Handmade ceramic objects often have a utilitarian purpose: serving, containing, storing, displaying, supporting, etc., and an emotional story imbued by the maker. In this issue, we delve into the topic of how a ceramic artist balances form and function. Whether sculptural or vessel based, installation or performance related, the roles that these handmade forms play reach beyond utility as well. Examples include acting as vehicles for self expression and self discovery, communicating ideas, commemorating events and memories, evoking feelings, enhancing daily routines, promoting learning and listening, and reinforcing family and community ties. Some of these functions are artist focused, others are related to the user/viewer, and some involve both. 

Ryan Coppage analyzes the ways that the design, structure, and surfaces of different elements of a utilitarian pot determine how it will work and subtly influence decisions on what uses it is most suitable for. Using specific pots as examples, he demonstrates how the nuances of a form—from the opening and lip to the physical and visual heft and balance—affect viewers’ engagement with and perceptions of the piece. 

Virginia Felix makes wheel-thrown tableware and coil builds sculptural vases and lamps inspired by canyons, natural arches, and other geological formations, along with self reflections captured in a journal. She focuses on activating the space around each piece as well as the negative space within and between compositional elements. She refers to creating this negative space as “carving out an inner space,” and hopes that her work can translate some of the wonder of the way light and shadow interact with monumental natural structures. 

Jenn Cole’s dessert plates, 4½  in. (11 cm) in length (each), wheel-thrown and altered earthenware, white slip, hand-painted underglaze, cobalt wash, clear glaze, fired to cone 04 in an electric kiln.

In a similar way, the silhouette and the space around architecture, including the cupolas, domes, and buttresses on cathedrals and mosques in Europe and Asia, captivate Seth Green. In his article, he shares how exploring the influence of architecture on his work with greater clarity through experimentation, research, and travel helped him to incorporate elements of these structures into his vessels. The metallic sheen of the surfaces also links the work conceptually with ceremonial metalwork from the Persian and Ottoman Empires. Together, the forms and surfaces convey a sense that these pieces are suited for contemplation and special-occasion use. 

Jenn Cole shares her studio space with us and writes about how she strives to create work that she would be proud to use at her own dinner table. The forms and surface decorations of her work combine a focus on utility and elevating the experience of eating a meal with her longtime interest in vintage clothing, embroidery books, antique furniture, and plants.

Danielle Carelock started making utilitarian pots to share while dining with family for holidays and other gatherings. She discusses the process for handbuilding and embellishing the surface of an oval, lidded dish that she developed for special occasions and everyday meals alike. For her, the form’s purpose includes containing and serving recipes like French-toast casserole, as well as strengthening family connections.

Spotlight artist Wendy Eggerman talks about making a bread crock for personal use, and the way that experience led to creating a lasting memory with her dad. Though she had originally been focused on the utility of storing fresh loaves, this piece tells a story every time she uses it, which is what she hopes the pots she makes for others do as well. 

A personal connection to Richard Bateson, who got his start as a production potter at the beginning of the 20th century, compelled potter Lee Cartledge to do some historical research. Cartledge’s account of Bateson’s career demonstrates a shift in thinking as industrial use of handmade ceramic items waned. Along with potters’ roles, attitudes about handmade ceramics changed radically, from valuing pots that looked machine made to those meant to express handmade qualities.   

The artists featured in this issue strive for an evolving balance in their practices, using their skills to express creativity and ensuring the forms they make maintain both the passion for what they do and function in generative ways for their audiences.

- Jessica Knapp, Editor
Topics: Ceramic Artists