Before Ephraim Pottery, potters Kevin Hicks and Ken Nekola, made miniature pottery as part of their work at Rowe Pottery. Rowe had a line of miniatures and sold doll tea sets to the Pleasant Company (American Girl Doll). Miniature-making required a special skill set and when it came time for Hicks to start Ephraim Pottery, he earned extra money working as an independent potter for the “Miniature Pottery” in Edgerton, WI.
Ornaments lead to Miniatures
Hicks’ and Nekola’s experience making miniatures eventually translated into hand-thrown ornaments at Ephraim. The ornaments, in turn, led to occasional experimentation with one-of-a-kind miniature vases. The finely-wrought details and demands in firing present a unique challenge that has taken the studio years to overcome. To date Ephraim has only managed to offer three miniature designs in short-run, limited-editions – all in the last 5 or 6 years.
Little Details make Divine Miniatures
This year, thanks to our master kiln-loader, Alek Schroeder, the fine motor sculpting skills of Ken Nekola and Laura Klein, and the amazing attention to detail and quality of our glazers, Jennifer Alexander, Becky Hansen, and Allison Jelenchick we are able to present you with three miniature designs in multiple glazing options. We are especially proud of the intricate details encompassed in this collection and hope you enjoy them as much as we do.
Two years ago, we asked, “What color glaze occurs from the accumulated glaze dust in our studio?” We discovered a black, speckled teal glaze and we used that color to make a limited run of “Earth Day Vases.” (read about the 2015 piece here). Inspired by our previous attempt at a recycled glaze, this year Becky wanted to find out what a glaze made from her scraping bucket would look like if she systematically omitted the green scrapings from the bucket. Becky painstakingly sorted her scrapings for an entire year. When the bucket was full, we reconstituted the glaze. The entire studio made predictions about the color – in the raw state the glaze was a chalky pink color that resembled many of our other glazes, but what color would it be fired to 2000 degrees?
The next morning when we plucked the sample out of the kiln, the whole studio had a good chuckle when we saw the color – green! Of course, in the end, this made sense because all of the yellow scrapings mixed with all the blue scrapings. The resulting glaze color is a unique shade of green with a softer tone than our leaf green; slightly bluish, though less blue than our teal glaze.
With this pleasing, creamy bluish green glaze in mind, we turned to Laura Klein to design a vase suitable to our new bucket of glaze and to an Earth Day theme. Immediately Laura seized on the idea of making a cicada vase. The rich symbology of a cicada from ancient art – representing rebirth and immortality, paired with poppies – representing sleep and death, seemed like the perfect, unique theme for this special piece.
At Ephraim Pottery sustainable practices are a regular component of the workflow. We recycle our used clay within the studio & by donating to local ceramics programs, we purchase energy from a solar and wind-sourced power grid, in the woodshop, John uses “scraps” of his quarter-sawn oak to build the smaller tile stands, and we offer reusable cloth bags in our galleries. Various staff members walk or bike to work, others drive fuel efficient vehicles. The list goes on…but you get the idea – we truly care about this beautiful planet and strive to protect the natural world which is our essential source of inspiration in our art.
We invite you to add this special vase to your collection and to also continually strive to make healthy choices for our planet. In honor of Earth Day, we will donate $20 from the purchase of each vase to The Alliance for the Great Lakes. Their mission is to conserve and restore the world’s largest freshwater resource using policy, education, and local efforts, ensuring a healthy Great Lakes for all generations. Happy Earth Day!
Spring is here! As the frozen landscape once again gives way to warmer days we joyfully celebrate some of the season’s most fleeting actors – a dramatic magnolia bloom, elusive nuthatch, delicate bluebell, humble crocus and emerging frog – with our limited edition 2017 Spring Collection. Available online March 1st – 31st, 2017.
Introducing “Glaze drop Jewels” a new line of jewelry made exclusively for Ephraim by Michael Thee and Mary Wohlgemuthof Michael Thee Studio.
