Most of my work begins on a potter's wheel.
I primarily use an electric wheel, but I also use a hand-crafted treadle wheel. Shaping clay on the wheel is different from any other making method I’ve encountered. Pieces aren’t built; rather, they’re intuited with the immediacy of singing a song.
I often use the wheel to create and process textures. I texture with paddles, mallets, roulettes, combs and stamps. Sometimes I’ll flame the surface, then stretch the piece from inside to subtly distort the patterns and open surface tears.
Firing continually fascinates me.
Fire takes prehistoric stone, softens it almost to the point of magma, and makes it new. This is no exaggeration – fire takes clay, ground down from mountains over millions of years, and resets the clay’s radiocarbon date, making it into brand new stone. This metamorphosis creates something almost eternal. Often, the only things left after a major wildfire are pots and brickwork. In many cases, we only know an ancient culture through its ceramics.
Atmospheric wood and soda kilns bear witness to the poetry of this elemental struggle. Flames pour over the surface of the work, depositing salts and ash through a complex conspiracy between the shape of the kiln, the piece’s form, the material’s chemistry, airflow through the kiln, the piece’s placement in relation to other pieces, and on and on and on. Firing is similar to an organic process. Why does a tree grow the way it does? A budding acorn heads toward the sun, only to find roots, rocks, and other plants in the way. Over the decades of its life, the way a tree negotiates its way toward sunlight dictates its form.
Similarly, there are simple laws governing atmospheric firing, but the laws’ interactions are so dizzyingly complex as to seem chaotic. Resultant surfaces paradoxically appear wild and determined. Far from manufactured or decorated, atmospherically fired ceramics bear more similarity to lichen growing across the bark of a live oak or mushrooms poking up through a carpet of leaves and grass.
Video: Jessica Gardner