Say Potter and You Are Okay

In an interview for the book Adam Silverman Ceramics from Rizzoli about whether he sees his clay work as art or craft, Adam Silverman answered, “You just say ‘potter’ and then you’re okay.” I think that’s the perfect answer to a tiresome question.

Silverman, who began potting at the age of 15 studied architecture at RISD, worked as an architect in the late eighties and early nineties, and then designed fashion before turning to clay full time in 2002.  Today he runs Atwater Pottery in Los Angeles in association with the historic Heath Ceramics. He has been the studio director for Heath since 2008.

The book opens with dramatic photos of Silverman’s pots by Stefano Massei. There are many close ups of his cratered and fissured glazes and full page portraits of his vessels. Next, is a section of duotone photos by Katrina Dickson of Silverman at work, his studio, and his installations. These are nicely arranged in a collage-like manner. Dickson’s photos are my favorite part of the book. She conveys a sense of how Silverman works and where he works, giving us a glimpse into his creative life. Six brief essays follow. The paper in the essay section and with Dickson’s photos tears easily, which is not a good thing for a visual book whose readers will presumably want to turn the pages multiple times.

Silverman is known for the volcanic quality of his glazes in pinks and whites and browns and blacks. The glazes are three dimensional, rough, and rock like. A branch of cherry blossoms or a spray of foxglove would look nice in one of his pieces but otherwise they are best left to stand on their own.

A Passion for Wood Fire

The potters that Amedeo Salamoni features in his new book Wood-Fired Ceramics: 100 Contemporary Artists work in a variety of ways but all share a deep commitment to firing with wood. They are passionate about both the process and the results. Except for two, they all work at high temperatures, many to Cone 13 or 14.

The two notable lower temperature exceptions are Doug Fitch, the Devon slipware potter known for his medieval inspired jugs and jars, and Joy Brown who makes large, pillowy sculptures of people that she fires in her thirty-foot long anagama in the Litchfield hills of Connecticut. Fitch’s pots, made from clay he digs himself, are sprigged and glazed and reflect the warmth of the flames. Brown’s sculptures are made of Georgia clay and are unglazed. You can see the kiss of the fire on the surface.

Salalmoni includes more functional potters than sculptors though many work in both realms. Each artist is given two pages, occasionally more, for an artist’s statement, photographs of individual works, and at least one kiln shot. This is a great way to get an overview of the field. The photographs are very good. Because each artist has written his or her own statement, most are in the first person but a few are in the third, and one, startlingly switches between persons. Oh unpredictable artists!

Reading through the book, we visit Simon Leven who in addition to making his own sturdy pots for the kitchen and table, has taken on the responsibility of creating a map of wood kilns throughout the world. You can see it at We also encounter legendary wood-fire potters Jack Troy, John Leach and Fred Olsen. We meet Linda Christianson, Randy Johnston, Eva Kwong, Ginny Marsh, Alex Matisse, Jeff Shapiro and Joy Tanner. There are highly refined works, lightly salted or glazed. There are pots that are heavily encrusted with ash and the marks of shells. Many have a love affair with heavy reduction.

I smiled reading that ten years ago Ron Meyers built his first wood kiln at the age of seventy. His fires last sixty hours “with a reduction cooling segment that adds another six or seven hours.”

With room for only 100 artists, one immediately notices who is absent – all those represented by Goldmark for instance, such as Phil Rogers and Ken Matsuzaki and Nic Collins  – but that is the nature of a book like this. Karen Karnes is absent. Todd Piker is missing. Perhaps a second volume will be in the offing.

Though not at all an instructional book, there is an appendix with illustrations of 14 kilns, and another with firing logs. There is also a good short bibliography and some clay, glaze and slip recipes.

This is the kind of book that even though reading it will take you out of the studio for a day, and even if you never plan to fire with wood, you will come away inspired. I know I did.