Remembering A Mentor: John Glick


It was two weeks ago that I learned of the unexpected passing of one of the biggest mentors of my career, John Glick. I had just spent time with him, his wife Susie Symons, and several other of his past assistants last June for his retrospective in Michigan, and was planning on visiting John and Susie at their new community in California. Though retired from his 50 year career in clay in which he made an estimated 300,000 pieces, John was excited about a next phase of life and redirecting his abstract expressionist pottery decoration style onto furniture, which he’d already begun to make and sell before they left Michigan.

I have so much to say, and yet am also at a loss for words. It seems impossible to sum up a year of studio potter education reaffirmed almost daily over the last twenty. As I always remark when I teach workshops, there’s a little bit of John in every part of my studio practice.

In addition to the myriad of practical to poignant tidbits I learned from John over my year as an artist-in-residence and assistant in his studio (1996-97), there are two key notions that resonate continually for me and possibly sum up what he gave to me: Play & Health.

I should actually begin with Health as I would likely not still be working in ceramics if not for John. I began having back problems my senior year in undergrad (a year and half prior to working with him), so his thoughtfulness about ergonomics and back care became crucial to my time with him. Indeed my back “went out” that year, so he connected me with his doctor who helped me with maneuvers for pain management and showed me strengthening exercises. If I hadn’t learned a healthy way to throw and other safe studio practices from John, I’d probably be doing something other than clay.

In all the lovely articles paying tribute to John over the last couple weeks, none of them mention that his career almost ended because of back problems stemming from typical potter activities. To my mind, he originated the necessary discussion on ergonomics in the ceramics studio and standing to throw for good back health. I try to post an annual PSA sharing John’s backrest design and his two must-read articles: To Sciatica and Back” (1987) and “Down the Spinal Canal” (2001). In the former he states, “If I could give a lasting gift to all potters it would not be a wonderful glaze formula or a new tool. Instead I would give the gift of awareness about the wise use of our bodies.”

  

John (with his backrest and Soldner wheel in his MI studio in 1987), and me
(with my backrest and Soldner wheel in my MA studio in 2015).

The other important lesson I learned from John is Play. Even though making pots is a creative pursuit, it is still a job that can feel serious because making a living is the goal. Plus, clay and its processes can be quite temperamental, which can stifle exploration and experimentation. Play was a part of the daily routine that made John’s a positive studio practice, which in turn made a big impression on me. He was always lively,  infectiously so. I remember him dancing around fifty buckets of glaze while he deftly decorated his bisqueware, making eye-rolling puns, and smiling like a kid through his big moustache. I continue to make time to play in my studio, and attribute my overcoming every potter’s eternal fear of glazing to him.

My sketchbook entry, October 23, 1996:
Listened to John speak to some Center for Creative Studies students today.

One thing that he spoke of that stood out was regarding ‘repeating.’ He doesn’t see the need to recreate interesting ideas —beyond a grouping of initial number around +/- 20— because there are so many more good ideas to investigate. He might take an idea further, especially on a very different tangent or with different thoughts, but he won’t remake a specific form or group of forms. They are all truly one-of-a-kind.

He also said he doesn’t buy into the “But I need to make a living.” He’s proven that an artist/potter can make a living without recreating the same pot in the same glaze over and over to be successful. It does take time to come up with new ideas, but John simply works in an always-experimenting mode. He doesn’t take “time off” to investigate new things. He doesn’t do a couple of sample experiments. He is simply always playing with new ideas, or expanding the old.

Many potters may not feel that there is time. For him, that is his time.

“If work cycles are the maps that guide me along the path to finished work, then surely the studio is the place where I make my way using the myriad of methods and work rituals I so enjoy. Work begins here as idea, and then finds voice with technique and experience, trial and error, and . . . playfulness.”  ~ John Glick

I consider working with John to be the paramount experience of my ceramics education. Graduate school was crucial to my evolution as a maker, but working with John is what gave me the foundation for being a studio potter. I chose to work with a studio potter because that’s what I wanted to be. I learned everything from how to pack pots for shipping to gallery dealings, from photography skills to studio basics. There are particular decoration techniques I learned from John that are still a part of my repertoire and shared at every workshop I teach.

