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Working Backwards: Liz Zlot Summerfield

Posted By Katey Schultz On May 22, 2009 @ 11:22 am In Ceramic Art and Artists,Ceramics Monthly,Functional Pottery | No Comments

with Cut Paper Templates by Liz Zlot Summerfield

Avocado Floral and Striped Butter Dish, 6 in. (15 cm) in length,
handbuilt earthenware, terra sigillata, glaze, fired to cone 04 in
oxidation, luster, 2008.

 

Cream, Sugar and Milk Set with Brick,
12 in. (30 cm) in length.

 

Floral and White Striped Box, 3 ½ in.
(9 cm) in height. Both are handbuilt earthenware, with terra sigillata,
underglaze and glaze, fired to cone 04 in oxidation, 2008.

 

Floral
Pail with Brick, 14 in. (36 cm) in height, handbuilt earthenware, terra
sigillata, underglaze, glaze, fired to cone 04 in oxidation, 2008; by
Liz Zlot Summerfield, Bakersville, North Carolina.

Liz Zlot Summerfield begins with what we know. “We all have some sense of shared history through functional objects that we can relate to,” she says. “Everybody can have a relationship with a cup or a creamer because we’ve all seen those things since we were kids. In that sense, what I make is very accessible.”

But Summerfield’s small collections of hand-built boxes, creamers, butter dishes and cups are as equally infused with concepts as they are utilitarian value. “Function is not just making something that pours. I believe a pot is ‘functioning’ even if it is completely empty sitting on a shelf next to other objects. Collecting things in a space that doesn’t demand use of the objects lets them function in an emotional sense as well.”

Using the patterns, colors, decals, text and shapes of vintage aprons, round barns, antique kitchen appliances, bread boxes, recipe cards, pails and egg baskets, Summerfield seeks to imbue her work with “a sense of nostalgia, memory and pastime.” Arranging her pots in a collection, as she does in her Pail Series, elevates them to icon status and recontextualizes even the most commonplace items because their shape and surface reference things that are “loaded with their own set of historical information.”

“In a collection, you are taking objects out of a context and placing them in a new space. Interestingly enough, the vintage aprons are much more of an icon today than a useful object-the functional use has been replaced with a new and updated emotional or symbolic use, so their primary function has changed over time,” says Summerfield. Change the object from an apron to a hand-built lidded vessel whose surface design mimics quilted apron patterns, and what springs forth is an object that simultaneously invites everyday use and evokes a sense of preciousness-something that begs to be preserved, set apart and admired.


This article appeared in the April 2009 issue of Ceramics Monthly:
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Perhaps Summerfield said it best when she paraphrased Jean Bauldrillard’s The System of the Object, explaining: “A new context associates the object with new status. . . . Collecting is defined as a narrative activity.” In a sense, collections gain momentum as they increase. Ultimately, we find different meaning in the collected objects than if each piece stood alone. Summerfield’s collections have both aesthetic and utilitarian functions and speak in a unified voice that evokes home, domesticity and family.

Similarly, Summerfield’s pots that mimic round barns contain this paradox of functionality. “I found a book on round barns in Indiana. They are somewhat of an icon now. They are utilitarian, but the formal qualities are what struck me-the materials, the craftsmanship and the presence of these structures in space. Since I’m interested in what arises when you look past the usefulness of a functional object, this source material informs me on a metaphorical level.” The scale of Summerfield’s work is intimate (often no larger than the palm of your hand), thus, her boxes further recontextualize round barns by manipulating scale and moving the shape away from the farm and into our kitchens or onto our shelves.

On the surface, Summerfield uses colors commonly found in kitchens from the 1930s-1950s. Mint, pink and aqua terra sigillatas are painted over an earthenware clay body. Texture is added with slip trailing or created by subtraction as she sgrafittos quilting patterns across the forms. She fires the pots that have lusters or enamels three times, so one section may feel waxy across a terra sigillata, glassy across a clear glaze and bumpy across the raised red and luster “buttons” adorning the pot.

More recently, Summerfield has experimented with a white and chocolate brown palette and even with several pieces that are white on white. She began masking to achieve stripes and continues to make subtle changes to the forms with each firing. “Each piece is like a blank canvas. The question is, how many different ways can I break up this space? That said, I really like there to be some breathing room on each pot. I’m trying swirls and floral patterns now, but I don’t do the swirl or the floral without the stripes next to it. The patterns talk to each other and I am working from an intuitive feeling to explore that.”

No matter the object, inherent to Summerfield’s surface design is her geometric way of dividing a piece into sections. “I wish I could see things in the round, but I see things with a front and back and left and right side. The floral patterns and swirls are my attempt at working more in the round,” she says. In graduate school at University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, she completely abandoned the wheel and started from the ground up. “In my first year, many of my friends were making dozens and dozens of pots a week and I was still trying to make a cylinder.”
Working backwards, she threw a pot on the wheel, cut it into sections and designed a two-dimensional paper pattern that she then laid on the slab of clay to cut out her design. In time, she refined her handbuilding techniques so that each slab folded together with precision, leaving thin seams to accentuate the process of the making. “Now, when a piece folds up, each side is where I want it. Once it’s folded, I push out each pot a little differently in some way. The paper patterns are a starting point for me.”

In the end, Summerfield has developed a body of work that communicates a unique, multi-layered message. The pieces function independently and as a collection, appearing both playful and useful, historical and modern. Born from a flat surface, they are lifted and folded into vessels that can contain or hide small items, while the surface design and shape of each piece tells an outward story no matter how the pot is used.

For further information on the work of Liz Zlot Summerfield, visit www.lzspottery.com. Upcoming exhibitions of her work include a solo exhibition at Crimson Laurel Gallery (www.crimsonlaurelgallery.com), Bakersville, North Carolina, September 4–October 31.

the author Katey Schultz writes from her home in Fork Mountain, North Carolina. Her current projects include a series of essays about art and her creative nonfiction. To learn more, visit http://katey.schultz.googlepages.com.


Monthly Methods: Cut Paper Templates by Liz Zlot Summerfield

This paper template was used to make the pitcher below.

The basic shape of my work originates from simple paper templates (like the one shown at the left). I create my templates from craft paper, file folders or tarpaper depending on their use. Tarpaper will not absorb moisture over time, so it is the best choice for long-term use. My forms are usually bottomless, so this allows me to create any shape I desire. I stretch, cut, and pooch out the clay to create the volume within the pot.

My process starts from a loose drawing of the form that I intend to make. At this point I am thinking about proportions and scale, especially if it is a form specific to function such as a butter dish. Next, I create a clay sketch, working directly from the drawing. This allows me to begin to work through the formal issues before I even start to work on paper. I really take advantage of the clay’s properties, altering the form quickly by pinching or cutting away. The clay sketch is cut flat into one or more pieces, enabling me to trace the form directly onto paper. This tracing becomes my master template. This master usually gets slightly altered after I have made a few pots

Floral and Stripped Lidded Pitcher, 4 in. (10 cm) in height, handbuilt earthenware, terra sigillata, underglaze, glaze, 2008.

It doesn’t take many templates to create several different forms. I often cut my templates in half or turn them upside down in order to create new forms from my originals. Also, my copy machine has enabled me to alter my templates quickly if I want to keep the same proportions, but change the scale.

 

To learn more about Liz Zlot Summerfield and see more images of her work, visit www.lzspottery.com/.


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