It took several days and many discussions before we were able to narrow down the field of this year’s emerging-artist contestants to the finalists shown on the following pages. The range of work submitted this year was truly inspiring with hundreds of entries by artists exploring everything from tableware to sculptural vessels and narrative figure groupings to abstract sculptures and installations. Within the different areas of exploration, personal expressions ranging from austere to opulent, introspective to community-oriented, ordered to chaotic, and reserved to exuberant reinforced for us that the diversity of perspectives and approaches to material in our field is such an amazing strength. Please join us in congratulating this year's emerging artists a job well done. —Eds.

Qwist Joseph, Lincoln, Nebraska


“We live in a time where answers are readily available and the unknown hardly exists. . . . It is important to me that my work offer a departure from this monotonous reality."

This quote from Qwist Joseph’s artist statement hits home on a few levels. His mid- to large-scale sculptures work as object poems, setting up stylized clay renditions of familiar objects with multimedia elements in ways that suggest but do not define their relationships, with meaning existing between the objects rather than in them. The scale shift, along with the sense of touch implied by the pinched earthenware versions of forms like an oversized egg paired with life-size versions of a large cactus and a bird cage, keep reminding me that I’m looking at objects that have a story they’d like to tell (to and with me) if I'm willing to spend the time.

Arch, 5 ft. 10 in. (1.8 m) in height, handbuilt earthenware, fired to cone 04, white oak, Bondo, paint, 2015. Cageless, 10 ft. (3 m) in height, handbuilt earthenware, fired to cone 04, wood, steel, paint, 2015.

Jong Joo Lee, Gakbuk-Myeon, South Korea

Jong Joo Lee employs the traditional Korean Buncheong method (using a white clay engobe to conceal a rough clay underneath) to comment on Ko-rean social norms of using disguise in order to present a personality better fitting of someone admired rather than dismissed—something Lee considers to be quite common in contemporary Korean culture. Each brush stroke simultaneously covers the darker clay while cre-ating a pattern, and essentially evoking a new persona on each form.

Breaking from the traditional Buncheong method, Lee uses multiple brushes of different sizes to create a variety of patterns, scrapes off the dried engobe in places to reveal the clay underneath and bring forth texture, and experiments with contrasting colors to cre-ate decorative surface movement. Lee’s success comes from his ability to master a traditional technique and reinvigorate it with a contemporary vision. 


Conceal, Buncheong Series, to 23 in. (58 cm) in diameter, wheel-thrown Buncheong clay, slip, fired to 2282°F (1250°C), 2015. Conceal, Color Series, to 12 in. (30 cm) in diameter, white porcelain, colored slip, fired to 2282°F (1250°C), 2015.

Lauren Smith, Butte, Montana

Creating a unique style while making functional forms is no small feat for potters. The wheel has already been invented, what remains is to make work that stands out from the rest. Lauren Smith is doing just that. Her intense curves and strappy handles are highlighted by undulating rims and chunky scallops. Each form is further complimented by thin lines added to segment the forms and jewel-toned glazes, which pool and sparkle in all the right places. 

Smith writes that while making work, she imagines the pieces being used at fancy dinner parties, yet her draw to pottery is a yearning to share pieces with those who will “create daily rituals” with them. It’s easy to say her work fits comfortably in both places.


Flower bricks, to 8 in. (20 cm) in height, wheel-thrown and altered porcelain, multiple sprayed and layered glazes, fired to cone 10 in a gas kiln in oxidation, 2016.

Set of jars, to 5½ in. (14 cm) in height, wheel-thrown and altered porcelain, multiple sprayed and layered glazes, fired to cone 10 in a gas kiln in oxidation, 2016.

George Rodriguez, Seattle, Washington

George Rodriguez tells stories through large-scale sculpture in an approachable, community-oriented way. He relies on strategies from combining humor and ornate decoration, to conjuring up and mixing folk-art traditions to create narra-tives that may be serious, but are presented in a disarming way. 

Pieces like Hanuman and Object of My Affection—Shrine draw viewers in because they feel familiar, even friendly, and the encrusted surfaces beckon one to look more closely, to be-come absorbed in the sprigged ornamentation. The abundant surface decoration rides the line between evoking generosity and unchecked proliferation, or joy and danger.


Hanuman, 28 in. (71 cm) in height, stoneware, underglaze, glaze, fired to cone 6 in an electric kiln, luster, fired to cone 019 in an electric kiln, 2015. Object of My Affection—Shrine, 14 in. (36 cm) in height, stoneware, underglaze, glaze, fired to cone 6 in an electric kiln, 2014.