In the 20 years that we have been making our own glazes they have been flowing off or our pots and pooling in beautiful “drops” on our kiln shelves. We have marveled at these unique by-products of our process and dreamed of someday utilizing them. Then this summer we met jewelry artists Michael Thee and Mary Wohlgemuth of Michael Thee Studio. They were not only enthusiastically open to working with our “rare gems,” but their wonderful handmade aesthetic and shared value of working collaboratively make us proud to work with them and showcase their art.
Ephraim’s glazes, a signature element of our pottery, are unconventional in that they have been designed to flow. Most potters use stagnant glazes because flowing glazes present such a multitude of difficulties. Yet we find that the rich character and surface quality that exists as a result of the flowing glazes far out weigh the problems. In order to work with these glazes, we suspend the pots in the kiln on a stilt over a kiln shelf. As the glazes flow in the firing they run off the foot of the pot and pool in drops on the kiln shelves. We then grind the bottom of the pot to remove the vitrified drips of glaze on the foot.
After we remove all of the pots from the kiln, 6 shelves – all spotted with unique glaze drops – remain. We scrape these drops from the shelves, apply a new layer of kiln wash – a coating that protects our shelves from the daily glaze drops – and we admire and collect the uniquely beautiful glaze drops during this process. Inevitably new glaze combinations produce unusual looking drops, which creates an additional level of excitement in the studio. As Kevin often points out, “that glaze drop is rarer than a diamond,” and with all these beautiful specimens piling up around the studio we simply had to find a way to exhibit them.
That is where the award-winning jewelry artists Mary and Michael come in. We met Mary and Michael at the Lake Mills Arts Festival. Their jewelry and metalwork stood out to us as exceptionally well rendered and incredibly inventive. Mary and Michael gravitate to organic themes like trees, leaves, and stars in much of their work. They also playfully incorporate historical architectural design elements into their work, mingling organic and industrial-inspired motifs. Their work with these familiar themes means that we have a shared aesthetic and because we speak this same language, they are perfect collaborators. Here Michael and Mary are shown working in their Milwaukee jewelry studio.
It is our tradition at Ephraim Pottery for artists to commemorate a milestone at the studio with a special design. Celebrating their anniversaries this year are Leah Purisch, 5 years; Becky Hansen, 10 years; John Raymond, 15 years; and Kevin Hicks, 20 years.
Ephraim Pottery is defined by the sensibilities and honed techniques of each of our members. It is a beautiful—and novel—model for an art pottery, as both new and veteran artists exert a symbiotic influence on one another. We grow and evolve through our collaborations; building and refining our common aesthetic to create innovative, fresh artwork.
Little did Leah know that her early years growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio would provide a great foundation for the path that lay ahead. Cincinnati—the hometown of the historic Rookwood Pottery—provided a catalyst for Leah’s later interest in art pottery. Leah’s circuitous path to Ephraim began with a childhood interest in art, followed by a BAand MA in Art History from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After college Leah focused on oil painting and a display of her portrait work caught Kevin’s attention in a local Lake Mills art gallery. A short time later, a chance meeting brought her to the pottery and that connection sparked an idea for a new kind of collaboration for Leah and Ephraim.
Without any ceramic experience, Leah and Kevin undertook this collaboration tentatively and with an open mind. In short order, Leah’s amiable spirit, artistic skills, and passion for design work made her fit right in. Her affinity for historic art styles and practices, specifically her quest to design scenic vases, has contributed to many new avenues of artistic exploration for Ephraim in the five years since she joined the studio. Today her low relief, painterly style is instantly recognizable and widely admired by our collectors. In the studio Leah is a dynamic force of creative energy, supportively inspiring others to dream, play and experiment—to push past perceived boundaries and freely explore their artistic expression.
