Tag Archives: Visual Arts

Meetup.com for ceramics & pottery

North America from low orbiting satellite Suomi NPP

A ‘Blue Marble’ image of the Earth. By NASA via Wikimedia Commons

Do something • Learn something • Share something
• Change something — Meetup.com

I loved the idea of meetup.com from the get-go and joined some time ago, taking part in a few local groups I learned about through it. It’s a wonderful site and concept! Such a good way to connect people who are interested in the same things. Like usual, I arrived at this post idea by traveling a circuitous route. Last night, I was looking at real estate in the area around my birthplace. I had such a fun time and the prices are so good that I wish I could buy a classic Florida cottage. While on the Florida theme, I decided to look up ceramics action there. That led me to one of the groups below. That made me curious, so I looked up other meetups related to the topic. After perusing group after group, I started developing some guidelines about what I would or wouldn’t include in this post. For instance, I left out all groups that promoted classes only, as they seemed to be more about advertising than communication. Also, some seem inactive; I can’t tell if they have been meeting recently but I included some of them anyway. Then, I decided to include groups of artisans of all persuasions who meet to talk turkey. To me, there is something so exciting about that…people who go out of their way to meet with others to talk about art or work on art together. (Some of these groups sound exactly like one I founded four years ago, private, with a rotating leadership.) And, though it is hot stuff, at present, I did not include groups for people who paint pottery. This post is for people who make and decorate their own work. (I really regretted not including The Chicago Rebel Craft League, which I liked because of its great name, spunk, and well-designed site.) The groups below are listed alphabetically by country, then province or state, then city or town. Included is info on when it was founded, membership numbers and activity data.

AUSTRALIAN MEETUPS

SYDNEY, NEW SOUTH WALES
P-plate Project: handmade pottery 4 people, pets & plants; Founded Jun 30, 2012; 23 P-platers; 3 Past Meetups; 1 Upcoming Meetup

“Hand make your own pottery for family, friends and home. We use hand building techniques to make our pots and share coffee while getting to know new people in an open, relaxed, pet friendly community garden. All levels of experience welcome.

Please be aware there are NO electric wheels available, we only make by hand.
Weekly fee of $12/person includes clay, use of tools and underglaze colours followed by a sealant coat of foodsafe, clear kiln fired glaze.

Children may attend if fully supervised by a parent. Love to meet you and see some ‘mud’ on your hands!!”

CANADIAN MEETUPS

VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA
Vancouver Contemporary Artists
; Founded Mar 17, 2010; 242 artists, 60 Past Meetups; 1 Upcoming Meetup

“The Vancouver Contemporary Artists is a group of active professional and passionate visual artists, (The visual arts are art forms that create works which are primarily visual in nature, such as painting, ceramics, drawing, sculpture, architecture, printmaking, photography) who work in their studios and would like to get together with other artists alike to talk about art, their work and other artists’ works, who would like to have studio visits for viewing, discussion and critique, and who would like to be actively involved in the art community (opening exhibition, gallery visits).”

ITALIAN MEETUPS

San Gemini, Umbria
San Gemini Historic Preservation Studies; Founded Dec 20, 2007; 152 members; 7 Past Meetups

“San Gemini Historic Preservation Program. Field School for Art, Architecture and Landscape Restoration. Umbria, Italy. This meetup site is an online place for students, faculty, alumni and prospective students of the San Gemini Historic Preservation Program to keep in touch and exchange, ideas and experiences.”

UNITED KINGDOM MEETUPS

BRIGHTON, SUSSEX
Creative Arts Brighton; Founded Jul 28, 2010; 477 creatives; 242 Past Meetups; 9 Upcoming Meetups

“Creative Arts Brighton is a meetup group for people interested in all things creative.

Our meetups are suggested and organised by members who are willing to share their creative skills & ideas. In previous meetups we have got together to sketch, paint, sculpt, write, print, knit, visit local artists studios and exhibitions, and sometimes just to chat about arty things.

Feel free to have a look through our photo albums to get a feel for how we do things. We are a very friendly creative bunch so please do come along to one of our meetups.”

APPLETON, CHESHIRE
The Warrington Art Network
; Founded Sep 22, 2011; 14 artists; 3 Past Meetups

“This group aims to:

  • Connect people with an interest in producing art.
  • To be a forum for sharing information about what local art events are coming up.
  • To organise trips to galleries, museums, art film screenings, …
  • To organise taster sessions for glass art, print making, etc.
  • Inspire and motivate each other into producing more art, and improve our skills.
  • To be a repository of links to useful resources.

While this group hopes to attract artists from all disciplines. The current organiser’s key interests are Glass art, Ceramics, painting and sketching. If this group currently isn’t serving your area of interest very well, then you are invited to put forward suggestions for meetups, and even become part of the organising team – So making this group a magnet for people who share your art interests.”

