Ceramics Monthly: From your perspective as an artist and educator, how has the field of studio ceramics changed over time?
Cynthia Bringle: More people are working with clay. There are many classes and suppliers for materials, ready-made clay and glazes, plus stamps and decals. Some students are not getting basic instruction: how to throw, pull a handle, understand glazes and firing, etc. After working a short amount of time they are setting up to sell. Often they would benefit from more study and constructive criticism.
CM: How do you approach inspiring others to both use and create handmade ceramics?
CB: My teaching has been demonstrations and short sessions for clay groups and at craft schools. The longest classes have been eight-week concentrations at Penland School of Crafts, which I have taught five times. My aim is for students to improve their techniques along with evaluating their pieces. This includes learning how to look at and improve all parts as well as making work that speaks to the viewer and to form and function.
The buyers of my work are a broad spectrum. In my beginning years, I spoke to ladies’ garden clubs and book clubs; I told them I was out to replace all the plastic in their kitchen. I am still working on that. People are now more aware of the fact that pottery can be used, but I still often open the dishwasher to show pots in use. The maker needs to pass on knowledge about clay objects to the customer. If at all possible, educate the third and fourth grade students as they are the appreciators of tomorrow. This year, I made dishes for the fourth generation of a family.
CM: What inspires you to keep working in clay both as an educator and as an artist?
CB: Working in clay has been my full-time job for 50 years. Years ago, I interviewed the production potter Joe Owen (of the Owen family of North Carolina potters) in Seagrove for Studio Potter magazine and remember well what he said, “When I retire I think I will make a few pots.” I, too, plan to continue working in clay. It is certainly my passion, and trying to go to the next step with my work keeps me interested and challenged. Working with different clay bodies and firings and evaluating my own work keeps me thinking about how to hopefully put better work out there.Photo: Edwina Bringle.