Ceramic artists are making a difference in their communities and beyond through the objects they make, the research and collaborations they participate in, and the ways they engage people around them in viewing and creating art. This issue features several artists who focus on making a positive impact through their creative practice. Some choose to make vessels and sculptures that highlight environmental conservation and address social inequity. Several are building welcoming communities centered around clay. Others are teaming up with science and industry.
Brad Bachmeier explores humans’ long relationship with clay in his research and artwork. His recent series of pieces, made during residencies at several national parks, combines this investigation with an interest in conveying the importance of environmental conservation for the preservation of cultural heritage and animal habitats, as well as access to nature for all.
Laurent Craste uses the visual language of 18th- and 19th-century European ceramics prized by the ruling class to critique societies (past and present) with vastly unequal distribution of wealth and opportunity. He subverts forms and symbols once used to project status and affluence, instead using them to call attention to historical and contemporary societal upheavals as well as to protest unethical systems and attitudes that perpetuate inequity.
This issue’s Spotlight features the People’s Pottery Project (PPP), a nonprofit organization with a mission to welcome, support, train, and employ formerly incarcerated women, trans, and non-binary individuals. They’ve developed a space where participants can learn clay-working skills and earn money making a line of functional ware sold by the organization to fund its programs. PPP also offers affordable classes to the community taught by the staff.
In addition to maintaining a studio practice on a canal in Detroit, Michigan, this issue’s Studio Visit artist, Iggy Sumnik has taught a wide range of people. He describes how he has “learned to appreciate the ability to affect people through the creative and art-making processes in many ways that are fun, challenging, and even profound. Art and art making are so much more than the finished piece.”
Newer technologies are creating opportunities for artists and designers to collaborate with scientists and industrial partners. This issue’s Clay Culture articles focus on two of these partnerships. One article discusses how a team of marine scientists and architects at the University of Hong Kong is conducting a study on restoring coral reefs by using 3D printed terra-cotta tiles as structures to support the coral in areas where the sea floor lacks solid surfaces for the animals to attach to. Another research team, Haptek Lab, formed around the goal of using technology to humanize architectural tile cladding to benefit the people who interact with these buildings in their daily lives. They developed a system using a robotic arm equipped with a multi-sided texture tool to introduce tactile qualities, patterns, and imagery to the surface of tiles during the production process.
Many students and artists are working in provisional studios due to pandemic restrictions. In this issue’s Quick Tip, Caroline Felix shares ways to make toolkits for students at minimal cost so they can keep exploring clay as a medium while learning remotely. Nathan Portnoy’s Tips and Tools article provides an easy, DIY bucket filter system so those who lost access to their studio can safely work with clay at home without clogging their plumbing.
Reaching out to our communities, giving back, helping others, and drawing people into experiences with clay can only make our field stronger, more creative, and more inspiring than it already is. We hope these stories of artists putting their passion for clay and creative problem solving to use in their communities will encourage more participation and engagement in these kinds of endeavors.