Spotlight: Soul and History

Ceramics Monthly: How does your training in making functional and sculptural vessels in clay influence your work as an architect, and vice versa?

Wayne Branum: Quite early on in my clay career I had a fascination with building forms and how they can be interpreted in pots. I saw a more abstract relationship between pots and buildings, like a small covered jar with an overhanging lid that acts as a roof form or a footed jar where the feet resemble blocks used to elevate old stone granaries. Later, about 20 years ago, I began to make pots that were obviously building forms. Two books I found a connection with were Bernard Rudofsky’s Architecture Without Architects and William G. Gabler’s Death of the Dream, Farm Houses of the Heartland. Many examples in these books speak to simple utilitarian purposes and are constructed with natural materials found in the areas around the building site. Traditional potters achieve similar ends.

Architecture involves many contributors and is inherently a more complex process. Pots are completely conceived and controlled by the maker. This makes direct interaction between the areas unlikely. One can borrow ideas. My best and perhaps only architectural design that sources from pots I’ve made is my own house.

CM: You talk about the progression in your work being a slow accumulative process that is based on experiences in your life that “remain in the sieve.” When working, how consciously are you drawing on these experiences?

WB: I recently heard a remark about old objects having a soul, in part, based on the human connection to them. I see the houses in the Gabler book and the simple granaries and abodes in the Rudofsky book in a similar light. Most of the examples in the books are no longer inhabited but I feel a sense of the human contact when I observe them.

I am trying to capture in my ceramic work that sense of soul and history I perceive from the buildings in these books and from buildings and objects I have seen while traveling. When I work, I do not consciously attempt to recall anything specific or to replicate a particular observance. I trust that when an idea is ready to materialize, it will.

I continue to make usable pots while also trying to develop work that speaks more literally to the influences mentioned above. I still think of covered pots as vessels that come with roofs.

The figurative pieces I make (see the tall jars, left) grew out of the house forms, simply evolving directly while working with clay in the studio, without any drawings at first. I still see them as coming from the building forms and hope their pose conveys something similar to the stance and gaze I feel from an honest building or an honest pot, designed for a simple utilitarian purpose.

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