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Form and Function, R Gallery at Arlene’s May 3- May 25, 2024

Reviewed by V.A. de la Huerta 

Artificer, thrower, potter, potteress, ceramicist, earthenware enthusiast….a potter by any other name is just as sweet. The curated group show, “Form and Function,” currently featured by R Gallery at Arlene’s Artist Materials, demonstrates the belief that beautiful objects enrich daily life. The exhibit celebrates the venerable tradition of building with clay, featuring creations by seven artists: Phyllis Busell, Rebecca Cigal, Dawn Dishaw, Sarah Hazelke, Beth Joslin,  Natalie Kossack, and Ross Kunze.  

The show features both traditional and contemporary forms, from vessels to sculptures. All creations are intended to be used and enjoyed, aesthetically enhancing home and work environments while serving practical purposes. Clay building methods and decorative styles span an impressive gamut, encompassing handbuilt, thrown, highly embellished as well as smoothly surfaced items in a range of matte to glossy glazes, from earth tones to vibrant shades. In total, 53 pieces are on display, with four pieces sold as pairs. Prices range from $38  to $400, with the majority of pieces priced below $100. 

Busell, Cigal, Joslin, and Kunze generously gave of their time at the opening reception on  May 3rd to discuss their creative practices, responding thoughtfully to free-ranging questions.  Conversation flowed easily, from inquiry about their process and focus, to future directions in making. All four artists stated that they prioritize offering functional pieces, taking pride in the purposeful nature of their forms. They additionally share a tendency to work directly in the clay,  as opposed to pre-planning or rendering objects from drawings. Kunze elaborated that he works the clay as an initial sculptural sketch of sorts to test what works, and collects ideas in sketchbooks to serve as catalogs of his imagination.  

Joslin noted that by refining her practice of hand-building over time, she has arrived at a place of confidence in her body of work. She discovered that by serving as a teacher, methods are developed that can be incorporated into her own repertoire. She further explained that maintaining a “clay tribe” of other ceramicists in her life to be highly motivating and supportive,  having recently attended a four-day National Council On Education For The Ceramic Arts conference. 

We discussed the tenuous nature of the undertaking of this art form- the risk of breakage and loss. Cigal remarked that she feels she has control over about 85-90% of the outcome, but “all  bets are off in the kiln or during the drying process.” She added that she focuses on textural effects in the clay as opposed to glazing, and relies on repeated practice until she resolves a form. “I’m on my fourth version of a piece at the moment.” She is engaged currently in new designs, having recently completed a two-day class on closed jars. 

Busell relies on perspectives gleaned from podcasts of other ceramic artists to maintain a sense of curiosity and exploration in her studio. She believes “everyday things should be beautiful. Glazing is my focus and I feel my process becomes expansive when I glaze.” She is an advocate of diving directly into the moment of creation, reveling in spontaneous possibilities, and takes delight in having accomplished an oeuvre of 52 different functional items.  

His focus on utilitarian objects is credited by Kunze as having been inspired by a rural upbringing in which he was drawn to the earth, surrounded by people working with hands and tools. He finds reward in wheel throwing while meeting the challenge of “being comfortable  with the outcome of what I make, even if it doesn’t match the initial vision.” He balances production work for a Troy firm with time spent on his own pots. Enthusiastic about expanding the range of objects created, he intends to explore new forms in the future and foresees eventually integrating wood and metal into his art.  

It was evident that although they may not collaborate in the same physical space with other potters, a spirit of camaraderie and support pervades and sustains the clay community. As  observed by Busell: “Ceramic artists are the most generous of people.”  

Please show your support of these fine artists by visiting the show. Also, Arlene’s sixth annual curated Spring Makers Market is a free event on Saturday, May 11, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.,  featuring twenty local makers, live music, and food vendors, and is family-friendly. While you’re there, make sure to stroll into the store to view the Form and Function exhibit, which runs through May 25th.


The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author's employer, Arlene’s Artist Materials. Please get in touch with us with any questions.


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