UNITED STATES MEETUPS

ENCINO, CALIFORNIA
L A Visual Artists; Founded Apr 29, 2012; 106 artists; 7 Past Meetups

“This is a group for emerging and professional visual artists: painters, sculptors, photographers, digital artists, etc.

Let’s get together and plan group shows, citywide open studios days, plein air sessions, friendly critiques to help each other, artist dinners, etc.”

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
The Los Angeles Art Group; Founded Oct 23, 2006; 1,415 members; 31 Past Meetups; 1 Upcoming Meetup

“The Los Angeles Art Group is a community for Artists, Writers, Poets, Musicians, Entertainers and Art lovers.   We encourage, support, and inspire each other to achieve our goals and enrich our community.

All types of art and entertainment lovers are welcome, including painters, photographers, sculptors, conceptual artists, performance artists, filmmakers, graphic designers, etc.

Jump on board and let’s create, inspire, and grow together.”

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA
Art That Fires Your Soul/ Sac. region; Founded Dec 23, 2011; 38 artists; 2 Past Meetups

“A place for fellow artists to let flow creative ideas, experiences, juices and yes, even failures. (Without which there would be no serendipity) Followers of bright & shiny things, Glass/Ceramisc/Metals/Combinations Thereof… Artists who want to mix, match, experiment with, push that silly envelope! And who want to play with others who do too.

So if you,

Weld, Fuse, Enamel, Blow, Fire, Torch, Solder, Put anything in a Kiln, in a Pit or in a Hot Box or are thinking about it, this is the forum/ group you have been looking for.

Inspiration is Hot”

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA
Friendly Fire; Founded Aug 3, 2010; 11 ceramists, 3 Past Meetups; 1 Upcoming Meetup

“To Experiment in primitive firing processes and share knowledge with others.”

ATLANTA, GEORGIA
Atl N.CERAMICS PAINTING POTTERY HANDBUILDING & SCULPTURE; Founded Aug. 8, 2007; Clay lovers; 622 Past Meetups; 6 Upcoming Meetups; $10.00 per year

“The purpose for this group is to get together, Is to be able to have fun creating  and trade tips in a laid back working studio atmosphere .

Enjoy creating something from clay. Hand build, sculpt or throw something on the wheel.
You can do slab work, slump, fold, pinch, coil or work with extruded forms… You can learn to make your own molds or stamps or Paint Pottery that is already made

Any who has an interest in the arts is welcome to visit  weather you want play, watch or  commission a custom order or many clays  porcelains  stone ware  are in stock.

All skill levels welcomed

FREE OPEN STUDIO – you are more than welcome to come on over .
Hang out or and work with friends or by yourself as long as Joanne is available

Materials and low Firing changes may apply.”

SMYRNA, GEORGIA
handMade in the A!; Founded Jun 10, 2012; 30 artists; 1 Past Meetup; 3 Upcoming Meetups

“This group is for artists and crafters of homemade, handcrafted, authentic, unique, unusual, one-of-a-kind, and original art and crafts.  It doesn’t matter if you’re experienced, just starting out, or somewhere in between, we can all learn from each other.  We’re a community of like-minded individuals and we help each other grow as artists and artrepreneuers through networking, sharing knowledge, exchanging ideas, and providing information to help grow, market, and sell our work.  For more info. see the Pages section on the group page.”

HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA
South Florida Ceramic Arts Meetup Group; Founded Aug 27, 2007 ; 287 members; 124 Past Meetups; 2 Upcoming Meetups

“Learn about ceramics and pottery. You don’t have to just paint it, you can make it and we can show you how!

I want to re-vive a dying breed of do-it-yourselfer’s and artist alike.

This meetup is for anyone with or without experience in ceramics and working with clay, it is even for crafters wanting to make their own beads or for people that just want to get dirty. This meetup is for you!

WANTED: All those who enjoy making something from nothing, just being hands-on and, of course, having good clean dirty fun will love this meetup.”

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA
Pottery for Progress; Founded Mar 4, 2010; 73 potters; 3 Past Meetups

“A group devoted to creating a better life for everyone through the medium of clay.

We will try to meet 3-4 times or more each year at locations that accommodate the workshop.  We have raised money for the American Cancer Society and will be working on helping to raise money for kids in areas who lack art and other ways of positive expression.  By coming out to an event you are supporting the cause.  50% or more of what you give will go towards the efforts.  We will post pictures of the classes and locations.

No experience is needed.  Project descriptions will be posted as the agenda and location is chosen.  Come out to have fun and support a good cause.”

