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

Holiday Studio Sale

Kieffer Ceramics Studio, Holiday Sale

I’m excited to invite my fellow New Englanders to swing by my studio for some good deals before the snow begins to fall here in north central Massachusetts. It’s a perfect opportunity to check out my studio and my hubby’s new and in-progress wood shop, and shop firsts for holiday gifts, as well as some rather wonderful ‘aesthetic’ and ‘minorly flawed’ seconds to save for yourself.

Kieffer Ceramics Studio Sale
Sat, Nov 5th  10 – 5 &
Sun, Nov 6th *11 – 4
*Don’t forget to “fall back” an hour!

We are just a couple miles from a local cheese shop and chocolatier, and about an hour or less each from Framingham, Northampton, and Worcester, MA as well as, Keene, NH and Brattleboro, VT. Visit my Events Page to read about the full details, including address, payment options, parking, and accessibility, or drop me an email if you have questions, KiefferCeramics@gmail.com.

Thank you for supporting creativity and community
by buying and giving handmade.

Summer 2016: Glick, Gills, & Kline

I’ve neglected my blog here because I’ve had a BUSY summer as pictured below! In June, I flew to Michigan to attend mentor and friend John Glick’s retrospective ‘A Legacy In Clay’ at Cranbrook. In July, I taught a two-week workshop at Alfred University alongside my former professor and mentor John Gill. And then just two weeks ago, after spending a week teaching at Penland, I was a guest potter at Michael Kline’s Cousins In Clay studio sale! Check out my summer pictorial of mentors and heroes!

John Glick A Legacy in Clay retrospective at Cranbrook 2016  John Glick and Kristen Kieffer, 2016John Glick, Plum Tree Pottery, 2016  John Glick platter, Legacy retrospective, Cranbrook, 2016

Clockwise from top left: Dozens of pots at John’s retrospective ranging from his MFA show in 1962 to the most recent pots he completed in 2014. John and me photographed before his gallery talk by his wife Susie Symons. One of a dozen large platters (24″ diameter) at his retrospective. John figuratively bounding forward to his next adventure. 

John Glick’s ‘A Legacy in Clay‘ retrospective at the Cranbrook Art Museum included a sea of pots he self-collected over his 50+ year career as a studio potter. His use of glaze, color, layering, gesture, and mark-making is unparalleled. While he is now retired from working in clay, I’m delighted to share that he is continuing his style of surface decoration on wood furniture of his own creation. He is a living national treasure, and I’m so honored to have worked side-by-side with him (1996-97). You can read past blog posts about my mentorship and ergonomic lessons with John here, here, and here.

John Gill demonstrating, Alfred University Summer School, 2016  Kristen Kieffer demonstrating, Alfred University Summer School, 2016Ceramics collection storage at Alfred University  Chinese jar, T'ang Dynasty, The Eumorfopoulos CollectionAndrea Gill and Kristen Kieffer, 2016  Kristen Kieffer cake stand in use and part of the Gill's collection

Clockwise from top left: John Gill demonstrating. Me demonstrating at Alfred University. John Gill’s favorite pot in The Eumorfopoulos Collection books from the special collections room of the Scholes Library at Alfred: a Chinese jar, T’ang Dynasty. My cake stand in use at a summer gathering at the Gill’s, which is also in their collection. Andea Gill and me. Nigerian and Acoma pottery in the ceramics storage of Alfred’s Ceramic Art Museum. 

In July, I was one of five workshop presenters for the first two weeks of Summer School at Alfred University in NY which included John Gill with Visiting Artist In-Chin Lee; Kang-Hyo Lee; Chase Folsom with Visiting Artist Ashley Lyon; Steve Branfman with Visiting Artists Wayne Higby & Hongwei Li; and me. It was a huge honor to be invited to teach a workshop at one of the most renowned institutions for ceramic art in the U.S. to which I was also lucky enough to attend for my BFA (1993-95). So being able to work alongside my former professor John Gill and spend a little off-time with my other former professor (the only female mentor I’ve ever had!) Andrea Gill was a huge, mind-blowing treat.

Michael Kline, Cousins In Clay, 2016  Kristen Kieffer and Michael Kline stamp collaborationVisitor matching plaid Deluxe Clover cup by Kristen Kieffer, Cousins In Clay  Cousins In Clay 2016

Clockwise from top left: Michael Kline and his pottery during set up. A collaboration and demo of Michael’s and my stamps on a plate. Cousins In Clay in full swing. A little visitor who matched my plaid Deluxe Clover cup, right down to the layered slip-trail, perfectly.

