“Veys,” “Veyz,” “Vahz”

Spring means it is finally warming up here in north, central MA. For me, this primarily means things will start to bud and bloom which gets me all excited to sit on our porch and observe my gardenwhich makes me want to make vases.

Last summer (July ’10) during a two-week residency at the Watershed Center for the Arts in Maine, I made a new prototype vase (finished right). As is not uncommon for me, play and design are waylaid by deadlines, so I’ve just gotten around to making a next and improved version now (in-progress left).

Vase forms are a perennial (the pun that had to happen) favorite for me because they can be any shape, size and color, but are equally challenging in the balance between function and beauty (i.e. the potential to elegantly arrange flowers matched with a form that doesn’t overpower the display, but looks attractive and interesting sans posies). “Vase” is such a vague term though because it can be any size, shape and color. I wish there were more specific names for vases intended for certain flowers (like the “tulipiere”) or names that designate a certain size or shape (like the “flower brick”). This Vase In Floral Design page I found gives something close to what I’m craving, giving nice summations on various vase shapes and how they’re used best with tips and notes.

My new, large (15″ h) wire lattice vase is intended, however, to be more sculptural than functional, and is a slight mash-up of form inspiration between a small, cobalt blue glass vase of my Great Grandma’s (similar to the first image below) and a brass antique find that sits in my studio. The wire creates an airy finish to the top of the vase, appearing a bit like a blue-print drawing, a crinoline framework or the unfinished, underlying architecture of the clay part itself. The wire is a way for me to draw in three-dimensions and is a nice contrast material to the clay. (I enjoy working with the wire, but the humbling nature of clay and its shrinkage does not always cooperate with my master plans for elaborate wirework, so we’ll see how it fairs in the firings). I, of course, finished this muscular form off with suggestions of Victorian wallpaper layered over mod candy stripes.

Below are a selection of vases, from antique to contemporary, in a variety of sizes and materials that caught my eye for this post. (You can see the trend that I tend to like pedestal or footed vases.) There are more of my favorites in this post here too. Enjoy!


From top right: Laced-edge glass vase c. 1920; Vintage trumpet milk glass vase; Antique brass vase; and “Eva” solitaire glass vase. Second row: Etched vintage glass vase; Vintage ruby and gold glass vase; Vintage 1950s Hull vase; and antique Louis Majorelle glass and iron vase. Third row: Anika Engelbrecht ceramic, and balloon Swell vases and Petite Friture Ikebana vases. Last row are all KleinReid: Cyril vase, Chateau bud vase, Upright vases by Eva Zeisel for KleinReid, and Peep vase.

In the Details

One does a whole painting for one peach
and people think just the opposite —that particular peach is but a detail.

~ Pablo Picasso, (Spanish Artist and Painter, 1881-1973)


A man’s accomplishments in life are the cumulative effect of his attention to detail.
~ John Foster Dulles, (American US Republican Secretary of State (1953-59).

This is all brand new work unloaded just last week!  Some have already sold, others are in boxes in or on their way to Philadelphia awaiting installation in exhibitions for NCECA, and still more will be packed up today for a drive down to Philly for another conference exhibition.  (Details on all next week’s conference shows are on my Schedule page here.)


We think in generalities, but we live in detail. ~ Alfred North Whitehead (British Mathematician and Philosopher, 1861-1947)

So, this is a teaser post, a glimpse of form and detail.  I wanted to share some new work with you to show the underglaze dots and stripes I’ve been working with and mentioned here, but am saving the full reveal for those of you who will be able to get to some shows in person at NCECA next week.  Consider this an enticement (whether you are able to attend Philly or not), to seek out ArtAxis, La Mesa and the Studio Pottery Invitational in Philly, or check back here in early April for more pics in their entirety, and pieces to purchase at my online store.


Only the poet can look beyond the detail and see the whole picture.
~ Helen Hayes, (American stage and film Actress, 1900-1993)

Signature Style


There are a handful of questions that I am asked at every workshop: “How do you know when to dart?”, “How do you make your feet?”, and “How do you get the stamping to line up?!”, for example. The answers to those are fairly straightforward: practice, carving, and practice.

I’m teasing with the one-word answers, but alongside those simpler, technical how-to questions are toughies like, “How did you find/get/develop your style?” I love deep questions in workshops, the ones that are about being an artist. Those conversations are a big part of why I enjoy teaching. Workshops are a great forum for learning techniques and discussing quandaries like personal style, not for picking up “style tricks.” There is no sincere short answer to the style question during a workshop or in this blog (though “practice” is part of the answer).


A few years ago, while attending NCECA, I attended a lecture* that essentially encouraged the current generation of makers to look not to the former generations’ work for ideas, but rather to their influences. He stated that the prior generation, the WWII-era makers, looked at things (nature, gesture, history, architecture) not other people’s pots.  He expressed wonderment at a potential future in ceramics with artists referencing only the preceding generation.  This observation was profound to me.

To oversimplify with an example, if I like Linda Sikora’s work, rather than imitating her forms and surfaces, I could begin to develop my own voice by researching what has influenced her work. By delving into the handfuls of objects, cultures, and periods that have defined her style, my own work could become unique rather than simply referential. Who I am as a person and maker will affect how I respond to the exact same historic European porcelain pitcher that inspired her. That’s not to say I can’t appreciate, admire, and buy her work, but I am more likely to find my own voice by looking at what is behind her pots rather than just looking at her pots.