JERSEY CITY, NEW JERSEY
Jersey City Artists; Founded Jul 17, 2012; 23 artists; 4 Past Meetups; 4 Upcoming Meetups

“We would love to meet our neighbors and local artists of all kinds. Our community’s residents should pull together to not only grow as individual artist but as a team of creative people learning from and inspiring each other.Those involved can learn new skills, build a portfolio, or just hone their existing technique in an environment that fosters communication, even friendship, with others who have the same interests, talents or ideas.”

MONTCLAIR, NEW JERSEY
The Creative Women’s Collective; Founded Apr 6, 2008; 122 members; 59 Past Meetups; 1 Upcoming Meetup

“Meet with other people who create and sell handcrafted products, arts, and/or crafts. If you are an artist, artisan or crafter this will be a great opportunity for you to meet similar talented creatives! Each meeting we will focus on something we need to know, like websites and ecommerce, accounting, pricing, shows, exhibiting our work… etc. We will also plan the Artisan Gift Market 2012, a holiday gift fair in December. Our 9th year!!!”

AUSTIN, TEXAS
FirePit Ceramics; Founded Sep 18, 2011; 28 ceramists; 2 Past Meetups

“We are a group surrounding pottery and ceramics and art in general.”

Austin Working Artists; Founded Sep 12, 2011; 142 working artists; 12 Past Meetups; 1 Upcoming Meetup

“This group was started because many artists in Austin are less interested in chatting about their art (though it’s loads of fun and will be part of all future meetups) and more interested in creating and selling it. The purpose of the group is to develop new venues to display and sell visual art. The people who will join this group are primarily working artists who may not make a living or work full-time at it, but have ambitions to do so or at least keep art as a major part of their lives.”

“What is wonderful about fired clay is that it is an inherently honest material. It is exactly what it purports to be.”   — Peter Soucy

 



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James Melchert & Ceramics: Smithsonian oral history interview, Part 2

A seated Jim Melchert performs “Changes: A Performance with Drying Slip.” According to the Craft Council, “he and art and design colleagues dip their heads in liquid clay and sit in a studio cooled at one end, heated at the other, to experience the effects of slip drying. “

Oral history interview with James Melchert, 2002 Sept. 18-Oct. 19

Melchert, Jim, b. 1930 
Sculptor, Art teacher, Ceramicist
 Oakland, Calif.

Oral history interview with James Melchert, 2002 Sept. 18-Oct. 19, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Preface

Melchert speaks of his decision to pursue painting instead of educational psychology; his introduction to ceramics while learning to teach it at a small college in Illinois; taking a summer course with Pete Voulkos; moving to California and working as Voulkos studio assistant at the University of California, Berkeley; his friendship with John Mason, another potter; the difference between the philosophies of Mason and Voulkos; teaching at the Art Institute in San Francisco; and the book Exercises in Style [Raymond Queneau], upon which he based his series of (3z(Ba(3y(Bs.

Melchert also discusses several of the group exhibitions he has been involved with; John Cage and the influence of Silence; his interest in photography; the similarities and differences between his early work and more recent work; working with tiles; his teaching techniques and how he engaged his students; the is craft art question; the Milwaukee Art Museum; and the function of pottery. He also recalls Steve DeStaebler, Manuel Neri, Nate Olivera, Joan Brown, Henry Takemoto, Michael Frimkiss, Richard Koshalek, Bob Irwin, Bob Arneson, Bruce Nauman, Russell Lynes, Garth Clark, Suzanne Foley, Richard Shaw, Marilyn Levine, Theresa Cha, Jim Pomeroy, and others.

Interview (cont.)

MR. PRITIKIN: So influence is kind of over, to some extent. Would you leave it at Mason and Voulkos, or would you throw in Wiley or Nauman, or is it just those two guys?
MR. MELCHERT: I would say – [pause] – I think I was interested very much by Wiley. And Nauman. At the time we did the “Slant Step Show” [1966, Berkeley Gallery, San Francisco, CA], that was actually a terrific period. I don’t remember anymore what year that was, but there was a group of us who got together often up in Mill Valley, a group to which Wiley was central. And there would be volleyball games, there would be Sunday picnics, we’d bring all the kids, and so on. Bill Allen, I remember, came back from the state of Washington, and there was a wit in Allen’s work that I was quite taken with. And when we did the “Slant Step Show,” we worked – we planned it together for quite a while, and to a certain extent, we were – everybody was learning from everybody else.
And a show that followed, that I wasn’t part of, sort of continued some of that series of exchanges. And that was the “Repair Show” at the Oakland Museum that I think Bill Allen was the principle person behind. And it had to do with making a work based on the notion of repair; something needs fixing. And it was a very funny show. I mean, it was the sort of thing where you’d – a lot of chuckles. But what I liked about Wiley and Allen was the way in which they didn’t deal with art issues; it was the things about everyday life that they’re so curious about and played with. So I was definitely influenced by them.
Now, I know you’re supposed to have one mentor, but I can name several, and even people outside the art world. I think it took me longer to grow up than most people. I know in college I was very green. But there was so much that I needed to know all the time, and somehow I was always looking for somebody to teach me how to do this or teach me how to do that. So maybe instead of calling them mentors I should call them just teachers.
MR. PRITIKIN: So who, outside of the art world?
MR. MELCHERT: Oh, for example, I think I learned quite a bit from Russell Lynes, who was editor of Harper’s for many, many years.

