3 Ways Pottery Speaks

Enter the Inspirational Pottery and Book Pairings Giveaway (active until January 27th, 2017) and you could win one of our best Cosmic Mugs paired with a copy of “Body of Clay, Soul of Fire: Richard Bresnahan and the St. John’s Pottery” by Matthew Welch. This story tells how “Body of Clay, Soul of Fire” was the original reason I got into pottery.

“The Taste of Clay” is a short film that gives a sneak peak into the St. John’s Pottery. Bresnahan tells how there are three ways a finished pot speaks, if you watch about 24 minutes into the video:

“It’s one third the artist, it’s one third the material or the making and it’s one third the firing.”

Let’s look at examples of this idea. This wood fired bowl was a boring, white color before it was fired:

No glaze was applied by hand. The white clay blushed red/orange from being painted with fire during a 4 day wood firing in the College of St. Benedict wood kiln. Yellow/blue spots of glaze came from wood ashes, floating through the kiln like 2,400 degree F. snowflakes of glaze colors landing on the pots. This bowl is 100% food and dishwasher safe.

“Body of Clay, Soul of Fire” is filled with photos of even more colorful pots. The book sat across from my pottery wheel all through high school. Copying the St. John’s Pottery shapes and colors helped me create my first 100 pots.

These “Oceanscape Cups” that I made early in college (almost a decade ago) show how I even pretended to wood fire when I couldn’t, by placing these cups in piles of wood ashes to create the blue colors and blushes of yellow that resemble an ocean sunset. They were fired in a gas fueled kiln, not a wood kiln.

“Oceanscape Cups” Stoneware, Fired in piles of wood ashes, 2008

Cosmic Mugs are inspired by these ideas because I’m still chasing gorgeous, gradated, colorful surfaces, even though they are fired in highly controlled electric kilns. By imagining the potter as only ⅓ of the equation, it gives me a sense of reverence for the amazing complexity inherent to the ceramic process. Perfect Cosmic Mugs are the product of 5 complex glazes layered onto Stoneware clay, the mysteries of 2280-2389 degree F. kiln heat and the touch of my hand.

“But an excited Bresnahan holding up a recently fired bowl and pointing at its surface has greeted many visitors to the studio as well. Eyes wide with childlike wonder, he exclaims with palpable euphoria, ‘Look at this. Just look at this!’”

Stoked. Forward. Page 14. Saint John’s University Press. Collegeville, MN. 2010.

Photography by Nicole Pederson

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