Live with your Pottery

Guest Blog posting from Alex Forster: “Marketing Intern” and senior English major at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University. View his Linkedin Page here.

Recently, Joel pulled a mug off the counter of the Local Blend. Its lip had chipped, and he didn’t want people drinking from it anymore. The mug was one of the earliest pieces Joel had offered the Blend three years ago. And over the course of a thousand washings, handlings, and refills, the mug had started to wear the scars of a wounded soldier. Its chapped foot was tattooed with the number sixteen marking ounces, its curves were scratched from being passed across countertops, and its insides were browned with coffee stains. Almost no part except its speckled yellow skin was in the original condition. But instead of throwing the mug away, Joel discovered beauty in its scars. Now it sits like a trophy on a shelf in his office -a proud token to the life of pottery.

An early mug Joel brought to the Local Blend 3 years ago. Besides the chipped lip, the mug has a vertical hairline crack, chipped edges on the foot, and permanent coffee stains inside.
16 marks the mug ounce size, drawn with permanent marker 3 years ago so a Local Blend employee knew what drink size to make.

Every pot tells a story. And like people, we can learn a lot about our pottery by looking at its history. One of Joel’s friends, a fellow potter named Matthew Mejia, recently shared these words of wisdom on Joel’s Facebook page. They come from the Pennsylvania potter Jack Troy. He writes, “My feeling is that we potters finish our work, but only others can complete it, through use. Pottery, therefore, is only finished once, but can be completed endlessly, by a succession of users, keeping it active in a variety of settings. When we say we are ‘moved’ by a pot, it may be the animating force of its creator refusing to be still.”

Joel tries to emulate this mindset in his pottery installations at places like the Local Blend. In one of our earliest conversations, he said to me, “Surround yourself with pottery.” When we bring pottery into our lives, we ourselves become artists. Like the mug at the Local Blend, our lives scar little memories into the artwork. A chip in the lip may remind us of a time when we tried to balance too many things at once. Coffee stains may remind us of long conversations with close friends, or perhaps, long nights and early mornings. Whatever the scars are, our pottery shares the story.

Even the best potters cannot create two completely identical pieces. Sure, a potter may make 100 or even 200 pieces of the same style, but each one has its own personality. Each pot reflects the mindset of the potter at one particular moment on the wheel. On the same shelf in Joel’s office, next to the mug from the Local Blend, sits a porcelain cup by the potter Steven Hill. Joel got this piece after Hill came to the Paramount Arts Center for a 2 day pottery workshop. What’s interesting about the cup is its imperfection. A little s-shaped scar on the inside of the cup shows that Hill speed dried it. A crack in the glaze near the foot says that Hill had to reattach the part after it fell off during glazing. Even marks in the glaze itself show that Hill may have been rushing to get the piece finished before the end of the conference. Every part of the cup feels hurried.

The rough surface happened because Hill skipped the bisque firing, raw glazed the pot, then speed dried it.

Hill would probably regard this cup as “flawed,” and unlike Joel, I doubt he would exhibit it on his shelf of inspiring pieces. Many potters would never exhibit or sell a flawed pot, and most usually smash them. Joel, on the other hand, appreciates these flawed pieces for the stories they tell. For him, they hold life and personality -characteristics you can’t find in a machine made, or even a beautifully glazed, flawless pot.

When Hill glazed this cup, he accidentally ripped off the foot, then dipped it in glaze and stuck it back on. The hairline crack reminds Joel of this event.

Many of us, myself included, may feel like we need an art degree to understand a Salvador Dali painting or a Clase Oldenburg sculpture. But with pottery I feel it’s different. With pottery, our lives become the galleries. We not only bring the beauty of the art into our lives, but our lives make the art more beautiful. Potter Dick Lehman sums it up perfectly. When it comes to appreciating our pottery he writes, “Fine dinnerware has the potential for helping us to find, even though in a small way, affection for life and beauty in living.” So, the next time life requires pottery, take a moment to study its living history.

Every little scar in our pottery shares a story. Some are pleasant, some are unpleasant, but they are all important. Joel appreciates the flaws in his pottery for the important lessons they teach him. Below are some examples of these lessons.