MR. PRITIKIN: L-I-N-E-S?
MR. MELCHERT: L-Y-N-E-S. Russell Lynes was on the board for the American Academy in Rome. And Russell had a spare room in the house that had been intended as the maid’s room. And whenever I was in New York during my Rome days, I could stay there. And I’d be there, actually, two months out of the year, February and July.
But Russell and I became great friends. But he had many thoughts about, particularly, the decorative arts that I paid attention to. I liked the way he thought about things. I liked the way he wrote about things. And I think my writing improved from reading Russell Lynes. He knew a lot about architecture and architects as a lay person. So I would have –
MR. PRITIKIN: What was his area of expertise? Or was he an editor?
MR. MELCHERT: He was primarily a writer. He had a column –
MR. PRITIKIN: A journalist?
MR. MELCHERT: Well, in a sense. He wrote for some architecture digest for many, many years; he had a column. And before that he had been with Harper’s, I think it was.
MR. PRITIKIN: Was he a critic?
MR. MELCHERT: Primarily editor.
MR. PRITIKIN: Editor/critic?
MR. MELCHERT: Editor, critic, columnist.
MR. PRITIKIN: I have a few ideas I wanted to point out.
MR. MELCHERT: Go ahead.
MR. PRITIKIN: One is that there is this very literary thread coming at this point, in the ’60s.
MR. MELCHERT: Mm-hmm. True.
MR. PRITIKIN: Two, your involvement with the Wiley circle, was this the beginning of the end of you being a, quote, ceramic artist?
MR. MELCHERT: Okay. I can remember a point at which I was trying to think in terms of rooms as opposed to doing an object that would probably be seen in an interior. I wanted to think in terms of the space and then make objects that somehow energized the space, or worked with the space.
MR. PRITIKIN: Where did that idea come from?
MR. MELCHERT: I think that came from contact with Bruce. One of the first things of his – one of the first performances of his that I remember was one he told me about that he’d done at the Whitney in New York, where he stood near the wall and would just fall into the wall. And he’d stand back up and he’d fall. And of course, he started hurting himself, but nevertheless, it was this relation to the space. And I found that so intriguing.
And often there would be things that I would hear that I didn’t understand; I couldn’t fathom. So I just had to work at it, you know, and I’d keep thinking about these things and so on. And you can’t be making objects that are somewhat, like, isolated and unrelated to other things and be thinking about this other stuff.
One of the first series of pieces that I did – oh, I haven’t mentioned John Cage. Goodness. Reading Silence [Silence; Lectures and Writings. Middleton, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press,1961] really had a big effect on me. And that came during these same years.
MR. PRITIKIN: You met John in the ’60s.
MR. MELCHERT: I met him in the ’60s, and met him more often in the ’70s. But the book Silence had a profound effect on me. The interesting thing is, I came across it, oh, sometime in the last couple years, and I said, “Oh, I’ve just got to reread this,” and I couldn’t find anything in there that said anything to me, whereas initially it was so loaded.
MR. PRITIKIN: Does that mean it was – it’s become – it was so seminal that it became self-evident, or that you’ve outgrown it?
MR. MELCHERT: No, I think what happened, later it was – I was always told that you had to read – there’s a Thomas Wolfe book, not You Can’t Go Home Again – what’s the other one, big one? In any event, there’s a novel by Thomas Wolfe that you shouldn’t bother reading once you’re past 18. Well, I felt that there was a time when I really connected with what was in Silence.
And I found two ways in which I could, with an object, engage the room. I did pieces that had to do with shadows, where, using ambient light, a piece could change throughout the day, because my objects on it simply cast shadows. They were there to cast shadows.
MR. PRITIKIN: These were still ceramics objects?
MR. MELCHERT: They were still ceramic objects. There’s one right next to you there. You see there’s a cup on the thing? Well, on the slab itself is the word “Listen.” The cup is a little like this only, curiously, it’s turned down, and there’s a little thing in there.
But I did shadow pieces.
MR. PRITIKIN: So that was one way –
MR. MELCHERT: That was one way.
MR. PRITIKIN: – and you said there was a second.
MR. MELCHERT: The other was – we listened to things. And another that I did – Rene de Rosa has one of these pieces.
I got very interested in photography, not photography the way a photographer would, but photographs. I didn’t get interested in photography; I got interested in photographs. And I couldn’t get over the notion that you have a positive and you have a negative, and your negative is as positive as the positive. That was intriguing.
Well, anyway, we had a little darkroom, and I used to print pictures of the kids all the time and stuff. I did go around the house and take pictures and then print them out. I did a short series of slabs that were square, and it would be – I would make on it something that was like a photograph you’d take. There’d be a hand and there’d be an ashtray, and there might be a cup in there, as though it were a photograph taken of a table, only it was three-dimensional. And then there would be a square within it where it was actually colored, and that’s where the ashtray was.

