Ceramics Monthly: How do your two bodies of work, one exploring our relationship with corn and the many controversies behind it, and the other exploring landscape and rural experience through vessels, influence one another?
David Hiltner: Born and raised in Kansas, much of my time was spent outdoors hunting and fishing on my family’s farm. Rural landscapes, silos, rolling hills, and furrowed fields were all part of my visual vocabulary. After moving back to Kansas in 1999 to teach at Wichita State University, I started to explore landscape and aerial perspectives of farmland as inspiration for my wood-fired vessels. My Landscape series celebrates the land below as seen from above. After leaving Wichita in 2005 to start the Red Lodge Clay Center in Red Lodge, Montana, I continued to reference the rich landscape that the foothills of Montana offered.
Shortly after moving to Montana, I was invited to be a part of a bottle show in Kansas. I wanted to send a piece that would push me to make something a little different. I had just watched the documentary King Corn, directed by Aaron Woolf. The film, released in 2007, follows college friends Ian Cheney and Curtis Ellis as they move from Boston, Massachusetts, to Greene, Iowa, to grow and farm an acre of corn. While doing so they investigate the increasing production of corn and increasing role that it has had in American society. After watching the documentary I became obsessed with all things corn. I bought my dog a chew toy that looked like a piece of corn, and realized as he was chewing on this that it would make a great form for a ceramic bottle. So, I made a mold of the toy, slip cast it, and added a tool-dipped nipple to make the first Corn Sucker bottle. The new series was something that was fresh and playful—not my typical wood-fired vessel. It had color and humor. I was able to play with scale and found objects and introduce new conceptual ideas as well. It was a chance for me to be playful in the studio and address some interesting issues about food.