In early September, I had the pleasure of being a guest ‘cousin’ at Michael Kline’s pottery during his annual Cousins In Clay studio sale in Bakersville, NC along with fellow potters Samantha Henneke and Bruce Gholson of Bulldog Pottery. All three are lovely people with equally awesome families, so we had a nice weekend with good conversations, laughs, and sales. Plus, Michael is one of my pottery crushes, so I got dibs on the ‘best’ piece there!

PS: I seem to be blogging less these days, so to keep the most up-to-date with all the goings-on in and around my studio, please subscribe to my enewsletter and follow me on Instagram and Facebook too. I’ll be posting about the Utilitarian Clay Symposium at Arrowmont next week in which I’m one of seventeen presenters, and soon about The Democratic Cup for which I am one of twenty-six contributing artists!

Mindful Maker

Kristen Kieffer
I recently did an interview with Missy Graff Ballone for her website and organization Wellness for Makers. She found me through my own blog posts about standing to throw and working with mentor and studio potter John Glick, and wanted to include me in an interview series she has called Mindful Makers. Non-artists and artists alike can benefit from being mindful of our bodies in everyday activities as well as our creative endeavors. Her mission is to “empower artists through education and mindful living [by creating] more productive and sustainable studio practices that improve the longevity of their hands and bodies.”

Wellness for MakersCheck out my interview here where I talk about my own studio ergonomics, bad back history, and being “purposely inefficient.”

Give Wellness for Makers a follow on Instagram and Facebook. She is always looking for images and information about mindful making, so drop her a note if you have articles, resources, or helpful tips to share. Thank you, Missy!

Flower City Pottery Invitational

Flower-City-Pottery-Invitational-2015-poster,-Genesee-Center-for-the-Arts

I’m delighted to be participating in the inaugural Flower City Pottery Invitational happening next Friday eve – Sunday, October 9th – 11th at The Genesee Center for the Arts in Rochester, NY. The show and sale, curated by fellow makers Peter Pincus, Matt, Metz, and Richard Aerni, features twenty potters from all over the country who will be in person with their tables full of pots. The two and half days also includes artist talks and demos which are listed on the schedule here. It’s going to be a spectacular event!

Participating potters: Kenyon Hansen, Ryan Greenheck, Julie Crosby, Mary Barringer, Forrest Lesch-Middelton, John Gill, Peter Beasecker, Jenny Mendes, Tony Clennell, Dan Finnegan, Doug Peltzman, Bob Briscoe, Richard Aerni & Carolyn Stutz, Liz Quakenbush, Kristen Kieffer, Mark Shapiro, Bryan Hopkins, Jane Shellenbarger, & Matt Metz.

Hope to see you, NY!

Standing to Throw & CM Spotlight

Kristen Kieffer Spotlight Ceramics Monthly Summer Working Potter issue 2015

Ceramics Monthly summer issue 2015 Steven Rolf coverThanks to Ceramics Monthly for posing a question to me for the Spotlight page of the summer issue on the Working Potter. It was interesting to reflect on the last 12 years (and in only 300 words!), which is when I declared myself a full-time studio potter. Cover potter Steve Rolf was a grad when I was an undergrad at Alfred (’93-95), and super helpful and supportive of my beginnings, making this extra special on thinking back and change. Thank you, CM!
.

Thank you to my hubby for taking this much requested but never till now fulfilled shot for CM, which gives me another opportunity to discuss what’s pictured. I’ve been standing to throw for TWENTY years. I began in ’95 when I threw pots at Greenfield Village for a year, and then with a backrest like this designed after John Glick‘s in ’96 when I worked with him for a year. Standing saved my back. I can’t recommend enough for my fellow potters to check out these two articles John wrote for the Studio Potter journal: “To Sciatica and Back” (1987) and “Down the Spinal Canal” (2001). Everything from his backrest design I adopted to a ‘checklist for longevity’ is addressed in the former article. Both have excellent and thoughtful reflections on adapting to change for body health and are must reads! Thank you, John!

PS: Below is an image of me at my worktable stamping pots. Note how I stack several bats on my banding wheel (my parting gift from my assistantship/residency with John!) so that I’m working about chest high, not hunched over.

Kristen Kieffer stamping in her Massachusetts studio