Despite the fact that our passion for clay runs deep, we were probably not born knowing we wanted to be ceramic artists. Many of us, stumbled upon clay (and our lives were forever changed!).
In today’s post, I am sharing an excerpt from the April 2015 Ceramics Monthly, which focuses on artists who took on ceramics after established careers in very different fields. Carolanne Currier explains how she came to clay from a career as an investigator for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and how her previous career informs her work.- Jennifer Harnetty, editor.
From the FDA to Clay
Two years before I retired from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), I started thinking about what I was going to do with my time and energy when I no longer had a full-time job. I knew that I wanted to get involved in some artistic activity and to be connected with the natural world. I have a BA in Art from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, and an MA in Environmental Biology from Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, but aside from some volunteer work with environmental organizations, and dabbling in watercolor painting and black-and-white photography, I had put most of my environmental and artistic interests aside while I pursued my career in public health.
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One evening, a friend invited me to help glaze some bisqueware at a local pottery school. While glazing the work was fun, I was really intrigued by the people throwing forms on the wheel. Before the night was over, I had enrolled in an evening class. My initial goal was simply to become good enough to make myself a set of serviceable, handmade dishes; however, I quickly found that working with clay provided me with a good creative outlet. The real hook came when I was introduced to wood firing. I loved the tactile earthiness of the whole process. It felt primeval; working with mud, wood, and fire. I felt connected to the natural world. And I loved how the pots from the kiln told the story of the firing; the ash-and-flash surfaces recording the flame’s path, the pots’ location in the kiln, and the varying atmospheric conditions. The pots were solid, tangible records of the firing process. Working with clay and wood firing was the total opposite of my job of almost 30 years; a job where both the process and product were almost entirely intellectual. When I finally retired, I jumped into clay head first, and didn’t look back. I never really decided to make clay a second career. It simply became what I wanted to do with my life.
I am naturally curious about what goes on around me, and I enjoy challenges. Being an investigator for the FDA was a good fit for that curiosity. My job required that I review and determine the reliability of clinical data submitted to the agency in support of new drug marketing applications. The job was complex and demanded dealing with specialized technical knowledge as well as creative problem-solving. I have found those same demands in developing glaze and clay body formulations, and I admit I have thoroughly enjoyed conducting extensive tests to figure out what surfaces and color palette I like best.
In addition to the scientific research and problem-solving skills mentioned above, I think two other important skills I developed during my career in the FDA are patience and persistence. The FDA is part of one of the biggest bureaucracies in the world. One has to learn to persevere when faced with problems and also to be flexible and find alternative ways to obtain answers. I have certainly used those skills in developing my clays and testing different firing regimens. As far as my understanding of the materials in the ceramic studio, I have learned most of what I know about them in the last couple of years. There was very little overlap between the human-based science knowledge I needed for the FDA and that which I need for ceramics. However, when, mid-career, I decided to go back to school and get a master’s degree in environmental biology, the courses required for that degree intensified both my love of science in general, and my love of the natural world.
To learn more about Carolanne Currier, her artwork, her soda-firing and studio processes, and for a few glaze and slip recipes, check out the April 2015 issue of Ceramics Monthly to read the complete article.