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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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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

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We Proudly Present Archive Editions Textiles – now online!

Ephraim Pottery vases shown on an Archive Editions Textile.

Ephraim and Archive Editions – a long-standing friendship

Ephraim has offered Archive Edition textiles in our galleries from the beginning. We met Paul Freeman, owner, and founder of Archive Edition Textiles, over twenty years ago at Arts and Crafts trade shows around the country. Our mutual love for Arts and Crafts era decorative arts led us on parallel paths of collecting originals and then reproducing Arts and Crafts Revival pieces. Kevin and Paul formed a friendship at these shows and always made a point of getting together after the show for dinner, where they compared notes about owning a small arts-based business. Kevin has personally collected Archive Edition Textiles for his home and sees them as an ideal complement for Ephraim’s pottery.

Archive Edition – an aesthetic of excellent and the perfect ‘soft landing’ for your ceramic collection

Paul’s discerning eye for authentic Arts and Crafts textile designs, colors, and quality is unmatched. Paul says, “Throughout my life, I have been continuously inspired by William Morris and hope to embody his spirit in all of our textiles.” Archive Edition Textiles represent a gold standard in Arts and Crafts design. We are so pleased to be able to share these wonderful textiles – which create the perfect soft landing for our pottery – in our galleries and now online!

Soaring Tulip runners - available in 4' and 6' lengths.
Soaring Tulip runners – available in 4′ and 6′ lengths.
Field Lily runners - available in 4' and 6' lengths.
Field Lily runners – available in 4′ and 6′ lengths.

 

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Creative Process: Making Miniatures

A History of Making Miniatures

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.

Four new limited edition Miniature New Frond Vases from Ephraim Pottery
Limited Edition – Miniature New Frond Vase, $148 each or $542 for the Collection of 4. Organic Green, Pacific Batik, Algae & Autumn Reflections.
Limited Edition – Miniature New Frond Vase.
Limited Edition – Miniature New Frond Vase. Thrown and sculpted by Ken Nekola. Glazed by Allison Jelenchick and Jill Winslow.


Five new limited-edition Miniature Dancing Dragonflies Bowl from Ephraim Pottery
Limited Edition – Miniature Dancing Dragonflies Bowl, $168 each or $790 for the Collection of 5. Algae, Teal, Leaf Green, Pacific Batik & Autumn Wheat.
Limited Edition – Miniature Dancing Dragonflies Bowl. Thrown and sculpted by Ken Nekola. Glazed by Becky Hansen.


New limited-edition Miniature Sweet Magnolia Vase from Ephraim Pottery
Limited Edition – Miniature Sweet Magnolia Vase, $178
Limited Edition – Miniature Sweet Magnolia Vase
Limited Edition – Miniature Sweet Magnolia Vase. Thrown and sculpted by Kevin Hicks. Glazed by Jennifer Alexander.