Marblehead Pottery, named after the small harbor town, Marblehead, Massachusetts, originated in 1904 as a small operation that served as art therapy for the patients in the local sanitarium. However, in 1905, Arthur Baggs purchased the pottery and turned it into a small production pottery studio, that created the recognizable, quintessential Marblehead-style pieces. The studio never employed more than 6 people. Their small output and refined design aesthetic make these pieces special among Arts and Crafts pottery collectors.
What is special about Marblehead Pottery?
We admire Marblehead’s refined – almost modern – aesthetic. Their glazes are tight, but not rigid, and their pieces have a simple softness that comes from the lightly incised lines and tonal, stony glaze palette. From a ceramic artist’s perspective they were making something truly special and truly difficult to replicate.
From inspiration to aptitude – a decade of trial and error
Nothing could have been more challenging to recreate than Marblehead’s style. Our high relief sculpture and flowing glazes are so different from techniques and materials that Marblehead employed. Perhaps that challenge made the endeavor so enticing! Running glazes mean that we always avoid horizontal lines, which tend to become obscured when the glaze flows over them in the kiln. In early Marblehead attempts we thinned out the glaze in order to apply it in a scant-dipped coat. To no avail. The glazes still ran over the black lines. For the next attempts we reformulated the glazes to run less by removing some of the glazes’ flux. But then our surfaces lacked interest and looked stagnant. It wasn’t until we learned how to spray our glazes (about 5 years ago) that we finally had a solution. With a spraying technique we can apply our inherently interesting glazes thin enough so that they don’t run and cause the decoration to bleed.
A new bag of tricks = an expanded body of work
We finally conquered our materials. This process has led to an avenue of exploration that we proudly see as expanding on the great Marblehead’s legacy, but with an Ephraim twist.
Sometimes the holy grail of making successful art involves marrying bold design with simplicity. We think about the elements of design all day, every day in the studio.
Here are some of the lessons we have learned over the years for achieving great design in ceramics:
It is important to notice subtleties of form, especially in terms of the line formed by the edge – where the vessel meets the background. Most people don’t think about the artistic element of line when they think about pottery, but line is a critical factor in refined, well-designed pottery.
Bold design is confident. In the same way fluidity and confidence result in a good golf stroke, a fast and fluid pull on the potter’s wheel produces a more confident form. It helps to trust the broad physical motions of throwing pottery and resist the urge to spend a lot of time perfecting a form inch-by-inch.
Often (but not always!) odd numbers make elegant design sense. Likewise, applying the rule of thirds to a piece of art can be a successful tactic. Always be careful about adding design elements that break at the vertical middle of the form as this divides the form in half and disrupts the eye.
Simplicity doesn’t mean simple or even minimal. While simplicity and minimalism can indeed work nicely together, we usually characterize pieces that maximize simplicity as also being well-unified. Sometimes we achieve successful unity through repeating patterns and other times we achieve it through harmonious glazing schemes.
Our work will always reflect our uniqueness. Creating at this level is incredibly challenging…and rewarding. Each loss is actually a lesson gained, not a chink in our armor.
2. Pottery is messy.
Our studio is covered in a fine dust of glaze particles, spatterings of wet glaze and smears of wet clay. When we are not creating the messes we are working on the regular equipment repairs and searching for ways to improve our efficiency. Keeping this studio humming along is a collaborative effort – from designing, hand-building, marketing, and order entry to shipping final pieces. An infinite number of errors could occur, but we give each piece our attention and dedication. Miraculously by the end of the process, the mess gives birth to beauty and we deliver joy to our collectors.
3. Our kilns give us lumps of coal at a regular rate.
Any ceramic artist can relate – a thankfully small – but persistent percentage of breaks, falls, unwanted drips, over-firings, under-firings, etc. are to be expected. This roll of the dice is what gets so many of us geeked! Our standards are extremely high, so the kiln errors also translate into a regular supply of seconds and irregulars available in our Studio Gallery.
4. When the kilns deliver perfectly we still break pots.
After expertly hand painted well over a hundred “snowy birch” ornaments, Leah was devastated to drop and break an entire board of them. Breaks in the galleries are also a bummer…. Whenever possible we have a laugh and make the most of our accidents. Laura has a wonderful habit of turning failed greenware into hideous creatures, which are a peculiar comfort to all of us.
5. We proudly enter our 22nd year of creating this special art pottery called “Ephraim”.
Despite all the challenges or perhaps because of them we continue to be inspired by the ceramic process and driven to advance our collective abilities. We are humbled by our successes and forever grateful for our collectors. It is solely because of your appreciation for this traditional art form that we exist. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your support. Cheers to 2018 and all the joy and new pottery it is sure to bring!
Introducing the 2017 Winter Collection. May these colorful designs brighten your home during this spirited season and bring you years of delight. We offer our sincere gratitude and holiday cheer for your loyalty and goodwill throughout the year.
This year’s Winter Holiday Series – Lyrical Poinsettia Vase – will be available until all 85 of the numbered edition pieces are ordered. The rest of the Winter Collection will be available in our galleries, online, or by phone 888.704.7687 through Dec 15.
As the days shorten and shadows lengthen we see with fading light just how fascinating our little blue planet can be. From Twilight’s glow the 2017 Fall Collection reveals the stunning natural wonders, quaint creatures, and fairytale features of fall – the wildest season of the all. The Fall Collection will be available through September only.
Cinderella Pumpkin – Limited Edition. Thrown by Kevin Hicks, sculpted by Laura Klein and glazed by Allison Jellenchick.
“Victory Falls” is an awe-inspiring feat of ceramic art. At Ephraim Pottery we have great reverence for the past masters and have drawn so much inspiration from their art pottery. In this piece, Grueby and Teco Pottery were both influential. Artist, Kevin Hicks, appreciated Teco’s beautifully complex, double-walled designs – so ambitious they required molds and slip-casting. Similarly, the hand-thrown and organic nature of Grueby’s pottery has always been an important source of inspiration for Hicks. He wanted to merge hand-thrown pottery with the complexity of Teco’s slip cast pottery. The result is wonderfully intriguing. We are happy to share with you the creative journey of this pivotal piece.
A Process that Requires Skill
Without any straightforward instruction from books or other potters of the past, Hicks spent six-plus months of trial and error in different methods and materials to create Victory Falls. Two thrown parts must come together with an exactly equal diameter to make this piece. Hicks throws and scores the bottom of the upper, double-walled portion of the vase. He sets this first piece aside and carefully throws the lower form. Hicks delicately connects the two parts, finessing them on the potter’s wheel to join them seamlessly as one piece.
Sculpting & Carving: Finishing of the Form
After the form dries to leather hard, Hicks intricately carves into the form and applies the sculptural details of the bridge, rocks and water.
Collaboration of Glaze and Gravity
Once the form is fully dry it goes to the kiln for the bisque firing. Our master glazer, Becky Hansen, then applies the glaze – utilizing pouring, spraying and hand-brushing techniques – to finish the form and create the illusion of moving water with flowing glaze.
The Best Yet!
Kevin Hicks, “I like to look outside the box for creative ways to push forward – beyond what we have done in the past, beyond what other potteries are doing, and beyond what is typical.”
This special design is part of our Limited Edition Fall Collection and will be available for order only through September 30, 2017. It is our third version of a waterfall design and shows a progression of our creative expression. Below you can see “Victory Falls” beside our older waterfall designs.
Did you know that we work in limited editions? We make up to 500 pieces of each design. The popular Dancing Dragonflies Bowl is approaching 500 and will retire soon. If you admire this design, order soon!