Spotlight: Adaptable

Ceramics Monthly: What originally attracted you to working with red clay and low-temperature firing?

Kari Radasch: I switched from porcelain to earthenware during my first semester of graduate school at the University of Nebraska. The department was moving to a new building and the only kilns available were electric. Earthenware just felt right. I found it to be very adaptable and loved the way that it responded to my touch. Today, I continue to use it because of its visual weight, the richness and depth that the red clay under the white slip brings to the surface, and because I have always loved the underdog.

CM: If you could pick just one, what is your favorite part of the process when making your work?

KR: It has always been the physical act of making: rolling, squishing, pounding, and beating clay.

I make pots to bring joy to others’ lives. I believe the desire to make useful objects comes from a need to feel genuinely connected and useful in a society that seems to have dismissed the importance of human interaction and thus the handmade. Considering the current climate, this is more important than ever. I am not saying it is enough, but it is something. I choose to accentuate the human residue that is so often hidden in mass production—I am not interested in stereotypical refinement and perfection. Instead, it is important to me that I leave a vestige, a trace of my hand, a fired fingerprint, or an unglazed droplet of slip. I inscribe my surfaces with physical layers of making: rib marks, seam lines, pinched coils, and texture. I not only find these marks beautiful, but believe that they have the potential to speak to human relationships and interactions. They humanize the work, in that they tell a story about the maker’s motions, decisions, actions, and cadence. In this harsh world the handmade brings people closer together even if just for a moment.

CM: Are there any specific adaptations you’ve made to your clay, glazes, or the design of your forms with durability and ease of use in mind?

KR: I don’t have any illusions that my pots are used on a daily basis. I have always been a fashion before function kind of gal. I think of my dishes as the platform shoes of pottery—they are party pots with utilitarian concerns.

I use a very common, straightforward, low-fire clear glaze called Deb’s Clear (the recipe is 30% Ferro Frit 3134; 45% Ferro Frit 3195; and 25% EPK Kaolin, with an addition of 1.6% V-Gum). However, the original recipe did not fit my clay body without significant crazing. I remedied this by adding 3% silica, which has worked wonders.

Deb’s Clear is not forgiving where thickness is concerned and this can be incredibly frustrating. But when you hit the sweet spot, it is crystal clear and has a wonderful density. A few kiln loads of cloudy pots quickly led me to checking the specific gravity every time I begin a glazing cycle. For my work, the ideal specific gravity is 1.5, which is not a standard but is based on my preference. This measurement tells me how many particles are in my glaze relative to the water. The basic idea is that the higher the measurement, the thicker the glaze application, and the lower the measurement, the thinner the glaze application.

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