Ceramics, Art and Architecture:
Here you can see an example of the work we do in our studio....... This plaque is made of a raku clay base and glazed with a crackle glaze that I developed in the studio. I call this glaze Polished Stone. This piece was done by my wife Catherine using a slab roller.
Raku.. Began in the latter half of the 16th century as a method of making tea cups for the Zen Buddhist monks. These tea cups were used only once and then were broken at the end of the ceremony...... The cups were highly prized by the monks for when stirring the tea with a bamboo tea whisk the soft clay body produced a very muted sound that did not interrupt their meditation.
The cup shown here is one that I made during the time when I was developing the techniques necessary for the art of raku firing. These cups are fired to a glaze melting temperature and when it is observed that they have achieved a good melt they are pulled from the kiln in a red hot state using special tongs.
The piece is then held in the tongs until the high pitched sound of the glaze cracking can be heard as it cools in the air. At that point the piece is plunged into a pile of bamboo leaves or other combustible material and covered in order to drive the carbon from the smoke deep into the clay body of the raku. At long last the piece is removed and finally dropped into water to stop the process. The Dragon tea cup in the adjoining picture shows the result the bamboo leaves have upon the surface of the cup.
There is no equivalent sensation in the world of ceramics that can compete with a raku session held by a group of potters.
Most of the small pieces shown on these pages are items produced as a result of my experiments in glaze formulation. The larger pieces that will be seen in a different section will be done by Catherine. All the ceramic objects on this web-site are produced in our workshop.
Some of the oldest messages left by man.... of his existence on this earth are the writings he left on cave walls and the shards of the ceramic tools he used in everyday life. It would seem that the knowledge of making things out of hardened clay was not confined to any one continent or area of our world but is fairly well known to every race and culture that ever existed.
You might wonder how an architect could become interested in the art of ceramics ?
Over thirty years ago I met a wonderful young lady who was completing her thesis for a masters degree in art. She was a multi-talented person having worked in the media of both painting and ceramics. She had studied at Northwestern University and at the Art Institute of Chicago. When we met she was finishing her work on her masters degree at the University of Miami. I had little knowledge, at the time, of the science of ceramics but I was determined to learn as much as I could so that I could be of help to her in putting together her one-woman show at the Lowe Gallery of Art. This was to be the final exhibit of her work for her masters degree. Ultimately the show was a great success and she did fill three rooms of the gallery with her paintings, ceramics and poetry.
My assistance to her, at that time, was in the firing of her work in my kiln. I had anticipated that for her to complete her work on schedule, she would have a problem in meeting the deadlines for the show.
I had purchased a kiln and a number of books on the science of firing pottery. From this humble beginning I was introduced into the world of ceramics. Although I started out without much knowledge of how to turn greenware into the finished product.... I learned quickly and surprisingly enough I had no explosions of her work in the kiln during the process.
The show was so successful, that on a bid basis she sold enough of her pieces to take a three month art tour throughout Europe. I proposed to her over the phone during a long distance call she made from Greece. She had stopped there during her trip through the islands to call me and to say what a great time she was having. When she returned home we were married within the first month.
During the following years, that now number over thirty, we work together every day as a team in all phases of art and ceramics. In this picture you can see Catherine working on a large ceramic mural. See Pristina on page Ceramics 3.
The world of the kiln gods: Spaced throughout these web pages you will see the kiln gods that I made to protect the kiln firings from the evil spirits... This is a custom passed down through many generations of oriental potters. Believe it or not it seems to have worked for us.
George Washington's father on seeing the cherry tree... Or perhaps an unhappy client, whose wife took his closet space for her own....
As an architect I took on the study of ceramics as a personal challenge ......
This is a field that is a combination of both science and art. I had been doing architecture for years by thinking in three dimensions and ceramics certainly requires this same ability. I might add that organically designed buildings can be designed in no other way. This is the difference between a designer who can visualize and an engineer who only draws lines.
An architect is supposed to design and build things:
The field of ceramics is quite similar. Anyone can buy a kiln by ordering it from a factory but the real test comes in constructing your own kiln from bricks and mortar. I started out by making a small electric kiln using insulation brick, kanthal wire and electric switches. The years have gone by and now...
We have three electric kilns. The smallest one is for raku cups and glaze tests. The next larger kiln for medium sized work and the biggest kiln stands seven feet tall and is a front end loader. This beautiful kiln is for any large production work we might have. I have to say that I did not build the larger electric kiln, this would have been too time consuming. All the firings in the studio are done in (*) oxidation but then.... We have the..... (*) reduction kilns outside.
This is a set of King and Queen Kiln Gods I made from left over porcelain clay. They are part of the kiln god collection which now numbers many hundreds of pieces.
I built the first small reduction kiln with an interior dimension of 18 by 22 inches. It has served as a great kiln for firing the smaller pieces and for test tiles fired in reduction.
Finally I took on the construction of the big kiln... The size is shown in the picture. The interior will hold about four friendly people. It is called a double cross draft kiln and it is one of the few that has ever been built. primarily because of the difficulty of construction. I read about the theory of this design in a book by Daniel Rhodes on kiln building. He said it would have the most uniform temperatures during firing of any kiln that had ever been conceived...... Well he was right that time. There is less than one cone difference in temperature from the top to bottom. At high temperatures one cone difference is about 15 degrees.
