Our studio is built under our hillside home in San Anselmo, California. It runs east to west across the width of the house and has a separate entrance. There are three levels as it steps down the hill. The first level, the mezzanine, has an office and a 10×20-foot workshop where we store and work on our mountain bikes. The bicycle area steps down at one end to a 10×12-foot space Bill uses for display. The rear of the display space opens to a wood shop and the other side leads down 5 more steps to the lowest level, our 900-square-foot main studio. It has 14-foot ceilings and 8-foot windows on three sides. A large, sliding-glass door in the middle on the back wall opens onto a deck that overlooks our oak tree-studded half-acre property. The southern exposure bathes the studio in light all day and gives it a magical, tree-house feel.
Our halves of the studio are loosely divided at the left of the glass door, where I have an L-shaped work station and a spray booth. This leads to a larger area that has long corner counters, a large work table, a sink, shelving, and five electric kilns of varying sizes. Bill’s half has work tables on wheels, cabinets and shelving, a large bathtub sink, a slab roller, and his spray booth. Our studio is richly textured with inspiring and stimulating objects we have collected over the years. Bill’s side is more densely packed than my side, which reflects our different personalities and working styles. The high ceiling allows space for stacking and hanging.
Under the mezzanine there is a storage area, which is accessed from the main studio. We also have a 10×12-foot outside shed. The studio is heated by a radiant gas heater from above and a small gas space heater in my work area. Solar panels on our roof supply all electricity for the house and studio, and the extra solar credits they generate more than pay for the gas. Thank you sunny California!
Just the Facts
Claudia: Grolleg porcelain
Bill: Laguna Clay Company’s cone 10 B-mix without grog
Primary Forming Method
Bill: thrown and extruded elements pressed into plaster molds
Primary Firing Temperature
Claudia: cones 06, 3, and cone
Bill: once fired to cone 6
Favorite Surface Treatment
Claudia: any tromp l’oeil detailing
Bill: acrylic paint and colored pencil with clear fixative
Claudia: a Sabatier paring knife purchased in the 1970s and a home made wooden modeling tool, flat on one end and pointed on the other
Bill: my hands
Paying Dues (and Bills)
Although I have a BA in art, I am self-taught as a ceramic artist. For ten years in the 1970s, Bill and I worked out of a cooperative studio/warehouse, which we founded in San Rafael, California, in 1971. After getting his MA in ceramics from San Francisco State in 1974, Bill took on a part-time teaching job at College of Marin and I worked as a production potter, doing the craft-fair circuit. In 1980, the need to redo the foundation of our hillside house-on-stilts gave us the opportunity to enclose the underside and create a home studio. I had transitioned out of production and was focusing on making and exhibiting porcelain sculptural pieces. Bill was teaching ceramics, design, and drawing and exhibiting his figurative ceramic sculpture. By 1985 we had two young sons to support. We started an art restoration business focusing on restoring contemporary ceramic art. We soon expanded to antique and ethnographic objects of wood, stone, glass, metal, and ceramic.
For Bill, teaching part time allowed him to be an involved dad while managing to carve out time in the studio. I, on the other hand, felt consumed by restoration and motherhood. I slipped into an unplanned hiatus from making art for several years while our sons were young. When I resumed I had a clarity and enthusiasm that felt new and fresh. We were lucky not to have to rely on art for income. It gave us the freedom to make what we wanted to make, to explore, to develop ideas, and express ourselves through sculpture. When Bill secured a full-time teaching job at College of Marin several years later, I took over all the restoration work. Although making and showing art sometimes felt like it happened in fits and starts, there has always been a consistency of commitment and dedication to studio time. Our boys grew up in the studio and are both artists. Oben Abright is a glass sculptor and Guston Abright is a painter. They share a live/work warehouse in Oakland, California. Making art, teaching art, restoring art, and collecting art are at the core of our lives together.
In 2012–13 I phased out of the restoration business after nearly 28 years. Bill retired in 2015 after 40 years of teaching. Our studio is once again an active and energetic place. We have cleaned out, re-arranged, added new lighting, and are fully engaged in this next phase of our creative lives. We do not keep a regular schedule in the studio, but we do work regularly. Deadlines are good for motivation. We are happiest with clay under our fingernails.
Research and Marketing
We subscribe to several art publications, including Ceramics Monthly and American Craft. The San Francisco Bay Area is rich with museums and cultural centers to which we have memberships. We are never at a loss for art to look at. We keep up with what fellow artists are doing through Facebook, Instagram, C-File, Artnet, Artsy, and Colossal and attend gallery shows regularly. We belong to professional organizations such as NCECA and the Association of Clay and Glass Artists (ACGA), and participate in the annual California Conference for the Advancement of Ceramic Art (CCACA) in Davis, California.
Most of our work is sold through galleries and exhibitions, both invitational and juried. We have always relied on gallery representation to market our work. Over the years, our sculptures have found their way into many good collections and a few museums. We sell out of the studio if someone contacts us independently and we both send out announcements via email, Facebook, and snail mail when either of us is having a show or has completed a new body of work. We both actively maintain our individual websites.
Above work: Claudia Tarantino.
Inspiration and Process
Nature inspires our work. We are fortunate to live within walking distance of forested open space. Mountain biking and hiking in the hills are essential activities for me. I call it meditation through exercise. Bill recharges with mountain biking, motorcycle touring, and playing music. Occasional kayaking in the San Francisco Bay rounds out our outdoor experience.
Family memories and the natural world bring content to my work and inspire my trompe l’oeil sculpture. I have a collection of family treasures, photo albums, and toys from my childhood. I haunt local antique shops, taking pictures of what I find more than buying, but occasionally acquiring a vintage goody. My shelves are full of boxes, baskets, shells, rocks, dried leaves, and sticks, as well as books of plant life, sea life, old tins and pails, and much more.
I handbuild each part in my trompe l’oeil sculptures individually and assemble them post firing. Each part goes through multiple underglaze and glaze firings. It may seem tedious to some, but I really enjoy the process and lose myself in the challenge of reproducing objects in porcelain. The material itself inspires me. I love the feel of porcelain; hard or soft, textured or smooth, thick or translucent, porcelain allows me to mimic reality and indulge my fascination with surfaces that reflect the patina of time and imply a story.
Above work: Claudia Tarantino.
Bill enjoys reading about anthropology, natural history, and science. He collects specimens of anything interesting—from weathered wood to bugs to bones and skeletons—in order to study nature’s structural engineering. He sees order in chaos and conglomeration, both in nature and the man-made world.
Bill constructs compositions in the form of abstracted animals and human figures by arranging multiple wet wheel-thrown and handbuilt clay elements into simple molds. He adds more parts and removes others until it looks right. “I am interested in creating complex interior spaces within the more recognizable exterior form. The process lets me explore my imagination and develop visual conclusions that are distinct to my perspective. My intent is not to reproduce existing imagery but to invent something unique.”
Although our work is very different, there is a lot of cross-fertilization in our shared studio. We seek each other’s input and critique each other’s work all the time.
Above Work: Bill Abright.