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Making a Catalog

Peek at the behind-the-scenes making of our 2019 Studio Collection catalog

Many thanks to Laura and Andy Salerno who graciously shared their century-old home for Ephraim’s 2019 Studio Collection photo shoot. Each year we scout out a unique site that acts as a backdrop to our new designs.

Built in 1897 for the Scholl family as a double residence, or a modified duplex to accommodate mother and daughter, this charming Queen Anne-style home with American Gothic influences graces the tree-lined south end of Main Street in Lake Mills. It’s nestled between several other historic homes and its interior boasts original pocket doors, wood floors, a coal-burning fireplace and embossed Victorian wallpaper, or Lincrusta, among other period-specific architectural details.

Meet Jacob, the Norwegian Forest cat. With his hardy disposition and curious nature, he is the “alpha kitty” among an endearing bunch of felines who happily abide in this cozy home.

These meticulous and artful architectural renderings of the Salerno home were discovered behind a neighbor’s shelving unit 100 years after the home was built. At the age of 43, the architect Charles P. Rawson worked for the Radson Architectural Company in Madison. He was an original contributor to Architectural Digest and a published subject matter expert, authoring several books in his day.

Last, but not least, a big thank-you to our photographer, Nicole Cooke for her incredible technical skill and artistic eye. And to our graphic designer, Tony Cooke for his creative work pulling all the little pieces together into a sweet catalog.

Would you like to receive the 2019 Studio Collection catalog in your mailbox? Click here to join our mailing list!

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A Photo Journal of the Miniature Making Process

Miniature Process

During late winter, Ephraim artists boldly engage in an emerging tradition. We find space on our shelves and in our creative consciousness to build miniatures based on beloved Studio Collection designs. Our fine motor skills are already honed from holiday ornament production which intuitively turns our attention to what we fondly call “minis.”

 

Miniature Octopus Vase

In fact, it’s the artists’ experience over the past 15 years in developing and making hand-thrown ornaments that led to experimenting with one-of-a-kind miniature vases. The process offered our studio unique challenges, taking years to work through.

 

Miniature Stalwart Oak Jar

While the finely-wrought details in glazing and sculpting minis require similar techniques to their full-sized counterparts, it also requires more delicate motions, sharper tools, and ongoing patience. Loading an asymmetrical, minuscule figure with a tiny foot into the kiln demands precise balance so the pots can fire evenly.

 

Miniature Craftsman Rose Vase

To date, Ephraim has only managed to offer four miniature designs in short-run, limited editions – all in the last six or seven years. We will continue to welcome this post-holiday challenge because, in the end, the effort keeps us nimble and each successful attempt keeps us cherishing these astonishingly adorable and rare mini reproductions.

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Ephraim’s Journey with Functional Glazes and More

Making pottery requires great fortitude and courage. Six years ago we switched from our earthenware clay body to a stoneware clay body, which would support the studio in developing a line of functional pottery over time. Concurrently, the new stoneware clay body would sustain Ephraim’s existing and ever-evolving line of art pottery. Many of the studio artists began their potting careers as functional production potters and enjoy the idea of returning to their roots in functional ware. This leap initially required our glaze chemist to reformulate all of the production glazes so they were compatible with our new clay body a huge endeavor!

As our standard production glazes stabilized, the shift in materials generated new, innovative techniques for glazing pottery. It laid a foundation for us to formulate a new line of glazes from scratch that were fired at a higher temperature and suitable for functional ware.

Glaze Development – Midfire Glazes

Just like staring at a blank canvas with a palette full of paint, setting out to design a new glaze line can be daunting. It forced us to imagine how we wanted these glazes to look and feel:

  • Should they look like our earthenware glazes?
  • Should they relate to each other?
  • Should they be entirely different from our signature glazes?

These were all questions that we would explore in great detail over the coming years.

Three long years of testing ensued that yielded several complete failures, along with a portion of promising results. From this humbling experience, we firmly concluded that these functional glazes had to not only be pleasant, but extraordinarily beautiful. Indeed, beautiful enough to eventually hold their own beside the masters of mid-century ceramics that we deeply admired. With each glaze test we were reminded that while making art is academic and inspiring, it is equally hard and requires extreme patience.

Inventing a beautiful, stable and functional glaze turned out to be a fraction of the development necessary to bring our vision to life. We still had to develop methods of applying the glaze and firing the pieces that also looked beautiful. From dipping, to spraying and everything in between we tried countless methods to achieve the stunning look we were after.

