Wood-fired ceramics on display
Posted April 11, 2008
Lauren Pollard
Christy Johnson, director of the American Museum of Ceramic Art, explains to students of Ramona High School in Riverside how a piece of pottery in the museum’s current exhibit “Into the Woods: A Fiery Tale” was made. The exhibit, located in downtown Pomona, will run until May 3 and focuses on the work of artists who specialize in wood-fired ceramics.

Francine GobertNews Editor

The American Museum of Ceramic Art rests in the bustling downtown Pomona Art’s Colony and its recent exhibit has sparked a flame within the ceramics community.

The exhibit “Into the Woods: A Fiery Tale,” displays beautifully crafted pieces of work made using the ancient Japanese technique of wood-firing.

The exhibit features work by seven well-known ceramists who specialize in using the technique, including Fred Olsen, Peter Callas, Jeff Shapiro, Chris Gustin, Takao Okazaki, Catharine Hiersoux and John Balistreri.

“This is something you don’t see in Southern California too often; here is a chance to compare works of several artists,” Director Christy Johnson said.

Wood-firing is a process of firing clay, where wood is used as fuel.

In pottery an artist has complete control over the outcomes of the structure, forms and glazes used, but in wood-firing the outcomes are almost always unexpected.

“The kiln environment provides yet another alternative, bringing a different set of variables to the art,” Johnson said. “You will find that people will have less ability to know the results.”

The exhibit featured the DVD “Recording the Flame: Woodfired Pottery,” which highlighted and showed artists as they fired ceramics in wood-burning kilns.

The art of wood-firing is an extremely hard task and often takes a community to achieve a piece.

Johnson says that a lot of people are involved.

Olsen, who is from Mountain Center, Calif., has a community of people who work with him when he fires.

These wood-firing aesthetics and various surfaces were all achieved in the works of each of the artists displayed.

Developed effects included: Hi-iro, a red orange color in flame making influenced by fumes carried in the flames hitting areas and Amailbai, an intricate netting glaze pattern that occurs just before dripping.

Another effect that can be achieved with wood-firing is the type of glazing a piece can develop from the wood ash.

“These effects can only be from wood-firing,” Johnson said.

Peter Callas was one featured artist whose unconventional works stood out among the variety of pieces in the exhibit.

His pieces represented sculptures of stacked pieces that appeared as rocks, such as his Cardinal double neck vessel from 1991 and also featured various effects from using the technique.

“The joy of shaping, however, should never be overshadowed by the entrainment value of making things; it must always reflect how I feel,” Callas said in his featured artist statement.

Paul Dungan, a fellow ceramist from Homer, Alaska, fired with Callas many years ago in New Jersey.

He came out to the exhibit during his visit to California and said he heard about the exhibit in Ceramics Monthly Magazine and it piqued his interest.

“I really was impressed. I like that the exhibit has continuity because everything is wood-fired,” Dungan said.

Dungan said he liked the variety from each artist in this high caliber show.

He also found it as an opportunity to touch bases with artists such as Olsen and see their new works.

“These are all well-known artists in the clay world,” Dungan said.

Dungan also liked the fact that the exhibit featured women artists like Catharine Hiersoux.

Hiersoux’s works featured a variety of jars with a sugary textured glaze.

One jar featured was reminiscent of a sea shell, because of its shape and the effects on the outside of the jar.

“My work in clay has been devoted almost exclusively to porcelain finding inspiration in classical forms. I prodded the traditional shapes into a dialogue with personal and contemporary aesthetic problems,” Heirsoux’s featured artist statement said.

There was a variety of items displayed, from cups and bowls to bottles and jars.

The variety of effects achieved by each artist offers a unique experience to those who come out to see the exhibit.

“Into the Woods: A Fiery Tale” will be on display through May 3. The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information, visit www.ceramicsmuseum.org.

Francine Gobert can be reached by fgobert@ulv.edu.

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