight and curved, our primal gestures
take and give—speak out about
the way we stand and breathe.
Every leaf is saucer for the bread.
Every falling drop prepares its cup.
Always we are eating and drinking earth’s body,
Making her dishes.
Potters like sun and stars
perform their art—
Endowed with myth,
they make the meal holy.
My first memory of Paulus has lasted 30 years. It was at the beginning of a fall concentration, where he talked, using his body with his mindful posture, his hands gracefully moving in the air as he described the falling of red, orange and brown leaves on the grounds of Penland. He wove the metaphor of red iron oxide to the autumn leaves, tying together how it is used as an oxide in a potter’s glaze, for the passing of time, for the end of one cycle and the beginning of another.
~ Holly Hanessian
From his habit of walking barefooted to choosing not to fire some of his pinch pots, Paulus often questioned the status-quo. As a teacher, I was deeply influenced by the gentle and inquisitive manner in which he questioned the world around him. His compassion and curiosity will be greatly missed.
~ Chris Staley
Placing Paulus within the framework of the crafts pioneers in America illuminates the culture within which he helped establish the ethic of the crafts movement. Paulus was never at a loss to find the words to inspire those wishing to establish an honest dialog with primary materials. As we look back upon our long personal relationships with him, we are grateful for the way he helped us see our own paths more clearly toward an honest and fulfilling life and career. It’s not a time for sadness, as much as we’ll miss him. He lived his life the way he wanted to, and choreographed the end just the way it happened.
~ Jon Ellenbogen