So that is one of the anecdotes I tell in a workshop to begin to explain how one might develop a style. I honestly think if an artist sets out with style as the goal rather than as a byproduct of making what he enjoys based on what inspires him, he will fail. (Though I’m sure there are artists who receive recognition this way, I don’t think they are happy, respected artists.)

Style is the amazing culmination of everything an artist has experienced, loves and is, manifested in an object. I touch on the wide range of things that have shaped my own work (and style) throughout this blog, and also discuss them in my Bio and Statement.


The images in this post represent some of the details—based directly on my influences and interests—I feel make my work unique, my style signatures: slip-trailed shapes that look like rolled fondant; ornate stamping; two-part cup handles;  and Kanthal wire as form. Vessels like my Corset series, surfaces like my satin color palette, and even an actual signature, like my name stamp (below) are also part of that design “signature”.  The best compliment I receive about my work is, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”  What I bring to the pots is something no one else has: my touch, my eye, my mish-mash of interests and my passion. That’s style.

* I’m sorry to say I don’t remember the speaker for that 1998 Dallas/Ft. Worth NCECA slide lecture.  If someone knows, please drop me a note.

NEW New Work

Kristen Kieffer Flower VesselsKristen Kieffer House Form VasesKKHouse_form_sm_honey Kristen KIeffer Large Covered Jars KKWire_basket_grape KKHouseForm_SmLime_wflowersKristen Kieffer Stamped vasesKristen Kieffer Wire Baskets

Large “Classic” Covered Jars and flower vessels:
House Forms, Stamped Vases and Wire-handled Baskets.

These are new pots fresh from the kiln, as well as brand new forms in shape, design or decoration.  I just unloaded these (more pics and details on the New: Form & Surface page) and many more from three kilns in the last week.  There are more new pots and I will post once I take their pictures too.

Sketching & Prototypes

As I wrote in the last post, when I am working out a new design I tend to draw, make and then draw again. How many I make, and how many times I draw, depends on how different the new design is from my “regular” repertoire of forms.

Pitcher_Sketchbook Pitchers_InProgress

The pitchers above are an example of a shorter development cycle.  I had been making creamers (as part of a creamer and sugar set) for years, but never really made pitchers, so last year did some drawings for a milk-sized pitcher.  I originally did some drawings of four different pitcher ideas (see Sketchbook & Pitcher post); made one of each of the four; decided I like the one above the best; and have since made several more with minor variations from the original.  Ideally I would make the time to re-draw or document the revised design in my sketchbook.  Realistically, and more often than not, I look at a finished piece on the shelf in my studio as a reminder of proportion and for cues to readjust details on the next series.  (How studio artists work in series could be a whole post in itself, note to me.)

Wire_vase_Sketch Kieffer_wire_vase

This wire vase form is an example of an idea that is going through a longer developmental cycle.  I made the drawings above as well as the finished prototype during a Watershed (a ceramic center in ME) artists-invite-artists residency last year (’08).  My definition of a studio pot prototype is the same as that for industrial design: “an original, full-scale, and usually working model of a new product or new version of an existing product”.   I needed to practice working with the wire, and to see how the wire interacted with the form, so completed this one form to understand the idea better in three-dimensions.  I still have a ways to go for the prototype to better match my ideas and drawings.  The role of “designer” is one of my many jobs to which I’m not able to devote a lot of time.  I will continue to pick away at this idea (using the wire to create an additional form or layer that corresponds with the clay, and allows the flower stems to be visible through the body).  However, it will definitely take time to evolve.  More drawing and play are in order!

Baskets In Progress & Upcoming

Kristen_Kieffer_Wire_Baskets KK_Wire_basket_I

This is just a quick blog post to show some recently finished (leatherhard) wire baskets, and let you know what’s coming up in my schedule. First, the Small Wire Flower Baskets. These little pieces (7-8″h) were thrown on the potter’s wheel, altered, stamped, built and finally, finished with slip-trailing and sponging accents and of course, the wire. I will post the finished (glaze-fired) pieces in a couple of weeks. I see these as small variations on the Wire Flower Brick I began making in 2005 (image in last post and some explanation of Kanthal wire on my Process page).  I imagine them to also be used for flowers; small, informal bouquets maybe from your garden.

And now, my schedule:
Kristen_Kieffer_JarsI posted a couple more pots to my Etsy store.  These will be the last adds for a few weeks.  I hope you will consider buying handmade for upcoming gifting needs.  (Dads like my pots too, hint, hint.)


LillStreetThis week is the end of a short making cycle specifically for new work to send to both Red Star Studios and Northern Clay Center for a July show and gallery feature, respectively.  This week is also the opening of the 4 x 4: Twenty Women, 100 Pots show at Lill Street.  This should be an outstanding show with an amazing range of pots to behold.  Thank you to my fellow OU alum Lorna Meaden for the invitation!

For the month of July, I will be teaching a Monday afternoon class at Harvard University’s Ceramics Program.  The class is getting full, so if you have interest, sign up now, and I hope to see you.

Details for all of these events are on my Schedule page.

Lastly, just a reminder that you can still receive two postcards from me (details here), and a recommendation to become a FaceBook fan of Kieffer Ceramics.  Because I can post a quick sentence, the fans are the first to enjoy new images and updates.