Yoonjee Kwak, Rochester, New York

Slightly quirky and a bit rough around the edges are certainly characteristics one can note about Yoonjee Kwak’s functional forms, but these are hardly negative qualities. In fact, it is those repetitive finger marks, curved and stretched slabs, and warped base that breathe life into each piece. Each vessel is, at its core, minimal, much like a human, stripped down to reveal their raw emotions. In Kwak’s artist statement, she describes Korean culture like this, “In Korea, when people talk about someone’s personality, we often use ‘vessel’ as a metaphor of one’s spirit of tolerance.” Upon the forms, small bands of luster wrap around edges and highlight seams, lend-ing a crispness to an otherwise overall softness. These rich but delicate edges bring a sense of boundary to the forms, allowing the user to not only tactically discover the vessel’s personality, but also emotionally connect with it.

She is Sitting on a Stool, to 4¾ in. (28 cm) in height, handbuilt porcelain, fired to cone 10 and cone 6, gold luster, fired to cone 014, 2015.

Sincerely, to 11 in. (28 cm) in height, handbuilt porcelain, fired to cone 10 and cone 6, gold luster, fired to cone 014, 2015.

Alberto Bustos, Valladolid, Spain

Much like new spring grass responding to warming weather, Alberto Bustos uses heat to make each handmade ceramic blade stronger, wispier, and more organic looking. His curated landscapes imitate nature’s beauty while capitalizing on its abundant repetitiveness. Each thin, sharp blade of grass is manicured with precision then placed within a set system he deftly controls—an obsession few in ceramics will undertake. At first glance the pieces look delicate enough to be paper; the layered works exude a dual sharp and fragile quality. However, after a closer inspection one can see that the works are indeed porcelain, add-ing another dimension to their initial appearance. Artist advocate Carmen de Miguel’s statement about Bustos sums his intentions up best, “His works urge us to reflect, invite us to work together to try to find ways to uproot the daily human aggression to basic elements that surround us, [which are] essential for the continuity of life."


Vira!, 18 in. (45 cm) in diameter, stoneware, pigments, fired to  2228°F (1220°C), 2014.  Eviction, 22 in. (56 cm) in height, porcelain, pigments, fired to  2210°F (1210°C), 2015.

Claire Prenton, Cincinnati, Ohio

At a time when the popular aesthetic in ceramics is loose and often playful, Claire Prenton unapologetically embraces ornament and embellishment. While nature plays a large part in her deco-ration, the nod to historical interior design and vintage costumes are what resonate with the work. Prenton amasses pooling glazes and sprigs to achieve an almost jewel-like embroidered quality to each piece—whether it be functional or sculptural. As a final over-the-top gesture, she guilds her forms with bits and dabs of gold and platinum luster creating a feeling of opulence akin to Baroque architecture. To Claire Prenton, knowing when to stop is a question rarely asked.

Woodland Tiara, 5 in. (13 cm) in length,  handbuilt porcelain, fired to cone 6 in oxidation,  20-karat gold, platinum luster, 2016.


Cups, to 4 in. (10 cm) in height, handbuilt porcelain, fired to cone 6 in oxidation, 20-karat gold, 2015.

Gunyoung Kim, Seoul, South Korea

Evoking complex emotional states and reactions to everyday life without becoming either exceedingly literal or metaphorically heavy handed is difficult. Gunyoung Kim succeeds in presenting figures, both solitary and in groupings, that are frozen in mid-action or mid-thought that invite contemplation, and start a conversation with (and within) viewers.

The pieces combine a bold use of color with subtle, ambiguous expressions and gestures that leave the viewers feeling both uncom-fortable and intrigued, trying to determine what the subjects are thinking, what the artist was thinking about when she made the piece, and how the conclusions we may be drawing say as much about our own emotional experiences as anything else.


ware, glaze, fired to cone 03, luster, 2015.  Below Dictator, 20 in. (51 cm) in height, handbuilt stoneware, terra The Littleness of Faith, 15 in. (38 cm) in height, handbuilt earthenware, glaze, fired to cone 03, luster, 2015.

Jeremy Wallace, Baltimore, Maryland

Leather-hard clay has a certain allure for most ceramic artists. Like many artists, Jeremy Wallace wanted to find ways to maintain or capture the qualities of clay at this raw state in his finished, fired vessels. Wallace successfully blends his interest in maintaining a specific surface quality with the functional requirements of vessels made for everyday use. 

The utilitarian pieces he makes tell a story about how they were constructed, and about the ways stoneware clay slabs move, curve, and tear during the building process. He pulls these responses into the foreground both by working with lay-ers and by using slips and glazes that accentuate and respond to the clay’s surface and to the atmosphere of the wood/soda kiln he uses to fire his work.  


Pitcher, 12½ in. (32 cm) in height, handbuilt stoneware, raw clay, fired in a wood/soda kiln to cone 11 in reduction, 2015.

Set of three soup bowls, 5 in. (13 cm) in diameter, handbuilt stoneware, spodumene glaze, fired in a wood/soda kiln to cone 11 in reduction, 2015.

