This is the article I wrote for the NCECA Journal, Volume 34 as one of the
demonstrating artists for the 2013 conference in Houston; my thoughts on
function and ornamentation:
“Look Doris, someday you’re going to find that your way of facing this realistic world just doesn’t work. And when you do, don’t overlook those lovely intangibles. You’ll discover those are the only things that are worthwhile.” ~ John Payne as Fred Gailey in the 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street
I believe beauty is a worthwhile pursuit, and my pots are a celebration of that beauty. Stated simply, I make decorative pottery that is meant to be used. While working in my studio, I simultaneously consider the aspects of a well-functioning pot and the elegant decoration that enhances a strong form. These three components (function, ornamentation, and form) combined yield a beautifully designed object celebrating the beauty of everyday use. This “ornate utility” is probably an oxymoron to some, but it is my goal as a potter. I seek to make pots that balance good function with robust decoration, which is very different from making complex pieces for special occasions. The latter pursuit is more about elaboration than use. Making decorative pots for everyday requires equal consideration of function, form, and surface; an attention and tribute to what I call the “lovely intangibles.”
The lovely intangibles are what I think about when I’m working in my studio and reference when I teach; the elements that we can be more aware of when they are missing, ironically, than when they are included. They are the aesthetic and functional components that make up the whole of a considered pot, anything from the ribbed edge that delineates a curve to the shadowed reveal of a carved foot. They are the fine details necessary in creating an equally well-functioning yet elegant piece, but something that may not be definable (or even identifiable) to the user. These lovely imperceptible, elusive intangibles are crucial in the completion of a beautiful, useful object.
My active consideration of the details is required for the pots to be both appreciated and used when they leave my studio. The best compliment is when a customer is attracted to my work because of the form, picks up the piece because of the surface, and delights in the strength of the piece once it is in their hands; none of which may have been conscious thoughts. A customer’s split-second conclusion to like and/or buy a piece is in response to my attention to all the micro and macro intangibles, like purposefully making my pottery handles plump, walls strong, and lips full for comfort, for example. By altering and/or stamping the clay at an early stage I refer to as suede, the pots have a soft appearance which makes them more inviting. I use a variety of decoration techniques like slip-trailing and slip-sponging to provide tactility and visual depth. All of my work is glazed with mostly satin surfaces of rich colors adding to the user’s pleasure. The integration of tactile decoration with soft forms and solid components make the pieces touchable and inviting.
I refer to my work as ‘ornately, elegant for everyday’ and classify my pots as ‘Victorian modern.’ Both of these phrases fit my desire for cross-cultural influence, and an appreciation of an era when ornamental abundance was also useful. I want to offer my customers a bit of luxury for their home décor and daily life. My hope as a maker is to marry my diverse influences and the splendor of past eras with a modern desire for artistry and function. My influences range from 18th century, silver service pieces and Moroccan architecture to couture clothing and industrial design for form ideas, and from Art Nouveau illustrations and vintage embroidery to cake fondant and upholstery for pattern ideas. Such diversity combined with my own background and distinct studio processes culminate into a style that I hope is as unique as it is luxurious.
I enjoy my pursuit of beauty, making ornately functional pots for those who would like a little elegance in their everyday. Attention to those lovely intangibles so another can enjoy their morning coffee a little more is what makes being in my studio worthwhile.
Outstanding work and very strong statement. Thanks for your work and passion for beauty in the everyday things.
Kristen. I watched you work for both days of your demo at NCECA. I so enjoyed watching you create the beauty within you transposed on our elegant vessels. I immediately left the first day to purchase my very own KKIEFFER cup. As luck would have it , I picked up your last cup which a young girl put down and I swiftly grabbed it. oh it is pure heaven in my hands. It is strong and elegant. I must say , I also enjoyed the juxtaposition of
Bede and you. Very entertaining.
Thank you for sharing some of your methods. You are inspiring
Sincerely, Karla Walter
Kristen – great post ! I see/feel/get what you are trying to, and always do, achieve in your aesthetic. I also benefit from ‘seeing’ you through the FB and Pinterest environments showing some of your influences/your eye for shape and form. One of the things I admire most in your work is the detail to beauty, the aesthetic approach, and yet never taking your eye off functionality.
I didn’t make it to NCECA this year. So, watched from a distance. But, would love to attend a demo/workshop with you sometime.
This is the first time I have recognized the connection between what I pursue in my life as a college biology professor at a undergraduate teaching instiution and my serious but amateur pursuit of ceramics. Thank you Kristen Kieffer for all you continue to reveal about teaching, passion, life, art, and the lovely intangibles that connect them. You enrich my life as much as your pots do.
Thank you all so very much for the supportive comments about my NCECA demo, as well as this article. Writing is a struggle for me (it takes me a long time and this blog is in part an effort in the practice of writing), so when I’m able to articulate my thoughts and have them resonate with others, it’s particularly meaningful. I appreciate all your comments, thoughts, and observations, thank you.