Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Featured Artist - Martha Grover

Martha Grover's process involves an unusual combination of various glazing and assembling techniques, resulting in the whimsical, functional forms she describers as "reminiscent of images orchids, flowing dresses, and the body." Thrown and altered porcelain forms are combined with slabs, with most seams left decoratively exposed. The work is fired to cone 04, and then finished with a layered glaze process that involves both pouring and spraying.  The snowy, seashell like patterns on Grover's surfaces are achieved by layering a colored, opaque glaze over a clear base coat.  Ultimately the finished piece is fired to cone 11 in an electric kiln.

Martha learned to throw from a high school teacher, but it was while she was studying architecture in college that she discovered the field of ceramics. "I was lucky to have a great teacher and I fell in love with throwing, but not one told me you could actually go to school for that.  I come from a science-driven family of engineers,  and I have always been interested in the arts, so the logical decision was to major in architecture.  But the ceramics studio was right next to the architecture department.  I never looked back.  By the time I completed by BA, I knew my passion was clay."  

Since then, Martha's work has been published in Clay Times, Ceramics Monthly, 500 Pitchers, 500 Vases, and 500 Platters and Chargers.  She has been honored on the cover of Ceramics Monthly as a winner of the 2010 Ceramics Monthly Emerging Artist Competition and is currently working at the Archie Bray Foundation, where she has received the Taunt Fellowship.  "When I took the Myers Briggs, my personality tested on the borderline between introvert and extrovert, and I think my pots have a similar quality.  Outrageous but quiet.  A little frilly, but still functional.  And there are details that you don't see at first, that you discover through interaction."

Her pots have a striking, special-occasion quality to them, meant to encourage the user to pause and fully experience interacting with the ceramic vessel.  "In our lives, we often move past the objects surrounding us at a very quick pace.  My goal is to create an undeniable presence, one that acts as an invitation to explore the work thoroughly, taking time to know all of its many facets.  Only through sustained interaction we can truly know and appreciate someone or something."

Tell us something unusual about yourself.
I have an Airedale named Harvey.  I got him as a puppy just after I finished undergrad in 2002.  As anyone who has a terrier can attest, they have their quirks, challenges, and very entertaining characteristics.  I affectionately refer to Harvey as the “Monster.”  As a puppy, he looked (and still sort of does) like a Sesame Street Muppet—curly brown hair and mouth hinged open wide with a little pink tongue inside.  At 10, he still acts like a crazy puppy, in manner and discipline.  I thought that after a few years he might calm down, but no, he is still just as energetic as ever.  

His name is from the Jimmy Stewart movie “Harvey.”  In the film, Harvey is a 6’ 3.5” tall, invisible rabbit, and a pooka: a benign but mischievous creature from Celtic mythology.  And mischievous my Harvey has turned out to be!  Airedales talk, constantly.  He loves to make noises—grunts, groans, squeaks—he tells me all kinds of stories about his day when I get home from the studio.  

Harvey also tries to sleep on my pillow, whether I am using it or not!  He is a constant source of amusement, and frequent frustration—the kind where you can’t help but laugh and shake your head at the same time.

What is your typical day to day like?
I usually start the day by getting into the studio at 9 AM.  I begin with a cup of tea while checking email, responding to inquiries, and other paperwork that goes along with being an artist.  Then I spend 30 to 60 minutes at the wheel throwing parts for the pieces that I will assemble later in the afternoon.  My throwing time varies depending on the volume verses complexity of the pots I am working on that day.  
Once all the parts are thrown and starting to set up, I do any necessary altering and slab preparation for assembly in the afternoon.  By the time I’m done prepping everything, it’s time for lunch.  After lunch, I move into hand building for the afternoon.  I spend the rest of the afternoon assembling the thrown parts and slabs into finished pieces.  Around 4 PM I will throw another batch of pots to use the following day or sometimes later that evening depending on how busy the season is.  At 5 PM, I take a break to go home and walk the dog and have dinner.  A few nights each week, I will go back to the studio after dinner and finish a few more pots.  I am usually in the studio six days a week, seven during the holidays or when a big show is coming up.  

Interspersed with my regular production schedule, usually while pots are drying, is packing work to ship, taking slide photos, and the usual re-checking of mail at least two more times during the day, then another cup of tea and taking care of recycling clay (I try to make this a continual process so it doesn’t become overwhelming).   

How much of your own ceramic pieces do you use in your own home?  Other people’s?

