We are blessed with a number of highly skilled potters in Michiana. Scale and styles range from the voluptuous 5-foot sculptural urns of Bill Kremer (head of the art department at Notre Dame) to Jane Graber’s perfectly-formed, museum-quality miniature replicas of 18th and 19th century crockery (many of which are less than an inch high) at Found Gallery in Goshen. The art and science of firing clay has been masterfully transcended in studios throughout our region. We have in our midst “Ceramics Royalty” – sought-after artists who have built national reputations.
Steve Gruber is an Elkhart native who produces ArtWalk, founded a gallery and studio space called Arts on Main, and is an advocate for local art. You can read more of his work in his community blog
for The Elkhart Truth, Art Sense
Persistence, practice and an intuitive sense of what will be are key ingredients to successful pottery. Wood firing can produce dramatic results – always a bit unpredictable as to how color will form, how a salt glaze might react and how inset glass might melt (or explode). The rules are shifty, and results vary greatly. Whether potters are using electric, gas-fired or wood-stocked kilns, hard-won skills come from having learned innumerable lessons about what works in order to achieve what might work.
Last November I got the chance to be a “woodchuck” and helped stoke Bill Kremer’s enormous wood kiln at his farm in Cassopolis, Mich. For four days, a dozen helpers worked around the clock, adding wood every 20 minutes to five portals of his 30-foot long Anagama brick kiln structure. The inside temperature (2,100 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal constant temperature) was recorded and constantly monitored. A sudden drop or rise in temperature can mean disaster. “Cold spots” and “hot spots” are anticipated, and certain pieces may be placed in these zones to achieve a desired effect. What stuns me is how vibrant bursts of color can result from nondescript, powdery glazes (some resemble gun powder). Adding salt (in bundles) toward the end of a firing can add more texture and relief. The ash itself also creates its own magic.
Two events are coming up that will showcase our bountiful local pottery talent:
Michiana Pottery Tour, Sept. 27-28: Six stops (five in Goshen and one in Constantine, Mich.) will feature 22 potters, the largest concentration of which will be on display at the Clay Arts Guild, which is next to the Goshen Farmer’s Market. While there, check out Eric Kaufmann’s spectacular crystalline “blooms” over flawless porcelain. Other terrific works by Fred Driver, Bob Smoker, Justin Rothshank and Todd Pletcher will be on display and for sale. Marvin Bartel, Dick Lehman and Mark Goertzen will be among the “Pottery Royals” on the route. For more information, visit the Michiana Pottery Tour’s website.
Arts on Main Gallery Ceramics Invitational, Sept. 11 – Oct. 23. Arts on Main, 205 S. Main Street, Elkhart. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays: Bill Kremer, the godfather of large-format pottery, is among those invited. Bill’s dramatic shapes are coveted by many collectors, and his large pieces are engineering marvels. Los Angeles transplant Elizabeth Wamsley’s fertile imagination has reinvented her style in many ways – she creates everything from functional dinnerware to whimsical sculptures, and incorporates shells, twigs and other natural elements into her work. My former Elkhart Central High School art instructor, Cynthia Marks, has been in love with clay for 50 years, creating some of her very best work in retirement. One Paul Klee-inspired piece features sassy yellow insets, punctuating elliptical gray circles with cerulean blue demi-lunes on a majestic vase that looks like it came from a SoHo gallery in New York. Another well-established potter invited to the show is Kari Black, whose Asian-inspired red ware is among the best anywhere. Seven more talented potters will round out the show. For more information, visit Arts on Main’s website.
For several years, I lived within an hour of Seagrove, N.C., where over 90 potters turn out thousands of pieces annually. For generations, it has been revered as Hallowed Ground for ceramics lovers. Having lived and collected clay artists’ work from both Seagrove and from northern Indiana, I respectfully proclaim to those in the Tar Heel State, “Ya’ll ain’t got nothin’ over Michiana potters!”
We have among us “feats of clay” that are remarkable and solidly collectible.