Art of the Pot studio tour, part 1

Aaron and I rolled in at 1 am last night after a whirlwind overnight trip to Burnet and Austin,Texas. My cousins live in Burnet, and we stayed there Friday night before driving into Austin on Sat morning for the pottery studio tour named Art of the Pot. A giant jackrabbit graced our path down the driveway of my cousin’s rocky, cactus-strewn front acreage as we departed for another Mother’s Day in Austin. In fact, Art of the Pot always falls on Mother’s Day weekend. I have taken my Mom with me for the tour in past years; that mom-on-daughter time can’t be beat. Anyway, we made the 1st studio by 10:30. The tour ran until 5ish on Saturday, and runs from 11-5 today.

We typically do the tour backwards from how the studios are numbered in the mailer, beginning with Ryan McKerley’s studio near downtown on Cesar Chavez. I have known Ryan for several years now; he is an excellent ceramic artist, and a really great person. He shares the studio with Chris Campbell. The other potters who had been invited to display and sell work are Carl Block and Ingrid Bathe.

Part of Ryan McKerley’s inventory on display in his studio.

Ryan’s pots just get more superior with each passing year. To get the dimensional surface texture, each thrown piece receives an application of fixative like lacquer in a hand-painted pattern, which is then sponged heavily to remove clay around the fixed, waterproof pattern. It’s a technique I’ve seen referred to as water carving. He then glazes and soda fires the porcelain pots to cone 9/10 or so, in reduction. I have had the privilege of firing some of my work in his kiln, and the results are generally spectacular. The kiln I’m building this year is based partially on his kiln, since I intend to soda or salt fire.

A close-up of some more of Ryan’s pieces.

Chris Campbell shares the studio with Ryan. His pots this year were dipped in white slip and glazed clear to emphasize the natural imperfection and beauty of the slip coat. His pots have a genuine solidity, due to elements like the simple forms and straightforward design.

Some of the elegantly simple pots by Chris Campbell.

The bowls on the middle tier have a beautifully tall incised foot. I speculate that the feet were thrown, because trimming out that much clay would be a total headache, not to mention wasteful. Also note the finger marks where Chris gripped the pieces as they were dipped in slip: a nice record of the artist’s involvement.

This large jar by Chris Campbell is a beauty.

Ingrid Bathe brought her ultra-thin porcelain pinch pots to the Texas art appreciating public. While some of the work was glazed a subdued, cool color on the interior, most were fired raw, probably to cone 9/10. The texture of her process and the vitrified porcelain is tactilely pleasing.

A part of Ingrid Bathe’s display.

The five-lobed vessel with smaller dishes nested in each nodule was my personal favorite. Such beautiful and interesting work.

Some of Carl Block’s figurative pots.

Carl Block of Waxahachie, TX works in earthenware with colored slips and clear glaze, which of course gets low-fired. To me the influence of South American tribal pottery and Mexican folk art appears evident. Carl stated that a major influence which isn’t necessarily visible is the joy that drives his studio practice. The stirrup vessel shown in the back, with the skull and long-bones sculpted on, made a perfect graduation gift for my friend David who just acquired his PhD in Anthropology, with a personal focus in Mayanism.

More Carl Block head jugs and jars, and a mug.

Mr. Block serenaded the studio visitors on his mandolin, happily engaging folks in conversation when the opportunity arose. He actually gave me an interesting tip for working with porcelain. To stiffen the walls of the pots when I’m throwing, I could make porcelain grog to mix in the clay body by bisqueing ground trimming scraps, then ball-milling the bisque craps down to powder.

Mr. Block with his mandolin and a tall figurative vessel.

Stay tuned for the second of the four studio tour installments.

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