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!

500 Teapots Volume 2

I’m very happy to have a teapot in Lark Crafts’ new 500 Teapots Volume 2 book juried by studio potter and professor Jim Lawton. I have three teapots in the original 500 Teapots book, so it’s nice to be in the new and reflect on the evolution of my work (and teapots specifically) over the twelve intervening years.

I particularly like this passage excerpted from Jim’s introduction:

“The artists represented here are blending innovation and forward thinking with an awareness of what came before. They’re acknowledging a custom that’s deeply rooted in our consciousness even as they propose new forms and iterations for the teapot. Whether it’s used to bring people together or to celebrate solitude, the teapot occupies a special place in cultures all over the world.”

Lark’s 500 Series continues to be a wonderful resource for collectors, makers, and instructors alike. It’s just as fun to see how the teapots are organized in the book as it is to see them all.  My Victorian Islamic, satin-glazed teapot is opposite a juicy, faceted one by Steven Roberts; each has as many similarities as differences. You’ll have to get the book yourself to see more examples of great teapot pairings!

Lovely Intangibles: A Statement

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:

Kristen Kieffer Cups 'Clover deluxe'

“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.

Lovely Intangibles

  
  

It’s the title I chose for my solo show at Plinth Gallery in Denver. I had jotted down the phrase months ago, but didn’t note the context. I believe I heard it on NPR in reference to something else, but it originated from the delightful 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street:

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

The “lovely intangibles” are something I think about when I’m working in my studio and reference about my pots when I teach: the importance of detail (different from decoration), which I define as anything from a slip-trail accent to the ribbed line that delineates a curve. Each of the aesthetic, technical and functional components that make up the whole of a pot —those big and little things that need to be there for me as the maker— may not be definable or even identifiable to the viewer, but if one or more is missing, the whole is no longer the same or as strong. I like the idea that it’s those lovely, imperceptible or even elusive intangibles that are crucial in the completion of a beautiful and useful object. We may not be aware of them when they are there, but somehow we are when they’re not.

The “important” details pictured, first row: 1. The negative space of a pitcher handle and crisp line that defines the handle itself. 2. The stripes that pop the stamped bunny silhouette, and slip-trailed tail. 3. The top flowing line of a cup handle that leads directly into the lip, and the lines the define the glossy interior and satin exterior. Second row: 4. The red stripes that wrap around and define planes and curves. 5. The cut-aways from a jar foot that create shadows and punctuate the softly squared corners of the body. 6. The thrown, altered and ribbed curves of a large pear jar.

Be Your Valentine

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and whether you are single and celebrating it as Single Awareness Day, or in a new or seasoned relationship, I hope you are thinking about handmade for the holiday. A Valentine can be for anyone: your best friend, grandparent or colleague (and you!) all need warm fuzzies. It may be a “Hallmark holiday,” but we can own it by choosing handmade for that reminder of endearment and expression of gratitude!

To laugh often and love much…to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to give one’s self…this is to have succeeded. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

My shop is stocked for Valentine’s for you and those you want to celebrate with a little beauty.  Thank you for buying, giving, and supporting handmade!