Paige Dansinger and Joel Cherrico Collaboration, Artist Pottery, Stoneware Mug, 20141

This crack comes from “dunting” – a stress crack that happens when making pottery, but opens during the firing. The pot probably got bumped in travel, since Joel often drives to and from Minneapolis to get Paige Dansinger’s paintings on his pots and exhibit them in Gallery Paige.


Joel uses a wood ash glaze called Nuka, which gives his pots interesting and irregular qualities like surface pinholes. Nuka stains with coffee over time, allowing the pot’s character to evolve with the user. After getting banged around for 6 months in the Local Blend, this mug cracked and leaked. Employees wash the mugs up to 5 times per day, everyday, and sometimes a mug will hold up for over 2 years. Joel pulled this one from the Blend and quickly snapped a photo of the bleeding soldier.

Copper Red Pottery, Copper Red Vase, Gold Repair Pottery, S Crack, Joel Cherrico Pottery, 2013, Image1



This is an “S” crack that sometimes happens with hump throwing. Joel filled it with epoxy and metal leaf. Look at the amazing color the “S” crack has next to the Copper Red glaze.

Not Your Typical Cold Call: An Inspiring Conversation with an Elder Potter

Last Wednesday afternoon I was attaching some handles to mugs and I got a strange call from a number in New Hampshire. Normally I let out-of-state calls go to voicemail because it’s often spam. For some reason I decided to wipe the clay off my hands and pick up.

The man on the line was Bruce Dix. He was Google searching a potter named, “Hong Jae Pyo” and he discovered my work. He asked, “Have you ever met this guy? Did you host him at your studio?” I said, “Bruce I don’t really have a studio, today I’m making pottery in my 3rd floor apartment. I’m only 25, I got the pictures of Hong Jae Pyo from a friend and just put them on my facebook.” Then Bruce said, “Oh so you’re a young guy, huh? Well I’m 65 and I’ve been a potter my whole life. I’ve gotta give you some advice while I’ve got you on the phone.”

This was the start of an hour long conversation about Bruce’s life as a potter.

The internet is so crazy. Hong Jae Pyo was a Korean potter practicing Yi Dynasty ceramics, and he toured the U.S. in the late 80’s. My only relation to him was by posting 2 images of his work on my Facebook page, because I’m really interested in his Copper Red glazes…we’ve never met, we’re not “tagged” together in any pictures. I simply typed “Hong Jae Pyo” as the image description and it was enough for Bruce to find him in Google, find my phone number on my website, and shoot me a call.

Hong Jae Pyo, Pottery Throwing Demonstration, photo by Kenneth Furber    Hong Jae Pyo, Pottery Throwing Demonstration, photo by Kenneth Furber, 2

Bruce went on to describe the time he spent with Hong Jae Pyo and 2 other Korean potters that were on tour with him.

“They were traveling to colleges to give demonstrations, eating Coke and Pizza, I could tell that they were really uncomfortable. They lived in small Korean villages with locally grown, good food. I invited them back to my place and cooked them a feast.”

Bruce went on about the potters. “I had porcelain, stoneware, and terra cotta. Each potter used a different clay and we made pots for days. They spent time by the ocean, walked around outside, away from the city. They were really humble, nice people.”

Our conversation shifted to Bruce’s life and his desire to give me advice. I don’t remember everything he said word for word, but here’s what I took away from our conversation:

Pottery Insurance

“Take your best piece from each firing – the jewel – and put it in a box. In 20 years, you’ll have a show of these pots in New York City, sell $100,000 and be able to retire. Plus, you can pull these pieces out from time to time for inspiration. It shouldn’t be hard to keep from selling these pots right away. You have family heirlooms, you don’t try to sell these, right?”

$0.25 Mugs

“When I was your age, I sold my mugs for 25 cents each. If you can get $25 per mug then you’re doing great, keep going!”

No Art Festivals

Bruce never did a single craft fair.


“Eventually all of your customers will come to you, it just takes time- years and years. Try unconventional ways to sell your pots. Call one of the big banks in your city and politely ask to speak with someone in charge of marketing and corporate gifts. Put on a white, clean shirt, white pants, and bring them some of your pots.”

Colleagues, Not Competitors

“You should never have competitors, you’re never competing against other potters. Find the potters that you have similarities with and spend your time with these potters.”

Ignore Criticism

“As your career builds, you’ll start to get a lot more criticism. Ignore people who criticize your work. Don’t let it bring you down, just go find like-minded potters.”