Now, there always had to be a hand in this, but the hand was in the part that – it was in the negative, and this is what you didn’t print, and therefore it would never change and would never become positive. But the part that was in the colored area, the ashtray, was part of our world because it had been printed. Well, what – you were to use the ashtray. In those days, we all smoked, so you’d put your hand near the ashtray to flick the ash off your cigarette, and your hand would complete this situation. Anyway, it was a series that nobody would know what to do with because we don’t smoke, you know. [Laughs.]
But it had to do with the piece coming alive only when being completed, only when it was being used. And you had to be able to see that here was the potential. There was always potential, and never realized.
MR. PRITIKIN: So you were bringing conceptual and environmental installation ideas into the ceramics.
MR. MELCHERT: Yeah, into the ceramics, yeah. And that’s also part of the ’60s.
MR. PRITIKIN: Right.
MR. MELCHERT: Yeah. Now, in the ’70s, when I stopped working with clay completely, was – my last series was with the “a’s”, variations on “a’s”, lower-case “a’s.” That was when I began using a camera to photograph things from two positions, so that I called the series “Points of View.” It was like your eyes: you need both to understand what’s going on. And what I found was so interesting was that if you’re imagining a clock face, if one person was at 6:00 and the other was at 3:00, and you’re both shooting what was going on in the center, you would have two totally different images. And so it’s juxtaposing them. I had a wonderful time with that series. I just loved it.
MR. PRITIKIN: Was that the first totally conceptual photo-based –
MR. MELCHERT: Yeah.
MR. PRITIKIN: And this was the early ’70s?
MR. MELCHERT: Yes. Probably starting around ’71 I was starting it.
MR. PRITIKIN: Did you get any grief from your colleagues?
MR. MELCHERT: Oh, yes. Yes. The major writer in the ceramics field is someone named Garth Clark. He’s written over a dozen books on ceramics. He has a gallery in New York. And anyway, he wrote in one of his – I was mentioned in one of his books, and he called me a turncoat.
MR. PRITIKIN: Like Bob Dylan going electric.
MR. MELCHERT: [Laughs.] Yes, something like that.
But, you know, I consider it timeout from clay, although I didn’t know it at the time. I just needed to deal with something that clay couldn’t help me with.
MR. PRITIKIN: That “timeout” became 20, 25 years.
MR. MELCHERT: No, it wasn’t quite that long. Probably more like 10 or 12, because when – I did a lot of drawing while we were in Washington – I had done rubbings, that’s right. In the ’70s I started doing rubbings as well. I would do a rubbing of a photograph. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that series.
MR. PRITIKIN: I think I have.
MR. MELCHERT: Yeah. I would just tape a photograph on the wall and then put paper over it and do a rubbing of it. And the object would register but, of course, not the image. And so then I would write below the photograph something having to do with what was in the picture, so that a person would project back into the image what they picked up from the writing. And it was, like, this kind of thing. [When Melchert showed these works at the University of New Mexico in 1983, they were announced as “graphite drawings,” but he has always referred to them as “graphite rubbings.”]
MR. PRITIKIN: So it’s that literary thread again.
MR. MELCHERT: Yes, that’s right. That’s right.
Well, in any event –
MR. PRITIKIN: I was asking about reaction to your taking this time-out. You did say something about getting in trouble at school. I guess we can talk about that when we talk about teaching. But did your –
MR. MELCHERT: Ohhhh, yes. That’s right. See, that also happened around 1970.
MR. PRITIKIN: I figured, yeah.
MR. MELCHERT: That’s right.
MR. PRITIKIN: But let’s do that later. But in terms of trying to stay on the subject of influences and the milieu and all that, I imagine your friends didn’t bat an eye, or they thought it was great.
MR. MELCHERT: Yeah.
MR. PRITIKIN: What did Voulkos think?
MR. MELCHERT: Well, he himself had left clay for a number of years and when he was doing bronzes, bronze casting. And then not only bronze, but other metal as well.
When I took a job at the arts endowment in January ’77, I think that was a bigger sort of break with friends than when I left clay.
MR. PRITIKIN: How about Mason? What did he think of the photography-based work?
MR. MELCHERT: John has always been very supportive. I saw a lot of him when I first went to Washington because he had moved to New York. He had tenure at Irvine, U.C. Irvine, and left it in the mid-’70s because he felt it was time for him to be in New York. And so he had a loft, and it was always available to me if I needed a place to stay. So I saw him often. He certainly never seemed to feel that I was doing anything I shouldn’t be doing. But what happens, though, like – when you get off the bus and you get back on later, you find that you don’t have a seat.
MR. PRITIKIN: [Laughs.] Yeah, I saw that in your writing; that when you came back from –
MR. MELCHERT: Oh, from Washington.
MR. PRITIKIN: From Rome.
MR. MELCHERT: From Rome. Oh, yes.
MR. PRITIKIN: Or was it from Washington?
MR. MELCHERT: From Washington – first Washington, and then later Rome as well. For example, when I came back from Washington, I had really lost a sense of continuity with my work. I’d been to Egypt, saw tile, and decided that I wanted to go back to clay and I would work with tile.
