Clay Culture: Connect and Recall

1 Tiffany Carbonneau and Brian Harper in their kitchen in New Albany, Indiana, holding mugs by Nicole Aquillano and Mark Arnold, respectively.

The handmade objects we own offer us layered interactions, from aesthetic appreciation and thinking about the maker whenever we use them, to recording our travels and life experiences.

Collecting and using handmade pottery allows for a connection to the maker, providing opportunities to recall memories of the creative people and unique places from which the pots came. The vessels I collect are incorporated into the relationship and home I share with my wife, Tiffany Carbonneau, a digital media artist with a BFA and MFA in ceramics, and are mostly used for their intended functional purposes. Tiffany and I share a keen eye for new vessels and objects to add to our collection and often work together to find diverse and meaningful pieces.

An undeniable connection we have to our vessels is based on experience. Using the pots in our kitchen provides a point of connection to the maker, but also to the memory of how we came to that object. On a recent trip through North Carolina, we visited with potter Courtney Martin at her studio in Bakersville. After spending some time with Courtney, we purchased a mug and two plates. Now, when I use those pieces, I enjoy recalling the time we spent with the person who made them, as well as the space and place in which they were made.

2 Detail of the plate rack and cup shelf in Harper and Carbonneau’s kitchen. 

 

Alternative Ceramic Venues
Over the past few years, we have enjoyed supporting potters through Kickstarter and Indiegogo. We have backed several crowdfunding campaigns that have allowed us to add to our collection while helping a fellow artist achieve specific goals that they are passionate about. When using our Sunshine Cobb mug purchased through her Indiegogo campaign for a new studio space, I know the purchase helped support the studio and infrastructure she needs to make more work in the future. This avenue of collecting has brought a sense of belonging within a community that spans the globe.

The effects on our collection from my work on Artaxis is subtle, yet tangible. Artaxis.org is a peer-reviewed juried website, and by working on it nearly every day, I am always learning about emerging artists and contemporary work in the field. When Mark Arnold applied and was accepted to Artaxis, I was introduced to his work and impressed with its quality. When I saw his work at the 2016 NCECA conference, I made a point to purchase one of his mugs, allowing me to meet him in the process. His is now one of the most used mugs in our home.

Showcasing a Collection
Prior to our recent kitchen remodel, most of our pots were stored in kitchen cabinets. Tiffany and I have long talked about wanting to see more of our collection when cooking and spending time in the kitchen. Our main goals for the remodel were to make our pottery collection more visible and enhance the functionality of the space. By exposing a window which was covered by cabinets in the 1970s, installing a subway tile backsplash from the counters to the ten-foot ceiling, and custom building rough-cut cedar plank floating shelves to replace the cabinets, we were able to dramatically change the look and feel of the kitchen, while making it easier to see and use our favorite pots.

3 Detail of the serving plates and bowls along with a mug shelf. The beer growler/ jug on the end of the middle shelf is by Portland Growler Company.

 

Located in New Albany, Indiana, our 100-year-old craftsman-style home is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. Old houses present unique renovation challenges, which is why we were happy to trade website design work for the assistance of carpenter and craftsman, Beau Carbonneau. Beau, who is Tiffany’s brother and proprietor of Carbonneau Custom Carpentry, was crucial to the creative problem solving that arises when working on an old house, and helped guide the project through the challenges of uneven walls, old plaster and lathe, and oddly centered wall studs.

Many of our kitchen remodeling decisions were based on how pots are used in our kitchen. When designing the wall shelves, we first measured the pots in our collection, thinking about how, when, and where those pots are used. The height of the shelf for the plates needed to be large enough to fit our larger dinner plates, yet be designed to hold the smaller plates as well. Some shelves needed to be deeper for large serving bowls, while others could be narrow for mugs, cups, and spices. We knew that the shelves needed to hold a lot of weight, which required some sleuth carpentry work and heavy-duty anchoring.

4 Indiana University Southeast post-baccalaureate ceramics student, Clare Schmidt, examining a mug by Jim Gottuso.

 

Collecting Choices
As working artists, our collection started by trading our work for pottery, and we still collect on a budget, sometimes spending years slowly acquiring pots of a particular style. We look for pots that have refined and unique surfaces and forms, that are well-designed for great functionality, and that show the unique style of the maker. Of the hundreds of pots in our collection, very few are from artists we haven’t interacted with in some way. To us, that makes the collection personal and meaningful, and acts as a record of our life experience. We look forward to meeting and supporting more potters as our collection evolves, and are happy that we now have a kitchen that does justice to all the beautiful pottery we are proud to own.

 

the author Brian Harper is a professor and the area coordinator of the ceramics department at Indiana University Southeast, in New Albany, Indiana, and the executive director of Artaxis. Learn more about his work at www.brianharperstudio.com. Learn more about the Artaxis peer-reviewed network of artists at www.artaxis.org.

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