Pottery and Ceramics
History of Ceramics
Ceramics are made by pouring slip into a mold, which produces a piece of pottery.
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Ceramics in North America from the colonial period through the 19th century followed a very utilitarian tradition on the English model.
Ceramic making was usually a rural activity serving a local market with utilitarian ware. These ceramic pots were earthenware at first but by the mid nineteenth century was almost universally salt glazed stoneware.
This work followed the evolutionary path of folk traditions with certain characteristic shapes like the small mouth single handled jug seemed to be everywhere on the American scene.
Around nineteen hundred, industrial methods of making utilitarian ceramics rapidly replaced the traditional ceramist.
At the same time, factories such as the Reechoed pottery in Ohio began producing art pottery, which was decorative art that was intended to appeal to the middle class.
American: Overbeck pottery:1915: glazed earthenware.
Stubenville pottery:20th century: glazed earthenware.
The turn of the century saw also the beginnings of the individual ceramist such as Margaret Overbeck who founded the ceramics program here at DePauw University. While Overbeck's style was strongly linked to the arts and crafts movement there were other ceramist like George Ohr of Biloxi Mississippi who's unique approach to ceramics was not fully appreciated until he was rediscovered in the 1970s.
Charles Binns founded the New York State College of Ceramics in 1900 and established the methodology of systematic research in the ceramics medium and the institution to do it in.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century the vast majority of ceramic production was in an industrial setting.
In addition to it's traditional role in architectural brick and tile it became an important material as America adopted indoor plumbing, sewer tile was extruded from enormous pug mills, bathroom and kitchen fixtures were slip cast from molds and crockery for everyday use was produced inexpensively with mechanized throwing techniques called jig and jolly.
With the notable exception of Alfred U. and Ohio State, ceramics was not part of the American studio art curriculum of higher education until the 1950s and 60s when it was widely adopted as part of the general enlargement of art education of that period.
During the 1930's a few immigrants escaping Hitler's Europe, Wildenhain from Germany, Grotell from Finland and the Natzlers from Austria, provided a model of the ceramists as artist and academic.
The resurgence of interest in ceramics as an art form was an international phenomenon and arose along with the ease of travel and communication after WW II.
Many American ceramist of that time were drawn to the medium by the English ceramist Bernard Leach and his friend Shoji Hamada of Japan.
The two had been working closely together since the 1920s with Leach living in Japan. Leach published a book of both theoretical and practical information on ceramic making that became the handbook for a whole generation of ceramist.
Leach and Hamada traveled and lectured widely.
Many ceramist from around the world made the pilgrimage to Leach and Hamada's respective workshops for advice and instruction.
The late Richard Peeler who taught ceramics at DePauw until 1972, traveled to Japan to make films about Hamada.
Another major figure of the clay as art medium of the 1950s is Peter Voulkus who started a ceramics program at the Otis Institute in Los Angeles.
Therein lies the beginning of an East coast and West coast diversion in attitudes and styles.
Ironically though, the Voulkus approach was derived directly from the then triumphant east coast style of painting called abstract expressionism.
According to the propaganda the abstract expressionist painter worked intuitively from the gut.
He interpreted the material, the action of art making and responded to the moment.
This meant abandoning representation and practically all of the traditions for structuring imagery.
During the era known as the sixties, usually meaning 1964 to 1974, the art that drew the most attention was the varies styles inspired by the painters called pop art.
In ceramics this was primarily a west coast phenomenon commonly referred to as funk art.
On the east coast the Alfred University faculty, Daniel Rhodes, Val Cushing, Robert Turner and Ted Randall upheld the more oriental attitude of vessel making as a contemplative life style.
These two competing attitudes continue to this day with the ceramist often living a quite rural existence and the sculptures making objects that are irreverent, provocative or inexplicable.
The most consistent and well know of the West Coast funk artist was Robert Arnison whose long running series of self portraits offered disrespectful social commentary on everything including ceramics.
The funk movement was almost entirely based on low temperature techniques using commercially prepared glazes, and often were lusters, with many artists haunting the hobby ceramics shops looking for ever more gaudy special effects.
David Middlebrook, Clayton Bailey and Howard Kottler are among the many artist working the funk movement during the sixties and seventies.
Ceramic sculpture was becoming very diverse with a strong figurative wing represented by artists like Mary Frank and Steven DeStaebler; a conceptual approach represented by Bill Farrell and Roger Sweet; and fool the eye practitioners like Marilyn Levine and Richard Shaw.
Art making, including ceramics, in the period of the 80s and 90s is sometimes called post modern because the modern period seemed to have been characterized by a logical sequence of styles that reinvented the definition of art both in it's methods and its meaning.
American: Linda Benglis:1980: earthenware with gold luster.
Since then however, the era of isms and manifestos seems to have ended.
Ceramics are produced even more widely and with as much passion as ever before but with out any single unifying theme.
The pot making ceramists are thriving as never before.
The oriental traditions of the vessel as the object of Zen like understatement and contemplation has been extended with technical innovations like saw dust reduction and soda vapor glazing to the point that it is now a truly International form.
There are also many other vessel makers who produce highly refined porcelain with rich reduction reds and elaborately complex surface designs.
Meanwhile, among the sculptures figuration remains a strong and consistent theme.
In about the middle 1980's the ceramics took a nose dive and a lot of the shops had to close their doors.
Then in about the late 1990's is seemed to come back alive.
If you go to a ceramic or pottery shop, you will be amazed and the many different paints, glazes and greenware that is available.
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Have you ever come up with a good idea while working with your handmade pottery and thought that you would like to share it with others? You have? Well, why not send it to us and we will add it to the tips page for all to see.
Handmade pottery can be a very gratifying hobby that produces fun and satisfying results. For many people it's an enjoyable release that is created by working an inanimate mound of clay into a beautiful work of art that you made through your artistic abilities.
The best way of starting out is to take a few lessons from Youtube. You will probably waste quite a bit in materials when you first get started. Figuring out how to truly make handmade pottery correctly and shape into what you want it to be can be quite an ordeal. The different tools that a normal shop will have can be fun to try. You will soon see which ones you like to use the most and then when you are ready you will know which ones to buy.
With the help of the internet, you can now purchase most if not all of your ceramic and pottery tools and supplies online. We are located far from any well supplied dealers and yet working with reliable ceramic and pottery suppliers online has allowed us to recieve most of our orders within a timely manner.
When you get all set up, just enjoy the hobby and have fun at it. Some people get pretty serious and start selling their creations at craft fairs and small stores, but others just like to create items for themselves, relatives, and friends. Whichever kind of handmade pottery you desire to endeavor, enjoy the hobby and have fun doing it.
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