Corrections or additions?

This article by Pat Summers was prepared for the November 28, 2001

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Potters, Throwing & Building

It could be either a ceramic-lover’s feast or a great

get-acquainted occasion: the first annual holiday ceramic show and

sale at Hopewell’s restored railroad station, Saturday and Sunday,

December 1 and 2. Twelve ceramic artists will each show 10 to 20

pieces

of work which curator Jim Jansma describes as "good, handmade,

functional art objects." Did someone say holiday gift-giving?

Sponsored by the Morpeth Gallery of Hopewell, this event just may

become central New Jersey’s answer to the well-known ceramics show

in Demarest, or even the Philadelphia Crafts show. There’s little

doubt that a market exists for ceramics, Jansma and Ruth Morpeth

agree;

they think this area will support such a venture, and the railroad

station’s availability makes a public show possible. After an

extensive

restoration, it reopened earlier this year as a community center.

The new venue recently housed its first art exhibition. (See story

above.)

Through a mix of work that leans heavily toward the functional, the

ceramic show will be both "vessel-oriented and accessible,"

Jansma says. Bowls, teapots, jars, and plates in a variety of ceramic

mediums including porcelain, stoneware, and earthenware will be

available.

Some pieces are hand-built; others, thrown on a wheel; still others

incorporate both approaches; they may be plain or highly decorated

— appropriate for daily or occasional use, or display.

"The wonderful thing about ceramics is it’s one of the most

affordable

mediums in the art world," Morpeth says. She routinely displays

ceramics along with the two-dimensional work in her gallery, where

one complements the other. "Since I’m in retail," she says,

of the event’s genesis, "I never get out to see shows like this,

even though every year I say I’m going to. So I thought, what about

bringing such a show here. When I met Jim, I realized he has the

connections,

and he could curate it."

Jansma was an artist in residence at Peters Valley Craft Center,

Layton,

New Jersey, for some 10 years. Now based in Hopewell, he still teaches

ceramics in Princeton University’s visual arts program and serves

as art director at the Fort Dix Army installation. His far-flung

involvement

in ceramics, including exhibitions of his own work, helped him

identify

potters to exhibit in this weekend show.

Jansma’s own work is mostly sculptural, but he recently returned to

making stoneware pots, often playing with shapes to add complexity

to his vases and bowl forms. One of four New Jersey potters in the

show, Jansma will be joined by Barbara Hanselman of Cherry Hill;

Shellie

Jacobson of Skillman; and Michael Welliver of Pennington. Potters

from Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and West Virginia throw

in their lots, and pots.

"Potter" or "ceramic artist"? There’s some uncertainty

about what to call a person who makes beautiful things of clay. Jansma

prefers "potter," which he says includes both those who

produce

wheel-thrown objects (with or without additional hand work), and those

who hand-build their pieces. Then, too, "artistry" ultimately

resides in the eye of the beholder. The thorny issue of pottery as

art or craft seems deftly handled with Jansma’s expression,

"functional

art objects."

Michael Welliver teaches ceramics at Mercer County Community College,

and three of his works are now featured in "Form Follows

Function,"

the crafts component of the New Jersey Arts Annual, on exhibit at

the Department of State Galleries in Trenton. Some of his recent jars,

made of terra cotta clay with glazed insides and patterned outsides,

have coil handles and surfaces stamped with numbers.

Shellie Jacobson says she believes pottery is "the most

challenging

of art forms." It calls not only for a knowledge of materials,

but also for awareness of how they change and interact. And then there

is the technical know-how of production to master: glazes and dips,

and firing techniques and temperatures. "Anybody can make a

pot,"

she says. "It’s what you do afterwards that makes a

difference."

Jacobson, whose fine art degree first led her to teaching, originally

thought she would be a printmaker. She loved carving and making

multiples

of her images. But she gradually "became more enamored of the

clay." That was then. Today she spends her days in her Skillman

home studio, where the beautiful detritus of decades of clay work

fills the large basement. On tables and shelves and packed in boxes,

Jacobson’s ceramics reflect different periods of interest,

experimentation,

finished pieces.

A series of small oil lamps sits on this table. Each was hand-built,

with irregular top openings. Over there are a number of boxes like

no others. About six inches all around, and on legs, they are softly

colored and rib-and-dot textured, with perfume bottle-like stoppers.

Clearly "boxes" is meant figuratively.

From a period when narrative was popular in ceramics, Jacobson has

boxes of plates she made, drawing on the clay and using under glazes.

Then there are the teapots: also textured — one’s surface

resembles

grainy lizard skin — they are cunningly curvaceous, and some have

crumpled spouts: fairy-tale teapots. An "anti-cookie jar"

is a tall, textured cylinder with screening across the place where

a hand might otherwise enter. Cookie monsters can see, but not reach.

"The thing I love about clay is it’s so impressionable. You can

put anything on it," Jacobson says. Since her abiding interest

is surfaces, this is a match made in potters’ heaven. She experiments

constantly with her surfaces, sometimes rolling the clay on canvas

or mesh or other textured material; studding it; welcoming holes and

patches and figuring out how to use them. A confessed scavenger, she

picks up things at the side of the road and appropriates clothing

and even mail with texture potential. These all find repose in her

studio until the right moment, when ruminating and rooting around,

she may find use for them.

Stoneware and sawdust fires sums up where Jacobson started in

ceramics.

For a thinner-walled result, she moved to porcelain and stayed with

that until a few years ago, when shipping costs for the raw materials

made it prohibitive. Now she works in earthenware that she can buy

locally.

Her creative process is circular, Jacobson says, not linear. She uses

earlier works, many of which are on hand in her studio, to teach

herself

and move forward. For instance, she took some of the steps she had

followed in making cylinders into her bowl-making. As a result, the

pieces interact. She spent one summer working on glazes and developed

her own vocabulary — precious information that she wanted to use,

not have to rediscover each time. She had learned the hard way that

"you must keep records!"

A member of the Princeton Artists Alliance and its first ceramicist,

Jacobson will join the reprise of the group’s much-lauded

"Odyssey"

theme exhibition, originally seen at the Gallery at Bristol-Myers

Squibb, when it re-opens next spring at the Newark Museum. She was

at work recently on her ceramic vision of Odysseus and the ties that

bind.

Her ceramics can be seen in Newark, at the City Without Walls

"Metro

Show," a juried exhibition of small works, running until January

3. At Gallery Petite in High Bridge, she is one of three artists in

"Books and Letters," a show featuring interpretations of the

book form, and the lost art of correspondence. Harking back to the

first "books" that were actually cuneiform letters pressed

into small clay tablets, Jacobson has created ceramic pages from

"The

Book of Tools," a celebration of both real and imagined tools

that make up a guidebook.

Ceramics is an art that takes many forms, reflecting its maker down

to the personalized glazes, surfaces, shapes. A dozen ceramicists,

with their array of "functional art objects," will be waiting

this weekend at the station.

— Pat Summers

Ceramic Show & Sale, Historic Hopewell Train

Station ,

2 Railroad Place, Hopewell, 609-333-9393. First annual holiday ceramic

show and sale curated by Jim Jansma. Free. Saturday, December 1,

10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday, December 2, noon to 5 p.m.


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