 

In addition, we needed to extensively explore the perfect form for these functional pieces, one that served as an elegant and refined canvas for our elegant, functional glaze. Coffee mugs in every shape and size imaginable were created and, over the course of a year, friends and family were surveyed to evaluate the most compelling coffee mug features. Our first functional offering is indeed a coffee mug, the Cauldron Mug, presented in October 2018. The form features a thin rim, subtle break in the main body form, and comfortable large handle with a modern, elegant foot. The form shows off the feathery, buttery glaze perfectly and we couldn’t be more proud.

The journey goes on as we endeavor to create bowls and more mug designs in 2019, continuing to use our experiences, good or bad – failure or success, to move us forward.

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Exercises in Intentional Creativity

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.” Salvador Dali

Seeking Inspiration

As artists, we are conditioned to draw inspiration from a variety of sources – nature, books, personal experiences, and our community of artists. While we intuitively channel this inspiration into our everyday work, it is useful to push our creativity in more intentional ways. This intentional, or outside-the-box, kind of creativity is an important investment in our future work and always seems to pay artistic dividends.

A Design Challenge – The ‘Fifth Season’

In the studio we started calling intentional creativity ‘Fifth Season’ work, which represents design work that diverges from what we think of as standard or safe, and instead strives to be novel – if imperfect. The idea of the Fifth Season surfaced last January as the holiday season wound down. We completed design and production of our Winter Collection, the fourth seasonal collection of the year, and were in the midst of  creative renewal as we reflected on our year of designs. Then, Jill presented a fun design challenge as an exercise to stretch our creativity. Each artist was tasked with designing a vase based on two random parameters drawn from a hat, historic style and motif. Artists drew the following:

Allison – A landscape in Newcomb College style

Becky – A symbolic motif  in Amphora style

Ken – A flower in Nouveau style

Alek – A classic motif in Rookwood Pottery style

Leah – A steampunk motif in Saturday Evening Girl style

Kevin – A geometric motif in Teco style

Jill – A rebirth motif in Grueby Faience Pottery style

Laura – A whimsical motif in Prairie style

Jennifer – A bird in Marblehead Pottery style

Sharing Our Ideas

The End Results

While the end results are far from refined and finished, we found great value in pushing ourselves into new territory. Little bits of technique and whispers of inspiration from this exercise now emerge as successful elements in our new artwork.

 

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Help us Design a Pop Culture Vase

From Game of Thrones and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to Bigfoot and “Shark Week”, we are inspired by popular culture. Collaborate with Ephraim artists to design a fan-built pop culture vase.  Which offbeat, nontraditional motif makes a good subject for ceramic art?

Every Ephraim vase begins with a free flow of ideas – in a sketch or through freeform play with the clay.  Help us transform a simple lump of clay by responding to us on Facebook, Instagram or email (ephraim.office@gmail.com) with your ideas for a motif. We’ll gather a group of the strongest or most unique ideas and then reach out to you again with our interpretations of your theme. Follow and participate in this journey on our Facebook and Instagram pages(#ephraimfanbuilt).

Update 8/17/2018 –

At the studio this week we sketched out a plan to make the first pop culture vase. Laura unearthed a Lord of the Rings book and a couple of books with antique children’s illustrations to inspire us. We want to create a personified tree who holds a bowl between his limbs. Kevin threw the forms for the trunk and the bowl. Laura will throw the limb that supports the bowl and then she will assemble the thrown forms and embellish the tree with sculpture. Follow our journey on Facebook and Instagram as we work out the finer details of this piece and as we explore other pop culture vase ideas – #ephraimfanbuilt

Pop Culture-inspired Experimental Pieces from Years Past

All of these pieces were created from 2015-2018 and currently reside in private collections.

Kevin’s Bigfoot Throwing A Pot Vase

Kevin is the ultimate Bigfoot fan. For his birthday we created a lidded jar for him featuring Bigfoot throwing a pot. This piece now holds a prominent place in Kevin’s home as a prized part of his art collection.

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Making the Wildflower Vase: a short video documents the process

The Wildflower Vase is one of 6 pieces from the new limited-edition 2018 Spring Collection (available for order through May 11, 2018). This piece incorporates many fine details and intricacies that we documented for you to see in this short video. We hope you enjoy watching a sampling of the mesmerizing processes involved in creating this wonderful vase.

Shop the Wildflower Vase