I have a great collection of pots at home—more than can reasonably fit in the cupboards and on the shelves!  I love using handmade work.  I use a few of my own pots at home, but mainly the house is filled with other people’s work.  I already spend 8 to 12 hours a day with my pots, and there is something so enjoyable in using another potter’s work—it is almost like having a conversation with them.  If it is a pot made by an artist that I know, then the experience is also a walk down memory lane—a time to think of them and their work and general thoughts about handmade objects.  For me, the use of a pot strengthens so many connections, between me and the vessel, me and the maker.  The use of other pots also encourages me to think critically about my work—the decisions that I make with each piece.  It’s an ongoing dialog.   

If you collect pottery, do you tend to collect deep from one artist or style, or broadly across many artists and looks?
I collect broadly from lots of artists—mostly pots but some sculptural work.  My collection has benefited greatly from my time at different residency programs and working in different galleries.  I like to collect and use other people’s pots because it is very instructive to me as a maker.  I learn about form, weight, contours, and style through use.  I like to have pots in styles that contrast from my own.  Other artists make decisions in their pots that often differ from my own, and I may not fully appreciate those decisions until I actually use their pots.  

What is your favorite food to eat out of your own pots? 
While it’s not necessarily my favorite food—I love too many to pick—my favorite pot that I made and use most frequently at home is a small pitcher/creamer.  It is a light textured green, with a longish spout.  I fill it with homemade maple syrup every weekend for Saturday brunch.  My dad and grandmother make the syrup on the family farm in Maine every year.  I love it on pancakes, waffles, or French toast.  The little pitcher pours perfectly—not a single drop of the precious syrup drips down the front!  The handle is just the right size for one finger.  One of my favorite features was quite unplanned.  I store the syrup in pint-sized mason jars, and at the end of brunch, I can tip the pitcher upside down on the jar to drain.  The spout and top lip of the pitcher are shaped in such a way that it rests perfectly on the mason jar, so that it can be left to pour out any last remaining drops to save for the next time.

Where does your inspiration come from?
The simple/short answer – flowers, dance, old movie costumes, and antiques. 
All of these played influential roles in my childhood, and thus are the forms that my hands long to make.  My parents’ house is filled to the brim with antiques.  Old china, furniture, paintings, dishes, candlesticks, and silverware filled my visual realm as a child.  I was raised in the woods of Western Maine.  My family grows most of their own vegetables.  Along with the food, they grow just as many or more flowers.  I was constantly in the flower beds as a child, looking at the intricate details of the blossoms.  I also studied ballet from the age of 3 until 18.  And my sister and I were, and still are, fascinated by old movies, especially the lavish movie musicals of the 50s and 60s.  

All of the ornateness of the antiques; the delicate edges and details of the flower blossoms; the lift, shape, and movement of the dancers; the grace and style of the old movie stars; and the handmade/homegrown mentality of my parents have shaped what my work is today.  

Do you ever get potters’ block? How do you get out of your creative ruts?
I don’t think that I do, but I know there are times when I make fewer new forms.  For me, new creativity comes in bursts.  A few times each year I get really excited about a new form or variation in my work.  The rest of the time I just try to focus on making the established forms that people enjoy.  The life of a potter is filled with repetition, and I think this helps me in some ways with not getting “potter’s block.”  There are always more mugs and bowls to be made, which gets me through periods of less creativity.  

This past spring I was very inspired to make a new form – Tulipieres.  I had wanted to make a large-scale vase form for quite a while and was having cracking issues when I attempted to make them as one piece.  It suddenly dawned on me that I could make them in smaller parts that would stack – the layers could then be fired separately and reassembled out of the kiln.  It made firing and glazing easier, and the stacked vase has the added benefit of being more versatile to fit various sized flower arrangements depending on the situation and space.  The technical problem in a way ended up being the creative boost to make an exciting new form.

I have had many other instances where a simple conversation sparks a new idea.  The latest was a chat about the abundance of cupcake shops.  This lead to the thought, “Maybe I should make cupcake stands,” then “What about cake stands?”  This was followed by some internet and book research of what others have made and then experimentation in the studio.

Being creative and coming up with a new form in my style can be a challenge, but I enjoy the process, and if I ever get stumped, I try to bring it back to my core goal of functionality and my personal aesthetic influences.  

View Martha's solo exhibition at MudFire Gallery online and in person from January 27 - February 19, 2012.

Also check out these "how-to" articles published by Ceramic Arts Daily:
Seamless Transitions: How to Spray Layers of Glazes to Softly Blend Glaze Colors

Treasure for Treasures:  Lidded Box Form


1 comment:

  1. bobsandrenas@aol.com I would like to purchase one of your wonderful tulipiere flower containers. I am particularly interested in the one that you said that you were inspired to do this past spring. Would it be possible for you to send me several pictures of the ones you do so I could select the one that I really want. Thank you, Rena Smith 5501 Lillehammer Lane Unit 4309 Park City, Utah 84098