SAVCC: What got you interested in clay?
Gianna: The first time I really started working with clay was in a 7th grade sculpture class.
It was to be my first art class and we were just sitting an the very first day of school, it was 1967. I held a small piece of clay and just started squeezing and nervously forming a small sculpture of what seemed to be a head of a Buddha on top of a mountain body. I still have that piece. Clay, from the very first time I held it in my hands was able to transport me to another time and place. That first class of ceramic sculpture led me into a world of infinite possibilities. I could communicate better with my hands than I could any other way.
SAVCC: How have the production pottery techniques learned in Japan influenced your career?
Gianna: The training I received in Japan has always been a cornerstone for me as a potter. Through total immersion and dedication to the craft I was able to dedicate time and energy in learning all aspects of this craft. I learned that through practice and trial and error almost anything can be learned and mastered. Endless hours of learning a new shape pays off as the form is perfected and put into production.
I believe the dedication to practice and learning has given me the will and stamina to not give up when things don't work out, but to take the time to figure out how to make it work.
In January Adrienne Eliades visited us here in Savannah, and did a workshop on surface decoration at Savannah’s Clay Spot. After the workshop we got a chance to sit down and ask her some questions.
SAVCC: What got you interested in clay?
Adrienne: I’ve always done clay, since I was a little kid. My mom was an artist. She always made it really easy for me to draw or paint or take classes. I worked with Sculpey clay and did projects in elementary school and high school, you know the embarrassing stuff. Once I went to college I ended up in North Carolina and as you know NC has a great history with clay. Honestly I went to school there because I wanted to be near the beach. It didn’t have anything to do with knowing what I wanted to be when I grew up. UNCW only has a BA, but the professor there Aaron Wilcox is really great and really engaging. He went to Cranbrook and has all that theory in his teaching. I decided to do clay for my major there. I did an honors thesis about the local clay and the history of NC potters. I fell in love with the lifestyle of it. After school, it felt really natural to find myself working in the studios of different artists. I worked for a tile muralist Gayle Tustin, and Justine Ferreira who had a gallery in downtown Wilmington. I was seeing all of these different ways of making a living as an artist that I didn’t learn in school, and thought “I can do this”. The love of making things that can be useful in people’s lives kept drawing me back. I always had another job, like working for artists, or working in restaurants. Something part time that allowed me to be in the studio at night.
In January we had the opportunity to sit down with Heather Knight and ask her some questions about her life as a ceramic artist.
SAVCC: What got you interested in clay to begin with?
Heather: I saw a potter’s wheel when I was 5 and it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. It wasn't until I moved back to Arizona as a teenager that I was able to learn how to use one. It was true love right from the beginning.
SAVCC: How long have you been working in clay?
Heather: I started in high school 25 years ago, and got serious my senior year, making tableware and organizing my own independent study courses. Unfortunately, when I went on to attend College of Charleston, there wasn't a ceramics department, so I was forced to do other things until I enrolled at UNC - Asheville in the early 2000's.
Evolving Into a Ceramic Artist
I grew up in the province of Quebec in Canada. My family wasn’t particularly artistic in the sense they didn’t focus on arts and craft. They were strictly craftsman–my dad was a mason and my grandparents were farmers and carpenters. I worked with my dad a bit in high school, but I knew it wasn’t my career and what I wanted to do with my life. I ended up going to college, and I was the only one within my family that went to an English school rather than a French school.
A Family of Artists
I was born in Georgia, but I spent most of my childhood living up and down the East Coast until I was in high school. My family moved back here when I was a teenager, and I went to high school in North Georgia.
I come from an artistic family. My mother’s side is very fiber based. We have exquisite hand made quilts from my great, great grandmothers, as well as hand-dyed wool hooked rugs and needlepoint art. Crocheting, knitting, sewing and embroidery run rampant on that side. My maternal great grandmother was an amazing seamstress and also spent part of her 20’s in New York City making hats. That was around 1907 and was rather unique for a little old Georgia girl at that time. My father’s side is very 2D, painterly based. My paternal grandmother painted eyeballs for injured WW2 soldiers.
I guess the person in my family with the most artistic skills would be my mom. She’s really good at drawing. For our birthday parties growing up, she would always do “pin the tail” on something. One year she did Simba’s face, and it looked exactly like him; then there was the genie from Aladdin and other Disney characters. She’s always been into art, but none of my family has pursued it as anything. I have always been creating though, but I didn’t get into clay specifically until high school. My freshman year I was required to take an art fundamentals class, and we had a clay project, which I didn’t enjoy. The following year, I signed up for an actual ceramics class, and that’s when I really got into it. The rest of high school I kept taking more clay classes until there were none left to take, then I started taking independent studies. I did an AP art concentration in ceramics my senior year.
My high school was Harry D. Jacobs in Algonquin, IL, where there were over 2,000 students. For the first 10 years of my life, I went to a Catholic school that had like 300 students, with 26 people in my graduating class, so it was a little shocking going to this giant public high school. It had an amazing art program though, and the teachers there were so awesome. Honestly, they were some of the best teachers I’ve ever had, even better than some of my college professors. Much of what they taught me has stuck, so it gave me a good foundation for a lot of things.
Dave is a native of Beverly, Massachusetts–about an hour north of Boston. He grew up there until his family moved to South Florida, when he was twelve. Dave’s father was originally from Maine, so the family would always make the journey back north during the summer. Dave remembers spending that time playing with boats. He says, “Maine is a real fishing community. They used dories (boats with narrow, flat bottom, high bow and flaring sides) for fishing and pulling nets in and stuff like that, but mostly lobster fishing. These boats were iconic watercraft years ago, but when I was kid they were kind of phasing these out.”
To start off the New Year, we thought we would take a slightly different approach to January’s “Artist Spotlight.” Michael Brannin is a former potter from the Midwest during in the 70’s and 80’s turned Savannah real estate agent and ceramic collector. Even though he is not a current Savannah artist, we thought it would be good to have insights from a past full-time potter who is passionate about owning ceramics in his home. With his collection spanning between 500-600 individual pots, we were excited to experience and learn more about the ceramics at his home. Here’s a glimpse into how his collection first started.
Michael Brannin, a native of California, was 17 years old when he graduated from high school. Having studied art his final semester and worked with ceramics and wood, he took the opportunity to relocate at a young age to Iowa to be a woodworker’s apprentice. The woodworking studio was in a renovated dairy barn that also housed a pottery area, a showroom, and an outdoor double chamber gas kiln. Michael spent a year woodworking, but he felt as if clay may be a better fit for his career; so at that same studio, he arranged to rent out a potter’s wheel and space to work.
This month’s “Artist Spotlight” is on Eliot Joanna Angell. She is a ceramic artist, a professor of ceramics, printmaking and foundations at the University of South Carolina Beaufort and an instructor of printmaking and ceramics at Armstrong State University in Savannah.
We traveled to Joanna’s delightful home on the south side of Savannah to ask her a few questions about her background in clay. We ended up talking well into the night at her kitchen table as we drank from beautiful mugs made by well-known potters. Joanna opened up her cupboards to let us peruse the pottery there and allowed us to explore her studio that is tucked into her backyard. It was a great time getting to know another one of Savannah’s clay artists, and we are eager to share her story.