|Steven Hill throwing one of his signature pitchers on the wheel. (Click any of the photos to enlarge)|
Perhaps in every way, Steven Hill's pottery and clay working technique is as opposite as it could be from my own. Yet, there are striking similarities in our respective philosophy and personal relationship to clay that resonated both with me and with many of the students in the workshop.
|Mugs by Steven Hill.|
In 2008, Steven switched from firing his work in high fire gas kilns in a reduction atmosphere to a lower temperature using electric kilns, firing in oxidation. What is amazing about this is that you cannot tell the difference between the glaze effects on his new works compared with his old works. This is a huge myth buster, and because of this, Steven is in demand as a workshop teacher around North America.
Our workshop started off with Steven talking about his early influence from American ceramic pioneer Don Reitz and the type of glaze effects Don acheived, which he desired for his own pottery. Because of difficulties with zoning laws and permits, he was not able to build a soda kiln when he started out in his first studio, which lead him on a quest to find a way to replicate the effects of atmospheric kilns (such as a salt or wood fired kiln) in a gas kiln. Sounds simple, but believe me, this was a monumental task that evolved over many years.
|(l-r) The same mellon pitcher, final drying, glazed, and after the firing.|
|The bowl shape inspired by stingrays.|
|Steven applying glaze to a pitcher.|
In response to the all-to-common issue of beginning and intermediate potters trying to replicate a master potter's work, Steven had this to say: "You have to find your own voice, your own unique expression in clay. We all get inspiration from other pots and potters. The thing is to find your own interpretation of these influences and make them yours." He also went on to say that one of the best sources of inspiration for pottery is from historical pottery. "For one thing, it's been proven to work as a form or a body of work if it has been around and admired for hundreds or thousands of years. For another, if you get inspired by it, you're not going to be seen as copying a contemporary ceramic artist's style, while you are exploring and incorporating this influence into your own expression in clay."
During the workshop we all had a chance to glaze some of our own pots using spray techniques Steven taught, and then our pieces were fired. On the final day of the workshop we unloaded our pots, still super hot, from the kiln, and had a lovely wood-fired pizza fest and critiqued our work. (The clay studio at Southern Oregon University has a wood burning pizza oven in the kiln yard - a brilliant idea!)
I left this workshop with a renewed spirit and gratitude towards the forces in my life that have led me to working full time with clay. Spending time with a master potter as generous and talented as Steven Hill will do that to you! When you watch the video, you'll also hear Steven's musical talents - he's a great guitarist!