I was one of thirty-three studio assistants —later referred to as artists-in-residence— who worked with John. I assisted him not by performing part of his process or routine, but by working side-by-side with him on whatever needed to be done to make it easier for us both. When we needed clay, we mixed it together. When glaze kilns were ready to be loaded, we each took an end of the shelf. We shared the weight, literally. It made it more fun, and was the healthy way to work. When he was throwing his pots, I was at my wheel throwing mine. We worked together, and shared together. I greatly admire that John took on so many assistants/residents over his career; indeed, sharing his creative and emotional space on a daily basis for decades.

John is always with me in my studio. It’s not an exaggeration to say that every day I use a technique, skill, strength, or mindset I learned from John Glick.

My first day working at John Glick’s Plum Tree Pottery in Farmington Hills, MI
was August 5th, 1996, and Magdalene Odundo dropped by!


Out of the blue in 2014, John sent me this image of an extruder die he made for a tray design that coincided with my first month working with him, so he labeled it “Kristen tray.”

“It is not enough to merely throw a particular form, I must make that certain throwing rib that adds a special, unique touch, or develop an entire “world” of extrusion dies, all of which are lovingly used over time, only to discover that I have physically outgrown my manual extruders and must design and build not one, but two hydraulic extruders which then greatly expand my working potential. This is love of process!” ~ John Glick


I happened to be there in 1996 when Farmington Hills, MI designated
John’s Plum Tree Pottery a historic landmark.


If I was having a bad day and took a break, I’d return to a mini thrown pot, hand-built cat, or smiley flower made by John. This is one of those delightful tokens, which he later glazed for me.

 
Ginormous 24″ platter we own by John from his special Upper Gallery, which hangs
above our stove like the sun, casting its warm rays and bidding us a greeting and
goodnight everyday. This was a gift and secret plan between John and my Dad
as a wedding gift for Trevor and me in 2006.


The constant state of my throwing tools, which reside in a tea bowl I made
while working with John so encrusted with slip and clay, no glaze is visible.


John and me at his retrospective at Cranbrook in Michigan, June 2016.

“When we are alone with our innermost thoughts about why it is we need to make things from clay we will hopefully come to know a private truth that tells each of us a very personal answer, woven of the same threads of mystery that has captured the spirits of artists through times past.”

John Parker Glick
July 1, 1938 – April 6, 2017

Homage Skulls

Kristen Kieffer guy skull cupKristen Kieffer gal skull cup in Frost

In July, I finally read Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty after buying the catalogue from his extraordinary, haunting, gorgeous, and (very unfortunately) posthumous exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the summer of 2011, which I was lucky enough to see in person.

Somehow, I can’t remember where I first saw a piece by this amazing fashion designer and couturier, but I do know I immediately fell in love with his imaginings.  His work readily embodies Victorian modern style and “ornamented strength” for me (phrases I use and aspire to in my own work). So, I decided to create an homage stamp to pay respect to Lee McQueen in the form of a skull, a long-time motif associated with his work.

I drew a skull, but it felt too stark. So me being me, I was compelled to add ornamentation and then a bit of a smile, both of which kind of automatically yielded a Day of the Dead sugar skull. I was so excited with the ‘guy skull’ stamp (pictured top), that I made a ‘gal skull’ too (pictured bottom), delighted to embrace the sugar skull tradition, which is fittingly about honoring the deceased.

The skull-stamped mugs recently debuted at my studio sale and online shop here. If skulls strike your fancy (Día de Muertos, Halloween, McQueen, or otherwise), I will be adding more of these spirited cups in very limited quantities (guys, gals, and combo) in other colors in early December.

“You’ve got to know the rules to break them.
That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but
to keep the tradition.” ~ Lee Alexander McQueen, 1969-2010

Echoing Mentor John Glick

I’m thrilled to share the link to a video interview with studio potter John Glick reflecting on nearly fifty years of being a full-time artist and mentor, plus a fantastic segment on his glazing (a truly wonderful treat).

