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.
“We lose a great deal when we lose the sense and feeling for the sun. When all has been said, the adventure of the sun is the great natural drama by which we live, and not to have joy in it and awe of it, not to share in it, is to close a dull door on nature’s sustaining and poetic spirit.” -Henry Beston
As the artists in the studio develop new pieces, there sometimes exists a very subtle element that we work to achieve. In the case of our new River Koi Vase, we wanted to convey the illusion of filtered, directional sunlight cast on the koi fish. To achieve this effect sculptor, Laura Klein, and glazer, Jennifer Grelk, coordinated their efforts.
Many, many experimental versions of the River Koi Vase worked their way through the studio as these two artists refined the luminosity. In the realm of sculpting, some very specific elements enhance a feeling of light. The arcing cutout under the fish’s tail provides a view into the dark interior, visually forming a deep value that contrasts with the surrounding tones. Also, the raised areas of sculpted decoration above the koi’s eye, along the edge of its fin and the ridge of its back, make the glaze naturally pool and recede. Finally, Laura worked to imbue a strong sense of movement in the fish and the grass. The rigid rim of the vase contrasts with the flowing sculpture. Movement and light work hand-in-hand to convey to the viewer the perception of catching a fleeting glimpse of a beautiful koi in a sunny river.
Jennifer’s glaze design on this piece brings the subtle aspects of sunlight to life. Through many trials, she worked with various glaze applications. In this final version, tones of orange, pumpkin, olive and amber blend on the koi to make it appear both realistic and illuminated. Jennifer contrasts opaque, cool-toned and deep-value glaze on the background with semi-transparent, warm-tone, and light-value on the koi. The interplay between opacity and transparency especially imbues the fish with a strong luminosity. The areas of brighter yellow that break more intensely along the higher relief on the fish’s tail and more delicately on the head and fin features further enhance the illusion of warm sunlight.
We hope you enjoy this wonderful piece as much as we do at the studio. The River Koi Vase represents one of our most sublime uses of artistic elements to pay homage to sunlight, “nature’s sustaining and poetic spirit.”
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.
How would you describe the aesthetic of Ephraim’s tile?
Our tile is eclectic. Most EFP artists contribute to the development and production of tile designs and therefore we have many perspectives and styles encompassed in our tile line. Unlike most tile makers who must invest hours into making a tile mold and consequentially be highly committed to an idea from the beginning, we have a versatile, unique method which allows us to test many ideas before choosing the ones that we will refine for our catalog. Sometimes these more unusual tiles end up in our galleries as rare finds.
There are many art tile makers in the marketplace. What differentiates Ephraim’s tile?
Apart from the variety, our tile are very much handmade. We are not using the heavy ram presses or cnc machines to make perfect tiles and perfect molds. Imperfection is an intentional part of the charm of our tiles. They are heavily handled from pressing to cutting, finishing and glazing. You will often see finger prints impressed on the back of the clay from where they have been handled in the finishing process. We made a conscious decision a few years ago to make tile that is more art than tile. With this idea, we spend more time applying glazes in a painterly fashion, mixing colors on the tiles themselves as if they are canvases. We also now make frames for the tile. We like to see the framed piece as a discreet work of art. There simply is a lot of uniqueness to these tiles.
How do you categorize this art form?
Of course this is a form of ceramic art, but I think of it much like a hand pressed and hand colored wood cut or etching. There is some standardization in having the mold/plate, but overall the pressing and glazing techniques offer a lot of variation. I really enjoy this hybrid art form and I am so pleased when others appreciate it too.
Artist Anniversary Series designs are limited to one year of production and that time is just about up! Leah Purisch celebrates 5 years at Ephraim Pottery with this tall painterly vase. Available through May 15th.