Three Views on Dinnerware
A Ceramics Monthly Portfolio
by Patricia Glave, Andy Martin and Dick Lehman. Only
Dick Lehman's contribution is reprinted below.
Dinnerware as Metaphor
When we create dinnerware, we work with a variety of criteria. At opposing
ends of the spectrum are technical aspects (how we do it), and motivation
(why we do it). While these are quite different concerns, they are of
necessity related. If we are successful with the "how-to," good utilitarian
tableware is the result. But if the "why" is well integrated, the work
begins to point beyond itself.
Technical aspects of my dinnerware production are at once straightforward
and simple: Porcelain slabs are made by slapping clay down repeatedly,
before laying them into individually-made molds. The slab is "slammed"
into place by gently dropping the mold four or five times, rotating
90 degrees after each drop. The plasticity of the Grolleg porcelain
body I use allows the clay to stretch to fill the form. Next, the rim
is flattened with a rolling pin, stretch marks are smoothed with a sponge,
and an approximate rim is cut with a needle tool. Final rim definition
is hand-cut at the leather-hard state. (A similar production method
was described in "Styrofoam Press Molds," by Scott Frankenberger, in
the September 1982 Ceramics Monthly.)
Decoration is accomplished with stains and oxides brushed over the
raw glaze. A Cone 9 reduction firing follows. When luster accents are
needed, a Cone 015 oxidation firing is added.
The technical process is simple, but as time passes, I am finding that
my motivations for making dinnerware are increasingly complex. To my
surprise, I am discovering similarities between the qualities of the
historic building in which I work, and the motivation and concerns that
inform this dinnerware.
My studio is located in a factory erected during the 1890's. The post,
beam and brick structure was built to last. Its "slow-burning-mill"
construction, distinguished by the dense and oversized wooden infrastructure,
was state-of-the-art fire safety in its day. And its open layout has
accommodated a variety of needs with a kind of timeless architectural
foresight that tends not to go out of style. Over the years, the structure
has been home to four quite different business pursuits: a soap factory
in its beginnings, two different bag factories, and now a center housing
ten fine arts and crafts businesses.
By virtue of its longevity, the building carries with it a sense of
history which both accompanies and transcends time. Particularly noticeable
is the "advertising," painted in huge letters, encompassing the exterior
of the building. As it turns out, a former owner, in a effort to capitalize
on the captive audience of a nearby passenger rail line, used the building
as a giant billboard. And yet not altogether in a mercenary fashion:
each end of the building sports in bold lettering "bagology," an obviously
made-up word which both suggested just how seriously they took their
bag making, but which also dared to poke a bit of fun at themselves
and coax a smile from the rail passengers riding by.
The artists/craftspeople who now work at the Old Bag Factory, as the
center is called, create and sell their products on site. All strive
for outstanding quality and creativity work that mirrors the
durability, quality and integrity of the building that houses them.
The shops are open and accessible to the public there can be
interaction with the artists/craftspeople. Benefits to this design are
mutual: the public seems to appreciate the proximity of creation to
creator (perhaps reminiscent of an earlier, less depersonalized time
in retailing); similarly, we artists benefit from the public's immediate
feedback, which contributes to the quality and integrity of our products.
In my claywork, I try to pay careful attention to detail; to pursue
the integrity which links process and product. However, I try not to
be so serious or single-minded that I have no time for that great leveler:
And, of course, in spite of all the control and care, pot making is
still completely a relational activity a kind of dance between
clay and potter. Making dinnerware is a relational experience. If not,
the results are neither inspiring nor persuasive. Only the potter's
presence allows work to transcend the sterility of "department store
dinnerware" (however well-made) with its slip-cast and hydraulic-pressed
and (might I add) dishonest "throwing rings".
When we as potters are accessible, when we share the works of our hands
with others, we and our work enter the arena of connectedness.
Dinnerware, perhaps, more than other utilitarian claywork, has the
capacity to move from "product/object" to "metaphor" connecting
between things well known and those barely known (to paraphrase an idea
from photographer Robert Adams).
Dinnerware naturally brings people together around the most communal
necessities of life: sustenance and nurture. And one strength of pots
as metaphor is that they not only point beyond themselves, but they
are also with us now. Fine dinnerware has the potential for helping
us to find, even though in a small way, affection for life and beauty
If dinnerware does not imply something beyond a set of utilitarian
tableware, then the work will likely hold neither our attention nor
our passion for more than a passing moment.
An article I read recently suggested that in 25 years the sit-down,
home-cooked family meal at the end of the day will be a thing of the
past. I hope the writer is wrong, and not simply because mealtime together
is perhaps of traditional or romantic value. I hope the writer is wrong
because mealtimes and their attending preparation take time. And relatedness
always takes more time than alienation; the making of beauty, more time
and care than the making of ugliness.
About this portfolio "The Evocative Placesetting," a
juried national exhibition of dinnerware, was presented recently at
Martha Schneider Gallery in Highland Park, Illinois. From the slides
submitted, Ceramics Monthly editor William Hunt selected the ware of
three potters - Patricia Glave, Dick Lehman, and Andy Martin - for presentation
along with the gallery's stable of three dinnerware producers - Stanley
Mace Andersen, Dorothy Hafner, and Vicki Stone. This portfolio is concerned
with the first three, artists whose work has received little major coverage
previously. Their works represent a broad slice of current directions
in functional dinnerware, an aspect of ceramics that appears to be enjoying
a resurgence of interest as studio potters respond to public demand
for innovation and style as well as utility. Industrial potteries, too,
have responded in recent years with variations of their own, often mimicking
the look of the handmade through mass production, thus demonstrating
just how compelling is the art of the studio ceramics movement worldwide.
This article is reprinted with expressed permission
from the October 1989 issue of Ceramics Monthly Magazine, PO Box 6102,
Westerville OH 43086-6102, USA; www.ceramicsmonthly.org
© Dick Lehman, 1989. All rights reserved.