A required art credit for a business degree changed the trajectory of Becky Hansen’s life. This ceramics class ignited an interest in pottery that began as a hobby but eventually grew into Becky’s career at Ephraim. While living in Colorado Becky took a summer job throwing demonstration pots for Van Briggle Pottery, which later turned into a full-time position. There Becky gained experience in many realms of pottery making—throwing, glazing, slip casting, pressing tile, and making clay. As she became more involved in the small world of art pottery, Becky began hearing about Ephraim’s model of employing artists to work together hand throwing and sculpting pottery. Our studio appealed to her sensibilities—she liked the concept of more people involved in the design processes as well as the idea of creating new designs versus reproductions. Becky reached out to Kevin and the rest is history.
Becky is a steady and positive force in the studio. Her fun sense of humor and sincere, kind demeanor make our little pottery a happy place to be. Becky’s innovations and artistry in the glazing department have brought us popular glaze combinations such as ‘light stone,’ ‘dusky olive’, ‘autumn reflections,’ and ‘glacial.’ Becky has also designed and sculpted several Studio Collection pieces over the years, including “Maybells” and the “Oak Cabinet Vase”. As Becky rounds out her first ten years at Ephraim, we are so pleased that she found our studio and intrigued by the possibilities of what she will come up with next.
John Raymond Fifteen years ago John came to the fledgling Ephraim Pottery in a leap of faith. As Ephraim grew from a very small studio to a bigger operation, the pottery needed a knowledgeable studio foreman to manage everything from glazes to kiln firings, and Kevin knew no one was better suited than John for this job. Tinkering, repairing, repurposing came naturally to John—even as a small child he remembers fixing lamps and other household items for his parents. To Ephraim’s good fortune, John took a chance with us and his hard work and ingenuity have contributed immensely to the studio’s success.
John has an MFA from The Art Institute of Chicago and has spent most of his career in the ceramic field. Three years ago, in support of John’s passion for woodworking, Ephraim branched out with him to establish a wood shop and offer handmade wood items to our customers. The change from ceramic to wood was a seamless endeavor because the central feature of John’s art is craftsmanship. His meticulous and uncompromising sensibilities enable him to create beautiful wood objects made with the very highest standards.
John carries his adherence to craftsmanship through every aspect of his life and work. His devotion to excellence can be seen in the smallest details—from the tools that he creates for the pottery to the guides that he makes for his wood shop to the sketches and architectural drawings used to track his ideas. Ultimately these objects reflect a sense of caring—a conscientiousness about himself and his surroundings—about life in general.
Kevin Hicks Kevin had always been drawn to the art room in school—a space where artists worked side-by-side and naturally collaborated. That clubhouse atmosphere inspired him to create a ceramic studio where craftspeople had input into the artistic side of the products.
Twenty years ago Kevin Hicks founded Ephraim Pottery. Here he sought to merge the traditional production pottery studio model of the past with the modern autonomy of the individual artist. The result has been a unique hybrid—a place where ideas are shared, gathered and developed as a group.
Above all Kevin enjoys the process of making things by hand. The first time Kevin watched an artist throw a pot on the wheel he felt transcended and that ignited a fierce desire to learn more. Nearly every day of the week—including weekends—you’ll find Kevin creating at the studio where his focus is on pioneering new techniques for throwing and sculpting vases. He thrives on engineering ways to throw bigger and more complex pieces.
His determination has translated into mastery. Today he is a captivating thrower to observe, a veteran himself, inspiring a new generation of potters. After over 30 years of throwing Kevin still asserts that “Ceramics is a never-ending source of inspiration. The more I work in ceramics the more ideas flourish.”
Kevin wants every piece that comes out of the studio to display the hand of the maker. His affinity for a handmade aesthetic drives him to lean away from technologies that remove the artist’s hands from the work. Twenty years in business—no small feat for an art studio—reinforces that Kevin’s unifying vision to facilitate humble collaboration among artists and elevate a handmade aesthetic is a recipe for success.