Green is Balance, 28 in. (71 cm) in height, slip-cast white earthenware, fired to cones 06 and 04, with metal ammunition box.
There are about as many ways to make ceramic sculpture
Auntie Annie’s mantelpiece was my wunderkammen (wonder cabinet). She had arranged hundreds of ceramic animals on three levels of her mantel, resting just out of reach, above the sight line of her worshipping 12-year-old niece. There were no doors or cabinet sides to protect this collection, but it was clear to everyone that they were strictly untouchable. I would stand in front of them, dutifully clasping my hands behind my back as I mentally cataloged the animal population. Auntie Annie worked in a factory attaching light bulb ?laments by hand. On the weekends, with whatever money she had left over after food, rent, and clothing, she would buy new animals for her menagerie. Miniature dogs, cats, deer, mice, sheep, cows and every other animal in the kingdom appeared. They were purchased for pennies, of course, but they meant everything to me. I adored, marveled at, coveted, and now seek to recapture that mantel. Forty years later, Auntie Annie and her collection are long gone, but I conjure them in my work.
Yellow is Betrayal, 22 in. (56 cm) in height, slip-cast white earthenware, fired to cones 06 and 04, with metal egg basket, 2004.
|Later I returned to school for an MFA from Cranbrook Academy of Art, where I continued to work on functional forms with heavily embossed surfaces and dynamic colors. By dusting plastic, metal, and wood forms with cornstarch as a resist, I was able to use found objects as molds and bypass the plaster mold making stage. For example, South Asian textile printing blocks provided me with surface texture to impress slabs for teapots and vases. Soon, these two-dimensional surface textures emerged as fully realized, three-dimensional objects. Press-molded animals and objects began to appear on the edges of my plates, lids, and teapot bases, as well as on the handles of pitchers.
During a two-year residency at the Harbourfront Crafts Studio in Toronto, an exhibition opportunity in an outdoor gallery space led me to make a large fountain. After purchasing a commercial greenware “archangel” and a couple of “Venuses” to complete the fountain, I was invited by the owners of the greenware store to go to the back of their shop and rummage through their pile of discarded molds. Damaged as they were, a battered Paul Revere, a worn, stylized frog and an idealized cottage soon acquired personal meaning and became part of my ceramics vocabulary. My battered Paul Revere came to signify the American military. The worn, stylized frog came to symbolize nature. The cottage characterized the ideal of home—the home of daydreams and imagination.
My palette evokes a child’s sensibilities and references the commercially made animal ?gurines that lined the shelves of my childhood home. I use achromatic arrangements of color to unify the impact of the sculptural arrangements. This idea also has historical antecedent. Samuel Wittwer, in A Royal Menagerie, explains that, in the 16th century, Augustus the Strong of Poland commissioned a vast collection of porcelain animals from Meissen for the Japanese Palace in Dresden. A total of 25,215 porcelain pieces were arranged in color groups that re?ected a certain hierarchy. As the visitor moved through the antechambers that led to Augustus’ audience room, the importance of the color of both the room and its porcelain animals increased. According to the color associations of that period, red stood for power, green for humility, yellow for splendor, blue for divinity and purple for authority.
By grouping my animals by color, I am pointing to their objecti?cation by society and their callous use as a commodity. Categorizing animals by color also refers to the endless possibilities of genetic manipulation. Denaturalized red chickens, turquoise calves, yellow pigs and pink turkeys represent the modern hubris of genetic manipulation. We appear to have acquired power over creation, but choose to use this power to turn all creation into a fashion accessory.
Blue Rabbit with Garlic Necklace, 21 in. (53 cm) in height, slip-cast white earthenware, fired to cones 06 and 04, with toy drum, wire, 2004.
Color is important in my life. To achieve a range of
brilliant surface colors, I use both commercial and studio-mixed
glazes. Matt and glossy Cone 06 commercial glazes provide the saturated
colors of “poinsettia red,” “pumpkin orange” and “yellow jacket
yellow.” I also hand mix two simple bases, a glossy and matt, which ?re
to Cone 04. These bases are mixed with 15% commercial stains and are
used to contrast the smooth, regular surfaces of the commercial glazes.
This palette evokes the color-saturated world of my Ukranian ancestors,
the piles of brightly colored toys and books from my past, and echoes a
life of profound nearsightedness—I always saw the strong, bright colors
Each ?nished work usually contains over 80 individual
slip-cast objects, which I personally cast and glaze. Commercial glazes
often must be applied three times to each piece. For a work that has 80
cast objects, I can end up handling the pieces for one arrangement over
In order to ?x the arrangements of animals and objects
together, I use an industrial strength glue called E–30 CL, made by
Loctite, which is specially formulated for adhering ceramics. Over the
course of a few days, I build up the height of each work by adding
successive layers of objects.
Tell Me What You Eat, 11 in. (28 cm) in height, slip-cast and handbuilt white earthenware, fired to cones 06 and 04, with metal lunch box, 2004, by Wendy Walgate, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. To view more, go to walgate.com.
|A Final Word
In 19th-century England, according to Bevis Hillier in Pottery and Porcelain, 1700–1914, the public’s passionate demand for collecting ceramics dramatically increased the reproduction industry and its corollary, the “fake” work. The general consensus is that replicas, when marked with the maker’s name are “reproductions.” When they are not marked or signed, they may be “fakes.”
Wheel-thrown reproduction is a well-accepted part of the studio-pottery movement in which I originally studied, but one-of-a-kind originality and individual manipulation of the material are still its touchstones. Needless to say, among ceramics practitioners and public viewers, the use of commercial molds in my work causes an astonished reaction laced with a hint of “fakery.” In fact, most public craft shows have a contract that stipulates that no commercial molds may be used in the making of the work. A set of regulations from a contemporary craft show in Toronto includes the clause, “articles made from molds are acceptable only where the mold is the design and product of the artist or craftsperson.” The reasoning behind that clause is to prevent manufactured wares from competing against handmade pots in crafts shows. There is a kind of a priori (empirical) arrogance in such a statement that I ?nd telling and provocative.
I make two responses to these criticisms, one academic and one experiential. Academically, my response begins with Dadaism, de?ned by Udo Rukser in 1920 as “a stratagem by which the artist can impart to the citizen something of the inner unrest which prevents the artist himself from being lulled to sleep by custom and routine.” (Hans Richter, Dada, Art and Anti-Art.)? While Dadaists preached “anti-art,” their ideas inspire one to confront the passivity and conformity of Leachian practice in traditional ceramics circles.