Anyone who has taken a workshop with me knows how important and influential my one-year residency (1996-97) with John was and continues to be in my own life as a studio potter. I credit John with teaching me everything from properly packing pots and caring for my back by standing to throw, to my use of particular decoration techniques and—most importantly—that play is a crucial part of studio practice.

Pictured stills from the Cultural Connection: John Glick video interview, produced by the City of Farmington Hills Video Division. Watch the video here.

It’s a humbling delight to hear John refer to my year in his studio (04:15 – 07:45), and think back with fondness about that time of exploration, which helped pave the way to my being a full-time artist now. He uses the word “echo,” which is perfect as his support, energy, and influence have indeed reverberated through my mind and work (and back!) for the last sixteen years. He played a big part in my sense of discovery and exploration, and I’m thankful.

Thank you, John & Susie!

Garden Influence & Flora Faves

Details of my pots above: Deluxe clover cup, Small covered jar, Large plate,
Flower brick, Screen vase pair, & Wall pillow tile.

More flowers have been popping up on my work in the last couple of years. And why not? I love them! In the dead of a Massachusetts winter, I long for spring and summer, and daydream about those floriferous seasons by placing a little bit of them on my pots.

Penstemon & Eupatorium  Knautia  Geranium & sedumLady's Mantle, Alchemilla  Allium bulgaricum  Heuchera and dicentra

First row: Penstemon & Eupatorium, Knautia, and Sedum & Geranium.
Second row: Alchemilla, Allium bulgaricum, and Heuchera.

I am completely preoccupied with being outside during this time of year, specifically, with being in or sitting beside my flower garden. I wrote about my lovely distraction four years ago in this Perennial Influence post, which still perfectly articulates every sentiment I have for gardening, so I hope you’ll give it a read. A recent pic I posted to my Ceramics Page of my main perennial bed and the corresponding number of thumbs up seems to indicate a universal need and appreciation for beauty and diversion, so I thought I’d do an updated pictorial from garden.

Dicentra & Lamium  Sedum  NepetaSpirea & Knautia  Digitalis & Knautia  Heuchera, Hosta & Fern

First row: Dicentra & Lamium, Sedum, and Nepeta.
Second row: Spirea, Digitalis & Knautia, and Heuchera, Hosta & Fern.

I seem to think about my plantings very similarly to how I think about my pots: How do they look from farther away, as well as close up? What colors best compliment a grouping? What shapes and textures add to the whole? Which are heartbreakers not worth the effort, and which make me the most happy?

Salvia  Lupine  Dogwood, Heuchera, Geranium & HostaIlex  Hosta Patriot  Dicentra

First row: Salvia, Lupine, and Geranium, Heuchera, & Red-twig dogwood.
Second row: Ilex, Hosta (Patriot), and Dicentra.
All images courtesy of my gardens.

Happy Summer!
Below are detail pix of pottery and sculpture faves that have hugs & kisses of flora.

Michael Connelly  Matt Wedel  McKenzie SmithMakoto Kagoshima  Baraby Barford  Kurt Anderson  Michael Kline  Michael Sherrill  Steve Colby

First row: Michael Connelly, Matt Wedel, and McKenzie Smith.
Second row: Makoto Kagoshima, Baraby Barford, and Kurt Anderson
Third row: Michael Kline, Michael Sherrill, and Steve Colby.

Needlework as Influence

Kristen Kieffer Flower bricks Embroidery patterns in Periwinkle and Green

Fashion (from all eras, Elizabethan to Couture) has been a long-time influence for my work. The structure and detail of clothing inspire my own functional pottery forms and their decoration. Basically, there is always something new for me to uncover from clothing and textiles as influence. My most recent revelation is the expansive genre of needlework, which includes everything from crochet and embroidery to a myriad of techniques I’ve only begun to learn.

Kristen Kieffer Deluxe clover cup in GrapeI own pillow cases tatted by my Grandma and Great Grandma, love quilts of all kinds, and knew that some of the 18th century clothes I adore had embroidery, but I’ve only just recently tuned into the wide-ranging variety of needlework design as influence, particularly for slip-trailing. I’ve been collecting needlework pix and details here with some faves below. New adventures into deco have begun!