Juliane Shibata, Northfield, Minnesota

Juliane Shibata’s botanical installations reflect on the relation-ships between humans and the natural world. On an individual level, each flower is carefully made with every detail and aspect considered and reminds us how precious flowers are, whether real or ceramic. As a whole piece, the multiple handmade flowers are thoughtfully displayed in a way that highlights repetition and energizes the spaces between them. 

In her piece Violets and Irises, Shibata pays a homage to her grandparents. In her artist statement, Shibata explains that her Japanese-American grandmother, Toshi, favored irises and repeat-edly tried to grow them in her New Mexico garden, but the climate was too dry. Although physical flowers have a defined lifespan as they grow, bloom, and eventually decompose, Shibata’s fired-ceramic sculptures speak of stability and permanence.


Violets and Irises, 30 in. (76 cm) in length, handbuilt porcelain, fired to cone 10 in reduction, wood, paint, 2015. Photo: Peter Lee. Posy Ring, 31 in. (79 cm) in height, wheel-thrown and handbuilt stoneware and porcelain, 2015. Photo: Peter Lee.

Neil Celani, Greeley, Colorado

Neil Celani’s atmospheric-fired pottery has a sense of personal authenticity. Although his forms are quiet overall, there is a great amount of attention in the details. By focusing on the cylinder as the foundation for most of his wheel-thrown vessels, Celani is able to create a variety of simple, highly functional forms that explore proportion, pattern, and texture, all of which are complimented by the soda-firing process. 

Two flashed tumblers, 8 in. (20 cm) in height, wheel-thrown and carved stoneware, flashing slip, glaze, soda fired to cone 10 in reduction, 2015.

Chubby casserole, 7 in. (18 cm) in diameter, wheel-thrown stoneware, glaze, soda fired to cone 10 in reduction, 2015.

Roberta Massuch, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Roberta Massuch’s work is inspired by observations of shift-ing light in a room and how it affects one’s perception of objects and the spaces between objects in the home. Her architectural forms are permanent illustrations of these mo-ments of exploration. Massuch’s geometric still lifes are far from still as one starts to notice how the light and shadows are in constant flux, bouncing from one surface to the next, changing the colors and tones with every move and shift.

at 7am on the day before,  17 in. (43 cm) in height, porcelain,  wax, wood, plaster, 2015. #14-6326, 14 in.  (36 cm) in height, porcelain, earthenware, glaze, ink, 2015.

Jeni Hansen Gard, Columbus, Ohio

Many of us have experienced the ways that using handmade ceramic vessels can influence the conversations had over a meal, and make us think more deeply about the daily ritual of eating. Jeni Hansen Gard builds on this by orchestrating projects that increase awareness beyond our field about handmade ceramics, food production, as well as the social nature and community-building potential of shared meals. She provides parameters for the use of specific sets, finds community members to participate in the project, and sends the work out into the world to act as a vehicle for building experiences. Participants become collaborators who are encouraged to share their perspectives in words and photos. 

The physical objects are often made with transport in mind. As people are asked to take dishes with them on the go, or to pass them on to the next participant, building carrying cases into the design is both an opportunity for further collaboration with artists in other media, and a necessity to ensure each piece can be used by multiple participants. 

Partake Columbus : Sharing Set for Two, 15 in.  (38 cm) in length, handbuilt porcelain, underglaze, glaze, fired to cone 6  (2232°F) in an electric kiln, leather carrying case made by Brandon Ault of Old Salts Leatherworks, 2015. Partake Columbus : Sharing Set for Two (detail), 15 in.  (38 cm) in length, handbuilt porcelain, underglaze, glaze, fired to cone 6  (2232°F) in an electric kiln, leather carrying case made by Brandon Ault of Old Salts Leatherworks, 2015.

Cups of Conversation : Cups and Carrier, 12 in. (30 cm) in length, wheel-thrown and altered porcelain, copper wash, multiple glazes, fired to cone 10 (2345°F) in an electric kiln, wooden carrying case made by Gwen Hageman, 2015–16.

Sara Parent-Ramos, San Diego, California

Sara Parent-Ramos’ work explores the idea of gravity as the sub-stantiation of risk. The collage of ceramic forms, which are frozen in a moment of suspension, look as if they could fall and release at any moment as they engulf the physical structure that supports them. In Empire Falling, Parent-Ramos explores how growth, the fear of falling, and gravity relate to us on a societal level. When creating the piece, she thought about how “Empires are states that have grown beyond their original boundaries, annexing, and enveloping and engulfing new territories and cultures. Inherent in their construction is a tension, a struggle, to maintain expansion against impending deterioration.” 

Empire Falling #1, 6 ft. (1.8 m) in height, clay, glaze, wood, metal, wire, paint, 2015.

Topics: Ceramic Artists