The door is one of the most important elements in the construction of any kiln. It is usually one of the first things to give out after a number of firings. Due to the very high temperatures reached in hi-fire pottery, sometimes reaching 2500 degrees, the steel support members of the door will melt if not properly insulated from the heat. I finally decided on a lift door using a method named "guillotine construction." In this way there are no hinges exposed to the heat. The door is pulled up vertically on a track using a winch and cable. When it is lowered it rotates into place and is secured by using large turn bolts. In this way I made sure that no metal came even close to the firing chamber. The kiln is three layers of brick thick. The inner layer is hi-fire brick. The second layer is insulation brick and the outer layer is red brick the type used in house construction. With this exterior brick I had a chance to use my talents as a brick layer.
I might add here that Frank Lloyd Wright was great believer in the hands-on approach to building. If you couldn't build it yourself then you had no business being an architect.
My first job out of college was as a carpenter and superintendent of construction for a large contracting firm. This gave me more experience than any architectural course anyone could ever take. All the students of Frank Lloyd Wright went through a similar training period learning what the lines they put down on paper really meant to the men in the field.
All metal work, for the kiln, was done on the job using an acetylene torch and an electric welder. This was a learn as you go project as I had never used this equipment before... and my wife, I know, certainly had her concerns as to the outcome.
It is amazing what a person can learn from books. I am smiling as I write this but it is very true.
The Bah-Humbug God: Named because it seemed that we were spending every Christmas working around the clock in firing the big kiln for the presents that had to be delivered over the Christmas holidays.. We were seldom ever able to finish on time......
This kiln fires with four 250,000 BTU burners that I built from assembled miscellaneous pipe parts and four commercially manufactured burner heads. There are auto-pilot shut off valves to prevent any accident during the warm up period. During the firing the kiln gains in height over one inch due to heat expansion. At 2500 degrees the kiln is the temperature of a volcano. Any flaw in construction at that temperature would be more than dangerous. I provided four, large four inch steel angles inside the kiln, that act as runners to enable this rise and fall to take place without destroying the kiln. They can be seen in the kiln picture and are protruding from its top. When the firing has been completed there is a five day waiting period for the temperature to come down so that the kiln can be opened and at long last we can see the result of many weeks of work.......
Here you have Saint George the Dragon Slayer....Who guarded the kiln during one of the first successful firings we ever had of the small reduction kiln........
(*) Oxidation firing: A glaze firing made in a kiln with only fresh air and without the introduction of any carbon bearing elements.
(*) Reduction firing: A glaze firing where the atmosphere in the kiln is changed to reduce oxygen and introduce carbon gases such as the incomplete burning of any fuel which will cause a smoky atmosphere. This reduction atmosphere is responsible for the wonderful Chinese porcelain celadon colors and the intense blood red copper glazes the Orientals called the Ox Blood glaze which is made from reduced copper oxide. The primary colors of the earth are reversed in reduction, blue copper changes to red and red iron oxide changes to blue celadon.
Where do you begin.............. getting into a field you know nothing about? I started by reading as many books as I could get my hands on pertaining to ceramics and glaze formulation. The field of ceramics is so much more than an art form it is not possible to explain what drives a person to become involved in turning mud into art. It is dirty, dusty hard work but the experience of looking at the finished product is worth all the sweat and tears required to get there.
My wife, Catherine, was interested in the art end of ceramics but the technical area was to be my domain. A resume of the years I put into the theory of molecular glaze formulation and other technical matters is much better left for any book I might write in the future called: "Ceramics for anyone who has too much time on their hands."
This was an experimental glaze I was working on taken from a book that was written by an apprentice to a Japanese potter. He had gone to Japan to study the ceramics of the potters who had lived from 600 to 800 years ago. The formulas were no longer in existence and the living potters had no knowledge of their origin but shards of pottery still existed with the glazes on them. He returned to the United States with these pieces of pottery in hand and proceeded to have the molecular structure analyzed and broken down. He published the results as a formula that described the elements required. I found most of them as pure forms of potash, silica, black iron oxides and so forth but the primary ingredient the feldspar was the key to making the glaze successful.
This teapot set gave me the chance to throw clay on the wheel for the first time in quite a while. With all the work I had to do in setting up the studio there was little time for anything more than glaze experiments.
I do not want to bore the reader with too detailed a description what a feldspar is, but it is composed of a breakdown of igneous rocks that make up the mountains. As the small granules of rocks break off the main mass and deteriorate they run down the mountain like sand to form layers of what appears to be soil in the valleys below. This then is what makes up a bed of feldspar. I found the only one that matched his molecular formula in a catalogue and I had it shipped in. The success of the glaze is very apparent. This glaze is called a Temmoku glaze. as you can see it is heavy and viscous and forms drops on the sides of the pottery that stop just short of running off. The firing and conditions have to be exact.
The pot shown above is another experiment using temmoku on one side and Ox Blood on the other. The Ox Blood glaze is made with a green copper oxide and the carbon in the firing turns it red.
This is a Kiln God with a message ........
"Today is the day you worried about yesterday. "