As ceramic artists, we all work with clay in one form or another, and the material has personal meaning for each of us. When we touch clay, it moves us. There’s a feeling of coming home, a sense of joy, and a recognition of possibility and collaborative communication. We see an opportunity for expression and discovery through the process of making.
I often think about what leads each of us to choose to work with a specific type of clay (like stoneware, earthenware, or porcelain and the many individual clay bodies within those larger categories). The choices we make can be based on access and proximity (take those who use wild clays, for example), properties like color and plasticity, or preferred building and finishing techniques. We may also choose a clay body because its cultural associations and connotations (based on historical use and significance, traditions, perceived value, etc.) complement our chosen subject matter.
In this issue, we focus on artists who work with iron-rich clays, exploring both their aesthetic qualities and conceptual possibilities. Objects made from high-iron clay—with tones from red to dark brown, firing from earthenware to mid-range temperatures and beyond—surround us, visible in architecture, infrastructure, and industry, as well as vessels and sculptures from prehistory to today. Several of the featured artists were drawn to iron-rich clay due to this widespread use and the related perception of earthenware as a common material. Mark Arnold, Cybèle Beaudoin-Pilon, Tina Curry (who also works with stoneware), and Kat West find iron-rich, red clays to be more approachable and less precious. They use the color of the clay, combined with layers of terra sigillata or alternative firing techniques to create surfaces with depth and patination, expressing ideas of touch, use, and the passage of time. Salvador Jiménez-Flores and Virgil Ortiz work with red clay to connect with and continue ancestral traditions and celebrate BIPOC and immigrant experiences.
This issue also includes our annual readership-wide contest. While the editorial staff focuses on staying informed about developments in the field and expanding our knowledge of contemporary artists, these contests introduce us to great work by folks who are new to us, as well as different bodies of work by people familiar to us.
From over 325 submissions, we selected 21 artists whose works exemplified different interpretations of the theme “Elemental.” When discussing the various meanings of the word, we thought about works that are inspired by the earth, things essential to daily life, or the foundational elements of design. Specific interpretations included geological processes; ecological interdependence; local materials; beliefs, myths and legends; processes of transformation; balance and movement; hand work; traditional forms, abstraction; and common experiences.
As fellow artists, the editorial staff understands from personal experience the vulnerability and anticipation involved in applying for opportunities to show work, and we thank everyone who submitted applications for consideration. We are incredibly excited to share the work of all of the artists in this issue with you. As you explore the vessels, sculptures, and installations presented on these pages, take the time to ask yourself about how materials and meaning are intertwined in your own work. You may make some great discoveries.