You won’t find Bruce’s work online, he’s not interested in giving up privacy to get his pots out into the world.

Special thanks to Ken Ferber for originally sharing the images of Kong Jae Pyo that he snapped during a 1988 workshop. Ken let me photograph his images, as well as sections of a book that he bought during the workshop.

Joel Cherrico Blog Post, Bruce Dix, Kenneth Ferber, Rolling Stone, Jimi Hendrix, 01    Joel Cherrico Blog Post, Bruce Dix, Kenneth Ferber, Rolling Stone, Jimi Hendrix, 02 Joel Cherrico Blog Post, Bruce Dix, Kenneth Ferber, Rolling Stone, Jimi Hendrix, 03      Joel Cherrico Blog Post, Bruce Dix, Kenneth Ferber, Rolling Stone, Jimi Hendrix, 04 Joel Cherrico Blog Post, Bruce Dix, Kenneth Ferber, Rolling Stone, Jimi Hendrix, 05     Joel Cherrico Blog Post, Bruce Dix, Kenneth Ferber, Rolling Stone, Jimi Hendrix, 10

Wood Firing Pottery in Saggars

“‘Let the pots speak,’ Mackenzie often says. He’s right: the pots do speak. In their materials they speak of the earth. In their glazes, you will find water, clouds, the colors of the seasons.” – David Lewis, Warren Mackenzie: An American PotterKodansha International, New York: 1991.

Oceanscape Cups, Stoneware, wood ash glaze, cobalt stain, gas fired, reduction, saggar fired in wood ashes, 2008.

Wikipedia gives a pretty good definition of a saggar. They were used historically for stacking pots in kilns before kiln shelves were invented. Saggars are essentially containers that hold pots in the kiln, while offering an opportunity to affect color. Inspired by this concept, I’ve been experimenting with efficient ways to stack my pots for wood firings, because wood fired pots can be “tumble stacked” on top of each other. I made a new series of wood fired vases, accompanied by planters that acted as a type of saggar for each vase.

Before the firing, I poured a pile of wood ashes into each planter. The ashes melted during the firing and naturally glazed the pots, as you can see on these pieces below that were photographed during the unloading of the S. Dennis Wood Kiln on the College of St. Benedict campus. This was the 2nd firing of the kiln, which was built last summer. Check out this cool article and video about the history of the kiln, featuring my old college professor Sam Johnson:

Wood Fired Stoneware Pottery, Sagger fired vases in planters 1      Wood Fired Stoneware Pottery, Sagger fired vases in planters 2      Wood Fired Stoneware Pottery, Sagger fired vases in planters 3

The tray underneath this planter was made to catch water when the pot is planted and finished, but it also worked to keep the pile of ashes from spilling out the bottom hole in the planter. These 2 images below show how the inside of the planter and tray picked up some nice blue-gray hues from the ashes.

Wood Fired Stoneware Pottery Planter Tray, Ash Glazing        Wood Fired Stoneware Pottery Planter Tray, Ash Glazing from Sagger firing

The vases picked up color in about 4 different ways: 1.) the blue-gray bottom from being completely covered in ash, 2.) orange flashing due to flame painting the clay surface, 3.) a dusting of fly ash floating through the kiln, and 4.) greenish, drippy splotches higher up on the vases.

Wood Fired Stoneware Pottery Vases, natural ash glaze 1     Wood Fired Stoneware Pottery Vases, natural ash glaze 2   Wood Fired Stoneware Pottery Vases, natural ash glaze 3 Wood Fired Stoneware Pottery Vases, natural ash glaze 4

This detail shot shows a close up of the greenish, drippy splotches. I think these are really unique marks because they came from fine particles of ash that stuck to the shoulder of the vase while I was pouring ash into the planter/saggar. The ash sat on the vase until it melted into a green glaze at high temperature, providing some nice texture and color contrast.

During the wood firing, flame and ashes surrounded the pottery for about 3 days. Most of my vases and planters were near the bottom of the kiln where charcoal built up as we stoked plank after plank of wood into the kiln. The charcoal burned down into ashes, and these pots resulted with similar effects as the planters/saggars that I filled with wood ash. These two pots below were partly buried in charcoal. The blue side is the face of the pot that was covered with coals, while the brown or orange sides were colored by the flame path.