MR. PRITIKIN: So that was early ’80s.
MR. MELCHERT: Yeah, ’82.
MR. PRITIKIN: Yeah. Let’s finish up with the pre-Endowment, post-clay.
MR. MELCHERT: Yeah.
MR. PRITIKIN: I mean, you really moved into a new group – you know, Pomeroy, Jock Reynolds.
MR. MELCHERT: It was very different scene.
MR. PRITIKIN: Yeah, it was a different scene. Talk about that. Because that’s when I came on the pictures.
MR. MELCHERT: Yes. Yes. I was very active with – I was having installations, performances, and so on before I left, say, in the mid-’70s.
MR. PRITIKIN: The culmination, to me, was the slide show. Was that at MoMA [Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco]?
MR. MELCHERT: Yes.
MR. PRITIKIN: I mean, that was, like, a seminal show for you –
MR. MELCHERT: That’s right.
MR. PRITIKIN: – and for me as a young student.
MR. MELCHERT: That’s interesting. Sue [Suzanne] Foley did that show, and –
MR. PRITIKIN: Yeah, I saw her recently.
MR. MELCHERT: Did you really?
MR. PRITIKIN: Yeah. She looks exactly the same.
MR. MELCHERT: Yes. Well, she did me a great favor by seeing to it that I showed that work, the body of work.
MR. PRITIKIN: What was the name of that show?
MR. MELCHERT: “Points of View.” But Sue was also a curator who was very interested in, like, what young artists were doing, like performance and installation and so on. And it seems to me she was on your board.
MR. PRITIKIN: She was on my board, yeah. And she did the most important show, you know, “Space/Time/Sound,” that was probably done in San Francisco in that decade –
MR. MELCHERT: That’s right.
MR. PRITIKIN: – which got her fired.
MR. MELCHERT: Which got her fired. And yet, how necessary it was for it to be done.
MR. PRITIKIN: Yeah. But she never would have done a ceramics show.
MR. MELCHERT: Well, she did do – yes, she did a ceramics show. She did a wonderful show, as a matter of fact – talk about seminal – with Richard Shaw and Bob Hudson. She also then – I think she co-curated a show at the Whitney of, let’s say, five ceramic artists from the Bay Area.
MR. PRITIKIN: Yeah. I wasn’t saying that to be critical of her at all; I was trying to be provocative about the difference – or maybe it’s a question. Had you moved from a “square” to a “hip” field, or any of that? When you were starting, ceramics was where it was at, and now conceptual work was where it was at, and you had moved with the times to the more cutting-edge form.
MR. MELCHERT: I was just so curious about it.
MR. PRITIKIN: It sounds like your motivation as an artist is to satisfy your curiosity, and the form is not as important –
MR. MELCHERT: That’s right – that’s right. I mean, I never thought of myself as being disloyal to clay. Certainly by the time I got –
[tape stops, re-starts.]
MR. PRITIKIN: Okay, Jim. This is Renny Pritikin interviewing Jim Melchert at his studio in Oakland, California, on September 18, 2002, for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
We’re continuing our conversation of this day with one more question. We’re going to approach what are the similarities and differences between your early work and your recent work, I guess since you’ve retired, say, or since you took up tile work?
MR. MELCHERT: I think in the early work I tended to have an idea and then I’d pursue it with the clay, to some extent. And let’s say, for example – what would be an early work? – the Ghost series. I liked this idea of a box that would hold secrets, that it wouldn’t be an empty box. It’s just that you couldn’t see what was in it because there’s a secret. [Laughs.] And in a way, what got me started in that series was a head of Pete Voulkos, kind of caricature of him, that Nate Olivera made out of clay.
MR. PRITIKIN: Did he ever work in clay seriously?
MR. MELCHERT: He used to come down to the pot shop occasionally, across the street from Kroeber Hall. Where the museum is now, there was an old fraternity house that was converted into offices upstairs, and there was the pot shop in the basement.
MR. PRITIKIN: And that’s where they used to get in trouble with the police. [Laughs.]
MR. MELCHERT: That’s right; all that stuff, right.
Well, anyway, Nate would come down once in a while to talk with Pete. There was always a lot of banter. And a few times Nate actually made some pieces.
MR. PRITIKIN: I wonder if those are still existing.
MR. MELCHERT: There is one that he made that he gave to me, a big – about this big – with two faces on both sides, that I later gave to Mrs. Toki. She and her husband – T-O-K-I – her husband, they had Leslie Ceramics – it was Leslie Toki. But she admired Nate Olivera so much, and I thought, goodness, I shouldn’t have this piece; I should give it to her. But I think they still have it in their collection, although they could have lost it in the earthquake. But it’s a big thing.
Well, anyway, Nate did this caricature of Pete, of his head, and stuck it on top of the kiln where we used it as a kiln god.
MR. PRITIKIN: [Laughs.]
MR. MELCHERT: Then somehow, maybe a door slammed, you know, but it fell off the top and it broke. The cigar was gone and the face mashed a little. And I picked it up and fired it. And I had this head for a long time, and it ended up put in a time capsule at the university art museum put in the ground somewhere. Someday somebody will find it, with this little story attached.
But I was quite intrigued with that head. And one of the things that you just didn’t do in ceramics was to put, like, not a drawing of a face, but – how shall I say – a solid face, like Tobey Mugs or something. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen those. My mother collected them. They were some kind of mugs and pitchers that really was –
MR. PRITIKIN: More like a head.
MR. MELCHERT: Like a head. Well, I mean –
MR. PRITIKIN: T-O-B-E-Y?
MR. MELCHERT: Yeah. In any event, I –
MR. PRITIKIN: So that was, like, kitsch, to do that.
MR. MELCHERT: Yeah, that’s right. Exactly. But this head intrigued me, this –
MR. PRITIKIN: Arneson put an end to that, huh?
MR. MELCHERT: Pardon?
MR. PRITIKIN: Arneson put an end to that prejudice.
MR. MELCHERT: Yes, that’s right. He did put an end to it, indeed.
Well, I made a mold, a press mold, in which I could – a press mold is where you have your plaster form, then you press clay into it, pull the clay out, and you have something to start with. And so I would put these heads on the lid on the box, and each box would have a different theme. The first one, I remember – the first two were sort of sketches for what might follow. And out of it came a series where each box had a theme, had its own theme.
Now, I don’t work that way anymore because I’m not working with wet clay, for one thing. And also, I’ve been working with tile for quite a few years now, trying to see what can be done with it, and I’m finding that what intrigues me most about it now is that when you drop it and it breaks, the breaks reveal a structural element inside the tile and, consequently, is as much a part of the material and the way it’s made that allows a lot to work with. So I’m working with a structural aspect of the tile, of clay, that I wasn’t doing when I made those ghost boxes.
MR. PRITIKIN: So that’s a difference?
MR. MELCHERT: That’s a difference.
MR. PRITIKIN: But you are working with units.
MR. MELCHERT: Oh, yes, that’s true. I’m working with units, and I probably always will. I tend to work in clusters too. You know, I’ll do a number of pieces that all have to do with the same issue, and then when I feel that I’ve done as much with it as I care to, I’ll leave it alone and go on to another. But I’ve been trying to work longer with some of my clusters than I used to.
MR. PRITIKIN: Elongated clusters. [Laughs.]
MR. MELCHERT: Elongated clusters, right, that go on and on.
MR. PRITIKIN: It sounds like astronomy.
MR. MELCHERT: [Laughs.] Yeah.
MR. PRITIKIN: Well, it seems to me, you know, sitting here talking to you and looking over your shoulder at these beautiful pieces on the wall, that one reason you’re so – you seem so happy and satisfied with your work in the last decade is that you really have synthesized your early ceramic interests with your mid-career conceptual interests in a way that very few people really integrate.
MR. MELCHERT: Yeah. I’m glad to hear you say that because I remember talking with a fellow artist, who is a conceptual artist, about tile, and this person absolutely refused to believe that there could be any connection between a material like clay and conceptual concerns. But I hope the work shows that there can be.
MR. PRITIKIN: Is there any other through-line that we can discover from the early work to these?
MR. MELCHERT: Well – all right. Within, sort of, American ceramics and so on – it’s a connecting thread. I’ve always looked for a way of working that hasn’t been really sufficiently explored yet. When I was doing those ghost boxes, for example, the color I used was from what we call China paint. It’s over-glaze enamel. You glaze the piece and fire it, and then with a combination of ceramic pigment and oil, you apply your color and your drawings and so on, and I was using decals. And now, goodness, it’s commonplace to use decals, but it wasn’t then. Decals were strictly for hobbyists, and a serious ceramic artist in 1964 was not using decals or China paint.
MR. PRITIKIN: Why? What was déclassé about China paint?
MR. MELCHERT: China paint was what, in the old days, young ladies did – young women did who would decorate the rims of dishes as they were taking voice lessons or dancing lessons. So it was part of the preparation for married life. And –
MR. PRITIKIN: Right. So it was a certain kind of ironic appropriation.
MR. MELCHERT: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right. Where instead of using the materials you’re supposed to be using as a serious potter, you’re using materials that are identified with hobbies.
MR. PRITIKIN: So we didn’t really touch on this earlier, but an argument could be made that even at your most committed to ceramics, you were pushing the boundaries or –
MR. MELCHERT: Yes, I’ve always tried to. And – now, where I am now with the tile pieces is that there are people devoted to ceramics who aren’t sure whether I am seriously involved with clay, because I am at an edge somewhere that – like, say, with conceptual art – that it’s the edge of what is considered to be ceramic. I don’t make the tiles –
MR. PRITIKIN: Because they’re commercially manufactured.
MR. MELCHERT: – I use commercially manufactured tiles. Now, I do – if I use glaze or if I use pencil, the pencil is ceramic pencil, so that it’s fired on. And I do respect the relationship of materials – the clay is fired, so I think that the pencil should be fired, too. It creates a bond there.
But I think that an obligation that an artist has, in a way, to his or her field is to keep it alive and growing, which is to say that your edges keep moving. And I’m very interested in what the boundaries are, like the definitions of a discipline.
MR. PRITIKIN: Right. So the true through-line is that you’ve never given in to being academic.
MR. MELCHERT: Well, that’s – [laughs] – that’s interesting. I think you’re right. Well, maybe we can –
MR. PRITIKIN: Yeah, a good time to stop.

This transcript is in the public domain and may be used without permission.

(Continued on Wednesday)

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High Summer: clay pots for container gardening, Secret Gardens, garden benches and more…

This week, we’ll take a look at the use of ceramic pots for growing everything from mini-gardens to traditional floral displays.

Partial view of container garden in Park Seed Company Gardens. By staff photographers at Park Seed Company, Greenwood, SC via Wikimedia Commons

We’ll also take a look at some lovely Secret Gardens,

“Secret garden.” Warsaw, Poland; Powsin Botanical Garden. By Albert Jankowski via Wikimedia

see some beautiful garden benches and more…. Stay tuned!

Bench Vatican Gardens 20110705

Park bench in the Vatican Gardens featuring the Coat of Arms of Pope Benedict XVI. By gugganij via Wikimedia Commons

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Handbuilt boxes made of clay, the Pak-hing Kan way

Pak-hing Kan makes boxes out of clay and what may sound mundane becomes poetic at her touch… When I look at her work, I am transported, almost to another realm. Ethereal. Her imagination seems to soar over the rest of us, but we can hitch a ride on her shirttails…. I’ve had her website up on my desktop for some time and kept coming back to it. Each time I saw it I was entranced…a quiet, private entrancement. Not once was I disappointed when I came across her page. Instead, I was thrilled.  So it’s time to stop being selfish by keeping it to myself…. Her site is called ART OF CERAMIC BOX(ES). An artist based in New York City, Pak-hing makes one-of-a-kind pieces that are quite small. Her work would be painstaking but the results are exquisite. You can learn about her through two other sites: the Asian American Arts Alliance and the Chinese American Arts Council. From Hong Kong, Pak-hing was a fabric artist and a painter before she made the transition to ceramics. Her bio on the CAAC site says, “She works with traditional materials (clay and glaze) to make an old conceptual form (the box) in a contemporary way. She creates intimate, small-scale boxes that are exquisitely painted on all surfaces. She designs a unique silk wrap to accompany each piece.” I like that Pak-hing Kan has continued to paint and be involved with fabric. It is often the case that one gives up other mediums to work in a new one, but she manages to combine all of them. Her LinkedIn page states that she also works in concrete and glass. To me, she is very inspiring, in part because I adore boxes. When I was in high school, I made many boxes in my Dad’s shop, fashioning them out of any material at hand. They were all small, some tiny. I remember drying them in the vise on the workbench. About the same time, I began collecting small boxes and I treasure the ones I have, one inset with mother-of-pearl, another made of mahogany, and a tiny octagonal one of cloisonné, to name a few. I have several other irons in the fire right now, but when I have some time to begin working on something new, I might entertain the idea of small boxes, my own rendition. It’s wonderful to find such an inspiring artist and I hope you enjoy her work, too!

New York: Gallery 456, 1999. 1999 catalogue of the exhibition at Gallery 456 in Soho. Bright and Fine in its pictorial wrappers. 16mo, 96 pgs.

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