Father Solanus Casey, the revered Detroit priest whose beatification Saturday brings him one step closer to sainthood, lived and died within five years and two miles of Pewabic, where founder Mary Chase Perry Stratton became well known for a ceramics prowess that included ecclesiastical installations. Commissioning Pewabic to create a tile commemorating the rare milestone seemed fitting to Lisa Stefoff, store manager of the Solanus Casey Gift Shop, located in the Detroit center that bears his name.
“We’ve used Pewabic throughout the Solanus Casey Center because of its connection with the city,” says Stefoff, adding that she believes the pottery’s history, quality and name recognition enhance the beauty of the tiles. “We like to be an example of Pewabic, not only with what we sell, but how it’s incorporated in our building. We love that we see all the places Pewabic is being used and we want to be part of the connection.”
From a water feature in the Creation Garden — now covered for the winter — to the 14 Works of Mercy, Pewabic accents the center named for the popular priest who rose from porter to blessed. Pewabic iridescent gold tiles outline Casey’s tomb and St. Bonaventure’s baptismal font, carrying through the religion’s meaningful connection between death and rebirth through baptism, says Stefoff. The font also features Pewabic designs within it.
Although the gift shop previously carried Pewabic devotional tiles and select others appropriate for ceremonial celebrations such as marriage, Stefoff decided Casey’s beatification warranted a special new commemorative tile, and worked with Pewabic Senior Designers Dave McGee and Genevieve Sylvia. McGee and Sylvia also collaborated on the center’s earlier Pewabic designs, installed in 2002.
What resulted is a 4×4-inch embossed tile of Casey available in ivy (an ode to Casey’s heritage), bark (to emulate the simplicity of the robes worn by the Capuchin Order), and a hand-painted multicolor tile. The tiles are available now – $84.95 for ivy and bark and $125.95 for the hand-painted multicolored ones – at the Solanus Casey Gift Shop.
“As a native Detroiter who grew up as a Catholic kid raised in churches with Pewabic floors, it is an honor to be able to contribute to this special tile, connected to such a momentous event,” says Sylvia.
Pewabic is currently at work on a 12×6-inch limited edition custom commemorative tile of Casey, with 300 of the 500 going to benefactors and sponsors. The Center will sell the remaining 200, which should be available in the new year.
With Ben Teague’s artwork, both nothing and everything is what it seems. Teague himself playfully suggests that the prefix para- may be the best way to describe his work.
It’s a natural fit for the Cranbrook Academy of Art alumnus who wears a multitude of hats himself: sculptor and ceramicist; University of Michigan arts lecturer; associate curator at the Maxine and Stuart Frankel Foundation for Art; and mandolinist and vocalist with the acoustic trio Behind the Times.
Teague is the featured artist for Pewabic’s one-day solo exhibition Kiln Pad Pop-Up 1-4 PM Sunday, Oct. 22, held rain or shine in the courtyard of the historic pottery.
Available for purchase during the event. Teague’s work encompasses “everything under the sun,” he says, including traditional functional pottery like vessels and towel hooks, as well as nonfunctional pieces that he says riffs off the more functional pieces. His art often makes allusions — and can almost be illusions — likely to catch the knowing eye of ceramic insiders.
Teague readily admits that his work mixes and matches subjects and sets, in part because nothing successfully holds his attention for all that long. It reflects “a changing of channels,” a term he attributes to Tony Hepburn, the late ceramic artist and educator who was Teague’s mentor. Hepburn passed away in 2015.
The pop-up’s temporary setting feeds Teague’s curiosity about the spectrum of time, from the almost instantaneous communication his music supplies in real time to the greater commitment of time ceramics inherently require. Teague sees the exhibition as bringing an amalgamation of concepts, exploration and work into the confines of a single moment.
“That’s the only way I can see that level of intense exploration can be communicated. I feel it’s as intense as I can possibly make the experience and that’s exactly what I want. It’s completely unique,” says Teague. “It’s a huge investment of time that’s condensed.”
The exhibition also combines two concepts that intrigue Teague: play and problem-solving.
“It goes back to the idea of para-: Each particular piece is meant to solve a problem or is a possible solution to a problem,” says Teague. “Odawara Hatsunori told me after finishing one form made repeatedly over the course of a month or so, that now I could make anything. I don’t think he meant like anything in the world, but that was my interpretation later, so I went with it, leading me to making darts, mirrors, and tricycles that all functioned from clay.”
Marcia Hovland’s artwork has a way of making people feel happy.
“People do say they make them feel good,” says Hovland, adding that she finds inspiration from storybooks and everywhere. “I make a lot of one of a kind’s. They’re all differently painted. I have some characters I develop and use them over and over again – kitties, bunnies, people – I’m making my own little world with the kinds of things I gravitate towards.”
As part of Second Saturday, Hovland will demonstrate how she paints on bisque and greenware to make her creations 11 AM-4 PM Saturday, Oct. 14 at Pewabic. She’ll share how she selects clay for its different effects and brushes that help her paint the intricate details, avoiding dragging and fuzziness.
“I’ll tell them tidbits about the brushes I use. You need a good brush that holds paint,” explains Hovland, who prefers a Winsor #1 and often paints using the lids of the many glazes and underglazes she uses, adding a few drops of water to the paint.
