Clay Festival Students Destroy their Work to Build Something New

Photos and Article by Shirin McArthur

Friday was the concluding day for this year's four Silver City Clay Festival workshops. At the "Raku: A Deconstructive Approach" workshop, held in WNMU's McCray Clay Studio, students had created, broken, and glazed their pottery pieces, which were being kiln-fired before being reassembled with fast-drying glue.


Larry Pelter, a ceramic artist from Lincoln, Nebraska, was enjoying his first visit to the Clay Festival this year. He explained that the goal of the Deconstructive workshop was to create artistic, rather than functional, artwork by intentionally deconstructing pieces of pottery and then re-assembling them with five-minute epoxy after they had been decorated in various ways.

Jared Carpenter, an employee at Silver City's Syzygy Tile, appreciated the opportunity to experience a different type of work than his usual routine. The work at Syzygy is production-based, focused on creating large quantities of very similar, functional tiles. Carpenter has a background in ceramics, and the image he shared to explain his feelings about his work at Syzygy was that it was like creating fish eggs, which are identical to one another, then scattering them out into the world.

All the students in this class had at least some ceramics experience, including Dawn Renee from Tucson, who came prepared to unload kilns, with goggles, a set of heavy gloves, a scarf to keep her hair from catching fire, and a bright yellow work shirt given to her by a firefighter. Others who assisted with the unloading wore sunglasses, a knit cap, or borrowed gear from the WNMU McCray Clay Studio.

Jessica Wilson, Assistant Professor of Ceramics at WNMU, was enjoying the class, especially the opportunity to learn new hand-building techniques from the instructor. She noted that there was a lot of exchange going on, including new glaze recipes.

While some pieces were being glazed in traditional fashion, a number of different glazing and firing techniques were being used to decorate the various pieces of deconstructed pottery. Slip resist, or "naked Raku," involves painting clay "slip" onto the pieces before firing, then placing them on a bed of sawdust, shredded wood, or other combustible materials immediately after removing them from the kiln. The pieces are then covered and the smoke permeates the areas of pottery not covered by the slip, or seeps between cracks in the slip as it cools. Once the pottery has cooled and any remaining slip or ash is washed away, interesting patterns of black and white are revealed.

Another decorative method involves adding salt or copper carbonate to the pottery before firing. Salt forms a distinctive round circle, much larger than the grain of salt, while copper carbonate turns a beautiful red color after firing.

Horsehair is also used to create intricate lines and patterns on the pottery. The hair is laid over the pottery immediately after it is removed from the kiln. As it burns, the hair curls up and blackens, creating the designs. One student discovered that human hair also works, but the patterns are much thinner and finer.

In addition to the broken pieces of pottery being fired on this final day, students had also each crafted clay teapots, which were then split into three pieces using a thin wire or knife to cut the still-damp clay. Students were instructed to share two of the pieces with others in the class, so that each student was left with three unique pieces from different teapots. They then used those three pieces to create one-of-a-kind reconstructions, which were judged by Santa Ana College (California) Professor of Art Patrick Shia Crabb, the workshop instructor. The student with the winning teapot was awarded with one of Crabb's own completed art pieces.


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