Wood Fired Stoneware Pottery Vases, natural ash glaze 5      Wood Fired Stoneware Pottery Planter

Dick Lehman wrote about these types of surfaces in a 2004 Ceramics Monthly article titled, “Towards a Vocabulary for Wood-Fired Effects.” He referenced Japanese words that have been developed over hundreds of years, and he used these words to describe certain types of wood fired surfaces on his pots. I enjoyed how he gave names to wood fired surfaces because I like the idea of being able to identify and recognize effects from the kiln. He tells how these terms provide “visual literacy,” which is probably much more helpful than the “green drippy splotches” that I described above.

Glazing Ceramics with Wood Ashes: My Version of the Japanese Nuka Glaze

The Nuka glaze originated in Japan centuries ago. Potters traditionally made the glaze by using ashes from burnt rice hulls. These ashes were high in Silica, which is a glass former, so some Nuka glazes could be made with almost entirely ash.

Phil Rogers describes the Nuka glaze in his book “Ash Glazes” along with a huge variety of other glazes. I learned many of my glazing techniques from this book, like creating custom glazes from raw materials which is how I develop all of my glazes.

Check out the awesome Nuka glazed bottle below, made by Japanese folk potter Shoji Hamada. He was renowned for making skillfully crafted pottery inspired by his natural surroundings, and made with natural materials that he harvested locally. This Nuka was made with 50/50 ash and stone, and a black Tenmoku was brushed over.

Press-Moulded Bottle, Shoji Hamada, 1963, from “Ash Glazes” by Phil Rogers, pg. 19

Ash as a Glaze Ingredient

Every other year, I pick up about 200 gallons of wood ash from my friend who heats his family’s home with wood furnace.  He harvests most wood from deadfall trees in the St. John’s Arboretum. I like using this ash because it’s a natural material that I can get from a local waste source. It’s also free, but takes a lot processing to get rid of all the charcoal and debris. The image below shows some tools I made to sift the ashes through 12, and then 40 mesh screens.

Developing Glaze Recipes

I’ve spent about three years developing recipes for my Nuka glaze. Technically, it many not be a ‘Nuka’ anymore due to all the materials I’ve added. I still call it a Nuka because I’m inspired by the materials and surfaces used historically, but my glaze has become pretty complex.

Traditionally, Nuka glazes were fired hotter than most glazes. While I was still in school at CSB/SJU, my professor Sam Johnson and I got great results with the Nuka when firing upwards of cone 12, or over 2500 degrees F. Since graduation, I’ve lowered the temperature to cone 10, or just under 2400 degrees F. I did this by using line blend testing. I could write another blog post on line blend glaze testing, so for now I’ll just refer you back to Phil Rogers, “Ash Glazes.”

For all you potter readers, here’s my Glossy Nuka glaze recipe for cone 10. If you dry-sift ashes through a window screen you could probably get similar results. I keep this glaze at about 145 specific gravity to keep it from dripping off the pots:

Glossy Nuka Parts Percentage
Wood Ash – dry sifted 33 18.5
Custer Feldspar 50 28.1
Silica (325 mesh Flint) 30 16.9
Frit 3134 15 8.4
Whiting (High Purity) 20 11.2
Bone Ash 10 5.6
Bentonite 10 5.6
Talc 10 5.6
total 178 100.0

Brushing Iron and Cobalt

I accent each pot with iron or cobalt washes on the rim. These naturally drip down each pot during the firing, creating a surface that reminds me of wet paint. I like to think of each pot as a canvas for glaze. The cup on the left was also electric fired at cone 10, while the mug on the right was gas fired. I think that the extreme oxidation of the electric kiln contributes to the crystal growth in the cup, which is highlighted by the iron as yellow specks.


The cups above were gas fired at cone 13, back in 2011. This is one of my favorite versions of the Nuka because of the glossy, milky surface and the color complexity of the iron drips. I’ve spent years adapting my new recipes to reproduce this surface, and I’ve discovered a huge variety of colors and textures within the Nuka color pallet. The lower cone 10 temperature has been a good challenge for this glaze, and I hope to develop a cone 6 Nuka in the near future.

I’m also exploring more ways the Nuka relates to my other 2 glaze choices: Copper Red and Tenmoku:

*Added November, 2016:

To view the most recent evolution of my Nuka Glazed “Standard Ware” pots, including “Nuka Cobalt” and “Nuka Iron” color pallets, view our online store: