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
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
they think this area will support such a venture, and the railroad
station’s availability makes a public show possible. After an
restoration, it reopened earlier this year as a community center.
The new venue recently housed its first art exhibition. (See story
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
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
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
and he could curate it."
Jansma was an artist in residence at Peters Valley Craft Center,
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
in ceramics, including exhibitions of his own work, helped him
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;
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
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,
Michael Welliver teaches ceramics at Mercer County Community College,
and three of his works are now featured in "Form Follows
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
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
she says. "It’s what you do afterwards that makes a
Jacobson, whose fine art degree first led her to teaching, originally
thought she would be a printmaker. She loved carving and making
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,
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
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
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
Her creative process is circular, Jacobson says, not linear. She uses
earlier works, many of which are on hand in her studio, to teach
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
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
Her ceramics can be seen in Newark, at the City Without Walls
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
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
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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