Ceramicist and brush maker Troy Bungart isn’t out to compete with $5 mass-market bargain brushes.
“I am not making that brush. Those people have nailed it. There’s no reason to do that,” says Bungart, of Three Rivers, Mich. “Our tools should be beautiful. I want something that feels beautiful when I’m working, otherwise it’s weird if you think about it. Here I am trying to make something beautiful with the cheapest material.”
Bungart admits that at first his interest in brush making leaned toward having saving money on brushes too, until he realized how many nice brushes he could have bought with the time and money he dedicated to figuring out brush making, not to mention his proclivity for dissecting good brushes to examine how they’re made.
Students won’t go to that extreme just yet as part of Bungart’s Introductory Brush Making Workshop 10 AM – 5 PM Sat. Aug. 5 at Pewabic.
Bungart will share with students how he started researching and developing his brush making technique more than 30 years ago. He’ll then demonstrate the process and take students through the basics of making handmade bamboo paintbrushes, showing them a variety of ferrules they can make, before providing the necessary tools and materials — including animal hair, and natural and synthetic fibers for bristles — to make their own in class.
“What we end up learning from this is every type of hair has its unique mark. It’s up to us to find out how we can use it,” says Bungart, who makes a point to pause class midway through so students can see how their brushes perform. Oftentimes students get useful ideas by seeing the range of classmates’ brushes.
“I want to express to people to have an open mind to use different materials; to try something that’s outside of the normal that they’re used to,” says Bungart. “This is a chance to have something that no one else has. It’s just that simple. And then what we’re going to try to do is make something beautiful. So we’re going to talk about proportions and cleaning up details and make a really beautiful bamboo brush.”
From 1-3 PM Sunday, Aug. 6, Bungart’s handcrafted pottery and tools will grace the Pewabic courtyard as the season’s fourth Kiln Pad Pop-Up exhibition. Rain or shine, Bungart’s “whiskey sipper” cups, bowls and flasks will be available for sale.
“My cups don’t have handles on them. These are more whiskey sippers; whiskey tumblers. They’re small yunomis,” he says, referencing a traditional style Japanese ceramic cup. Bungart emphasizes that they’re small, unlike many American translations. “I can’t drink that much bourbon. I like a cup proportioned for what I’m drinking.”
He’ll also have available his handmade brushes and other tools, some of which are collaborative designs with other artists.
“I really enjoy the connectivity of working together with somebody,” explains Bungart, who incorporates other artist’s ceramic ferrules. The finished pieces include both artists’ chop marks. “It’s a way to share and make something that couldn’t be made without working together. I believe very strongly in acknowledging the people who affected us.”
Celebrate Pewabic artisans — staff and students — at the Maker/Mentor artists’ reception, 6-9 p.m. Friday, July 21, and at the exhibit itself in Pewabic’s galleries through August 15.
“It’s a great feeling to be recognized, and to have my work appreciated in this way,” shares Thullen, glaze development specialist and glaze instructor. The pair also selected Thullen’s soda-fired porcelain Vase, 2017, for the show. “This exhibition is one that most of us look forward to all year. It’s a chance to highlight the very best that Pewabic has to offer, and to celebrate the amazing community of creative people that make Pewabic what it is.”
Henry James Haver Crissman, wheel throwing instructor, took first place for staff with A Platter of Demands, 2017. Chris Mayse, fabrication supervisor/kiln technician and sculptural wheel throwing instructor, received second place for his Bud Vase with Plinth, 2016. Instructor Kirsten Helmer received third for Science & Traditions, 2015, porcelain-cast installation.
Hand-building student June Mabarak took first place in the student category for her ceramic Family, 2017. Also in the exhibit is Mabarak’s ceramic Fish for All, 2017. Leonard Haden took second place for his stoneware Scattered, 2017, and Jim Dalton received third for his Ode to Kemp, 2017, in porcelain. Both are wheel throwing students. Dalton’s stoneware entry First Soda, 2017, also appears in the exhibit.
Staff member Marcia Hovland and students Gina Bekkula, Susan Hipsley, Birgit Hutteman-Holz and Aislinn Scofield each received honorable mentions.
As the blind jury, Ryan and Kaitlyn Lawless accepted fewer than half the submissions for consideration in the exhibition and did not know which pieces belonged to staff or students until after choosing best in show.
