Mary Roehm

Cylinder, porcelain, 6 x 6.5 x 6.5inPunctuated bowl, porcelain, 7 x 11 x 8inlarge punctuated vessel, porcelain

I work with porcelain because it is like paper. Pliable, thin, translucent. I feel as if I am drawing with it, but dimensionally. It is strong, hard and translucent, delicate. Because of the way it reflects light, it shows everything, not forgiving at all. As a result, it forces me to work quickly and confidently. Stoneware and Terra Cotta are flexible, tolerant, and plastic. With porcelain, the clay platelets are pretty much the same size, as a result they don’t easily hold tight together, so are not plastic. So, it forces me “off the fence” so to speak and to be decisive.

Since the start, I’ve thrown thin forms, be it in terra cotta or stoneware, so for me working in porcelain seemed the best bet. I generally work from the vessel format, throwing “parts” that I further tear or cut up to construct other parts or alter in some way. Really, the possibilities seem endless.

The wood firing was an accidental discovery in grad school, 1977, but when I saw the results, it scared the hell out of me. I knew this was what I had to continue doing but was afraid of how hard it was. I always reached temperature but really was clueless as to how I got there, of what I was doing. I sought out Ruth McKinley, a wonderful Canadian potter who lived in Ontario, not too far from me. At the time, I was just out of grad school and firing a kiln on the Niagara Gorge at Artpark in Lewiston, NY. Ruth was quite suspect of me, I had already been published and she thought I know more than I really did. She allowed me to watch her fire from afar, I split all her wood. I did this for several firings before she would let me near the kiln. With strict instructions to hold my breadth, not to blow the flame back into the kiln (risking brick dust in her glaze), she taught me how to see through the fire, not to only check the cones but to see how the surfaces of the glazed pots looked, should look upon maturity.

So I continue to work with porcelain and wood-firing. I continue to be in awe of the possibilities, both of the form and the fire. Each piece is unique in both form and color. I have learned a lot about life through my work I look forward to the next 30 or 40 years of work ahead of me!

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