“I want the work to look as if it was rather easy, even if it wasn’t.”
As we put together this issue, focused on masters in clay, this statement kept resurfacing in my thoughts. For me, it gets to the core of why it can be both exhilarating and intimidating to be in the presence of pots and sculptures made by master artists. They do indeed look assured and effortless, but the wealth of conceptual, historical, and technical knowledge these pieces embody is inspiring.
The editorial staff also has this feeling of wonder when we put together an issue like this one, covering the careers of a few of these master artists; those who have had long, influential careers both making work and helping others as mentors, teachers, friends, and colleagues. These artists, Cynthia Bringle, Jun Kaneko, Tom Turner, and Betty Woodman, all share a tendency to look forward to the next piece they will make, and think about how they can improve upon the one they just completed.
Jun Kaneko has long been considered an innovator who creates deceptively simple yet singular sculptures in clay and other media that are both monumental technical feats and enigmatic presences no matter the environment in which they are situated. He is also known for community building and expanding access to art through his work as a cofounder of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art and the creative space KANEKO: Open Space for the Mind, both in Omaha, Nebraska, and through numerous public commissions.
Tom Turner is well known for his scientific approach to his research, technical knowledge, development of precise and generous forms, and stunning surfaces through a meticulous, scientific and creative approach. Although he works full time as a potter, he has also mentored and shared his knowledge with many students through teaching positions and workshops.
Betty Woodman has been an influential artist as well as teacher for generations of students. Her influence loomed large when I attended the University of Colorado, Boulder, even though she had retired several years prior. I can still remember seeing her pillow pitchers for the first time, and wondering at their distinctive form and concise but perceptive art historical references. Seeing examples of later, deconstructed vases and multi-media pieces made me think about and look for space within an installation or sculpture as an active, engaging, and powerful element both in my own work and that of other artists.
Cynthia Bringle has worked for over 50 years to make dinnerware and vessels to populate domestic spaces (see two examples below as well as in her Spotlight article on page 80). She has made pots for several generations of families, and strives to teach adults and kids alike about the importance of using pots and the value of having artists in our society. Bringle is renown for her influence as a generous mentor and teacher both in her backyard at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, and at institutions nationwide. Her approach includes helping students to learn skills and develop their own styles, encouraging them to strive for more, and being an example and role model for those who want to pursue a career as a full-time artist and potter.
Mastery often goes beyond the individual as well. Studio visit artists Kate and Daniel Johnston, who live and work in Seagrove, North Carolina, talk about how the continual process of building on the foundations of knowledge and skills laid by generations of master potters and the open sharing of ideas has contributed to the advancement of artists working in the region today.
We can learn many things from our mentors, not only about how to advance our own work, but also how to collectively advance our field through a variety of approaches.