“The minimalist selection should be no surprise for anyone familiar with Corbé,” says Darlene Carroll, exhibitions curator at Pewabic, adding that any jury process is highly subjective and reflects individual jurors’ taste and values.
Handcrafted porcelain company Corbé began as a 2013 Kickstarter campaign to make porcelain ware in state shapes, beginning with Wisconsin, where they were based before moving to Detroit. It was a hit.
“A light went off: there are 50 states,” recalls Ryan Lawless, with a smile. Now each state is available as part of Fifty United Plates — if you’re wondering, Alaska is the most difficult to make — along with several countries. Corbé since branched out by adding the thrown pottery lines Canteen, Charlevoix, Homesteader and Lapidary.
“We don’t really make anything that we wouldn’t use or like in our own house,” says Kaitlyn Lawless.
Maker/Mentor runs through Aug. 15. To see more of Alex Thullen’s work, his porcelain Lidded Jar is currently on exhibit in “For The Table” at the Ohio Craft Museum in Columbus, Ohio, and other work is about to appear in “Never Static” at the Schaller Gallery in Saint Joseph, Mich.
Chris Mayse likes what he likes.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Mayse likes the industrious effort it takes to complete the desired finished product or that the pieces he enjoys making the most remain his favorites in the end.
“I constantly feel like I’m pulled in two different directions when it comes to the work that I like to make and the work that I like to see,” says Mayse, who pairs those pieces with their counterparts in his one-day Kiln Pad Pop-up exhibition, 1-4 Sunday. Tea bowls, planters and bud vases will be for sale at the event held rain or shine in Pewabic’s courtyard.
“Stylistically, I’ve always been drawn to cleaner, more refined design objects,” says Mayse. “But then when it comes to craft ceramics — like terra cotta — I’m drawn to letting the clay be the clay.”
In this exhibition, crude, coarse sediment-heavy terra cotta and the pure, tight clay of porcelain are in direct opposition, says Mayse. For the terra cotta pieces, he wheel threw each piece fully closed — the cups started as spheres, the bud vases cones, the planters ovoids — then scrapped the tops before applying the texture in what he describes as a rough and quick process, creating an earthy naturalistic appeal.
In contrast, Mayse’s porcelain pieces are labor intensive and time consuming near the finish because each require careful sanding and attention between four kiln firings.
“Making those, like the geometric bud vases, is painstaking for me, but I love seeing the result in the end piece,” says Mayse, who won second place for his geometric bud vase in the Maker/Mentor exhibition, currently on display in Pewabic’s upstairs gallery. An awards reception for the show is 6-8 p.m. July 21.
Mayse’s exploration of geometric porcelain sculpture began during his time at Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he earned his MFA in Ceramics in 2013.
“My education plays a big part in this. Before Cranbrook I can’t say my aesthetic was minimal,” says Mayse. “It has such a rich history of design. I think it’s unavoidable to leave there without a deep appreciation of it. There’s some kind of osmosis that happens being that close to all that art.”
The functional ceramics that surround him at Pewabic similarly influenced Mayse to move from sculpture to sculptural objects, he says, with the goal of making sculpture with an inherent practicality to it for everyday use.
“Approaching it as a sculptor became defining for me in terms of deciding what work I wanted to show. I thought it was important to approach this show conceptually. Because of that, for every porcelain object there is a mirroring terra-cotta object. I’m really interested in seeing what goes first….”
Pamela Timmons is the first to tell you she came to ceramics in a rather utilitarian, sensible way: She was a horticulturalist who ran out of vases.
“I tend to get in and jump in over my head before I know it. I just started doing that and it worked,” admits Timmons about her start in clay.
More than 35 years later, Timmons is a well-established potter and sculptor and Pewabic’s visiting artist during the 27th Annual House & Garden Show, with weekend demonstrations of how she sculpts turtles, frogs and human faces, among other subjects; decorates and carves pots; and throws on the wheel.
An artist in Pewabic’s Gallery of North American Artists, Pewabic debuted Timmons’ clay turtles almost 20 years ago at the House & Garden Show. In 2013, she added bronze turtles, on which she could incorporate details — toenails, for instance — that she couldn’t on her more fragile clay turtles.