Those who aren’t comfortable with brushes – Hovland gracefully maneuvers hers like a pen – can incise or scratch designs with a pintool and using wax resist on the greenware, rubbing it black with underglaze. She also employs a pintool to hold beads, turning it as she paints, or glues beads onto a ceramic plate to secure for glazing and firing.
“I try to teach students how to let the brush flow; how to get the underglaze line more refined,” says Hovland, explaining how the smaller, detailed pieces often build to bigger mosaics.
These days mosaics make up much of Hovland’s work, following a process that begins with her carefully spacing out her beads and small ceramic characters. She applies yogurt-thick dark grout over the mosaic pieces, later washing and lightly buffing the piece. The mosaics take multiple forms including paperweight-like half orbs – a friend dubs them “life buoys” for their charm – as well as frames or tiles Hovland creates and fills with mosaic pieces.
“I had made beads for a while and I thought this would be a neat idea,” she explains. “It’s another way of trying to do something other than a plain tile.”
Mosaics are nothing new for Hovland, who with fellow ceramicist Laurie Eisenhardt was behind the community-created Royal Oak Public Library mosaic that began in 2010 from scrap materials that remained from artists that participated in the annual Royal Oak Clay and Glass Show.
Hovland’s connection with Pewabic began in the early ‘90s when she enrolled in several tile classes. Before long she began to teach jewelry-making and hand-building classes at the pottery and opened a studio and gallery in Royal Oak in 1998, which moved to its current location at 415 E. 4th Street in 2003.
It takes more than the happenstance commonly attributed to serendipity to achieve the masterful glaze outcomes artists Brett Gray and Kevin Kwiatkowski display in Serendipity, a Pewabic exhibition that opens with a reception 5-8 PM Thursday, Sept. 28.
The artists will also lead a Gallery Talk and Demonstration about Serendipity, 5:30-7:30 PM Thursday, Oct. 19.
Serendipity demonstrates how the two accomplished potters tame the difficult-to-control nature of the soda and wood atmospheric firing processes on their carefully designed utilitarian vessels.
“While we have complete control of the design and shape, the atmospheric firing process makes every piece unique and rare in its own right,” explains Gray.
Serendipity accurately describes how these two potters finally met – mutual friends had suggested each to the other for years – and how their friendship and ceramics practices similarly align with a foundation in community.
“So, you’re Brett Gray,” Kwiatkowski recalls saying when he met Gray when both artists found themselves working at Pewabic; Gray as a staff vessel and tile maker, and Kwiatkowski as a tile presser and mold maker. “It’s just funny how our paths crossed. We’re pretty alike personalities. We’re both goofballs and hard workers.”
“We both totally knew who each other was,” agrees Gray. “Our work is completely different, but we definitely inspire each other.”
That inspiration is especially important, because finding the time and energy to do your own work can be tough when you’re holding fulltime ceramics jobs. Camaraderie and community counts.
“I’ve never fired it myself because it’s always more fun with two,” says Kwiatkowski, referencing the soda kiln. “The fun thing about it is it’s not so predictable. There’s a lot of chance that happens. You can try to go for something, but you never get exactly what you want. Sometimes you get better. Sometimes you get worse.”
Soda, in particular, follows the flame path, Kwiatkowski says, with fire going through the kiln like water would. The pots deflect it every which way.
“Whether wood, soda, or salt, the materials introduced in a kiln create an interaction with the ware that produces a unique finish on each piece that may never be duplicated,” says Kwiatkowski.
Gray considers how the shapes he’s making will react in the kiln. The way the glaze thickness differs creates nice glaze variations in his carved work, he explains.
“You don’t really know what you’re going to get,” Gray says. “I do that firing process because – in terms of glaze application – it’s much more surprising and exciting. That’s what inspires me to make what I make. The firing is a source of inspiration. It’s total surprise. You know what you’re doing, but you never know what you’re gonna get.”
Kwiatkowski’s Serendipity pieces all came through Ken Shenstone’s Albion Anagama kiln, which requires a 10-day firing and ideally a team of six people continually watching and feeding the fire. Both Gray and Kwiatkowski take part.
“It takes a month to load and it takes a year to make all the work. We split all the wood, which has to be at least six months before firing so it dries. The firing is the easiest part,” explains Kwiatkowski, adding that wood firings like this are why he got into ceramics in the first place.
Kwiatkowski received his BA from Adrian College in 2008 and his teaching certificate in Ceramic Arts from Hood College in Frederick, Md. in 2010. He began at Pewabic as a volunteer in 2006, later teaching soda firing/salt firing workshops and working in the shipping and receiving department before joining the fabrication team.
Gray received his BFA in Crafts/Ceramics in 2010. He then served as a board member on the Michigan Ceramics Council and was Artist-in-Residence with (the late) John P. Glick at Plum Tree Pottery. An NCECA fellow, Gray was construction manager for The Detroit Noborigama Kiln (aka The Salty Dog), before embarking on a career as production manager and lead board shaper for BLK Box Surfboards. Gray returned to ceramics with Brett Gray Clay, focusing on soda- and wood-fired utilitarian objects, and began working at Pewabic in 2015.
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.