Flower bricks and cups as pictured above, as well as other pots with deco influenced by embroidery and quilt appliqué are available in my online Etsy shop.

Detail of Look 8, Erdem Spring 2013 Ready-to-Wear  Crochet flora  Embroidery flowers Sashiko embroidery  Aemilia ars needlelace  [Micro] quiltingCourt Suit embroidery detail, c. 1770-85  Antique Carolina lily applique quilt detail c. 1880  Reticella samples

Rollover or click on the images above for details. Pictured: Crochet, embroidery, sashiko, aemilia ars lacework, quilting, applique, and reticella.

Polka Dot Origin, Influence, & Faves

Dots on my pots!

  Corset series vessel w. dots    
  

My recent work with dots: Screen vase pair, yunomis, flower vessel (Corset series), pitcher, small covered jars, small stamped bowls, and plate.

I started layering dots (and stripes, which will be a future blog post with more influences and faves) in early 2010. The added pattern came through self-critique and seeing a need to both visually pop the raised slip-trail patterns by providing small background color, as well as add some modern fun to the Victorian flavor of my work.

So the primary purpose for the polka dots was to further my love of layered surfaces for the pots, formally creating even more richness and depth. The dots punctuate the patterns.

A close secondary function for the dots has been to add some joyfulness; polka dots are rarely somber. Though I do receive some comments by folks who favorably see ‘Disney,’ I think my pots can appear more serious than I actually am or intend. In some ways, I’m still the five-year-old tomboy who hated my freckles (my own personal polka dots), deciding one summer day that, with the aid of my grape-smelling marker, they would be much better purple. So, the dots are a way to include my influences of sweets, for example, as well as infuse connotations of informality and playfulness.

You can check out all the dotty pots in my online shop here.

Polka dot influences below with more here:

    
  
    
    

Norma Kamali dressTattoo round rug by Deanna Comellini  
  

.Pictured above from top right, first row: Peter Murdoch ‘Dot chair’ for kids; Dot window building in Beirut, Lebanon; and ‘Confetti’ tree skirt.  Second row: Draga Mathilde sofa; and Yayoi Kusama concept store for Louis Vuitton.  Third row: June Leaf organic canvas in Marine; Mod fashion;  and vintage dress.  Fourth row: White-grey ombre dot cake; paper straws; and slipper chair.  Fifth row: Norma Kamali dress; Tattoo round rug by Deanna Comellini; and ‘Op-art Attracts’ wedge by ModCloth.  Last row: Quilt in progress by Judy Martin and starfish.

The origin of the Polka Dot: It is believed that the name “polka dot” came from the Polish polka dance, and first appeared by name in 1854 in The Yale literary magazine. At the same time that the polka dance and music began in the mid 19th century, polka dots were popular and common on clothing. The pattern name was chosen simply because the dance gained such acclaim, which led to many contemporary products and fashions also taking the name. (There used to be “polka-hats” and “polka-jackets,” for example.) Most disappeared with the popularity of the actual polka dance in the late 1800s. Only the printed fabric pattern remained fashionable, and the name stuck.

Polka dot favorites of fellow studio potters and ceramic artists:

Andrew Martin  Brenda Quinn  Malene Helbak
Kari Radasch  Jun Kaneko polka dot sidewalk, Art Museum of South TX
Chiho Aono  Sandblasted process, Hans Tan Studio via Ateliér Keramiky  Ayumi Horie
Harrison McIntoshMeredith Host  Harumi NakashimaTetsuo Hirakawa  Betty Woodman  Sean O'Connell

Pictured above from top right, first row: Andrew Martin, Brenda Quinn, and Malene Helbak.  Second row: Kari Radasch and Jun Kaneko.  Third row: Chiho Aono, Hans Tan Studio, and Ayumi Horie.  Fourth row: Harrison McIntosh, Meredith Host, and Harumi Nakashima.  Last row: Tetsuo Hirakawa, Betty Woodman, and Sean O’Connell.