“Pewabic has been personally supportive,” says Timmons about the first place she offered her clay turtles. Though she can’t recollect why she chose turtles as her subject: ““It completely changed my life….Every single kiln load has a turtle in it. I sell as many as I can stand to make.”
As visiting artist, Timmons plans to demonstrate how she attaches elements of her sculptures, which she says come together in phases.
“That’s something I’m interested in showing people this weekend. There are a lot of internal steps and hollowing out,” says Timmons.
“Pewabic is fabulous,” she says. “I’m surrounded by this wonderful feeling when I’m at Pewabic. I always feel like I’ve come home somehow. It feels so good to be connected to something that’s been going on so long, but in a completely contemporary fashion.”
Visiting artist Pamela Timmons will be on site for demonstrations 12-4 PM, Friday, June 9; 10 AM-4PM Saturday, June 10; and 12-4 PM Sunday, June 11.
Within minutes of student June Mabarak spotting the visitor touring the education studio, she engages her in conversation and eagerly offers one of her handmade gnomes. The visitor from Washington state carefully selects a ceramic talisman and gushes graciously, announcing how she will tell friends back home how nice everyone in Detroit is.
Mabarak, an unofficial ambassador of sorts for Pewabic, turns 75 today and is one of the students and staff members featured in the upcoming Maker/Mentor exhibition opening with the 27th Pewabic House & Garden Show June 8. Her piece also is one of a handful selected to receive an award from the exhibition juried by Kaitlyn and Ryan Lawless from Detroit porcelain studio Corbé Company.
No doubt about it: Mabarak appreciates near-celebrity status at Pewabic for the good vibes and positive mojo that comes through her interactions and ceramic creations, which take shape in statuettes, bowls and necklaces, among other designs.
The former Detroit Public Schools early childhood teacher began taking classes decades ago to find a release from her hectic schedule.
“I had a lot going on and I wanted some sort of outlet,” she says. “After my first or second class I thought, ‘Gee, I really like this. I’m never going to quit here.’”
That was in 1979 and she hasn’t yet.
“I think I’m the longest consecutive student. I must be,” says the Grosse Pointe Farms resident, adding that she enjoys Pewabic’s atmosphere of freedom, peace and creativity.
When she started, Mabarak says she “hid in the corner,” worried that she wasn’t good enough for the class. She made little bowls, eventually giving one to a restaurant owner she knew, who designated it a penny bowl for guests to leave or take a penny. Soon “June’s penny bowls” began to appear throughout the Grosse Pointes and Detroit.
“I keep giving them away. What am I going to do with it all? So, I said I’m just going to give it away. I give it to my family. I give it to people who help me. I keep it in my car for when people help me.”
Right now, Mabarak is probably best known for what people warmly refer to as her “June gnomes”.
“I started making them and giving them away to people. I can’t make enough of them. Everyone wants one,” she says.
Mabarak sends her gnomes, animals, bowls and jewelry out into the world with remarkable frequency, almost as currency or mood lifters. She keeps a box in her car to thank people who help her get around, including on her visits to Pewabic’s education studio where you can find her two-to-three times a week.
“I try to come here as much as I can. I have a lot going on,” she says, pausing to say hello to teachers and other students who greet her a little like a rock star. “I just look forward to coming all the time. When I can’t come, I miss it.”
Give your Eastern Market Flower Day cache a beautiful home with a ceramic planter by Annie E. Dennis, the featured artist of Pewabic’s Inaugural Kiln Pad Pop-Up Exhibition, 1-4 p.m. Sunday, May 21.
Works are available for purchase on a cash-and-carry basis at this one-day exhibition, rain or shine.
A Cranbrook Academy of Art alumna and Pewabic Education Director, Dennis explores and combines her love of ceramics and gardening, both of which feed Dennis’s interests with their combination of science and art and essence of patience, creativity, and coping with loss.
“While examining these parallels I found a simple place for a plant to live,” says Dennis, whose planting containers will be the focus of the exhibition.
This is Pewabic’s first pop-up exhibit. says Darlene Carroll, Exhibit Curator, who sees it as a solution for limits placed by calendar and space.
“It seemed a logical solution to take it outside,” says Carroll, who selected Dennis as its inaugural artist. “We’re trying something that had never been done before. I think it’s going to be a fun experiment.”
Upcoming Kiln Pad Pop-Ups include Didem Mert, June 24, and Troy Bungart, August 5. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.