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192 Jim Boone Rd
Bakersville, NC, 28705
United States


The central information hub for Michael Kline Pottery, a small one man shop of pottery making in the mountains of western North Carolina.

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The Best of Sawdust and Dirt

A record of the goings on around Michael Kline Pottery!

Filtering by Tag: Karen Karnes


Michael Kline

Here's the thing.

It's been non-stop since NCECA.

It's been Karen Karnes week here at Penland and in Asheville.

All very exciting stuff happening, no doubt. If I were some sort of pottery news outlet, I might have a bunch of folks editing and putting together all of the videos from all of this. I'd have a bunch of writers meeting deadlines and getting stuff up on the blog, but unfortunately it's just me, despite my sarcastic mentions of my youTube crew, my staff, etc. Then throw in the emergence of the video of the Michael Simon talk in Minneapolis last month has had me enthralled and my hopes to share it with you. Do you hear the sound of metal crunching and tires screeching yet?

So what about all of the shows I'm getting ready for? Well, the Crimson Laurel Show is coming right up and the stoneware pots are finished and will be delivered on Monday. The porcelain part of the show is in process and I will post some pictures later today or Sunday. The Potters of the Roan show in Raleigh are being delivered in a week or so, the piece I'm donating to the annual Penland School auction and the NC Pottery Center Auction are due May 1, I'm firing my wood kiln again in early May, my kiln opening is happening in mid May, then there is Cousins in Clay in late May!

Holy Toledo!

Well, pots are getting made, not by potter/hacks or hired hands, but by me.

All this just to say that the breaking point of any pottery blog is that place where dirty hands and keyboards collide. It's not a crashing, screeching kind of sound, though. On the internet it's no sound at all. It's just that same post from a couple of days/weeks ago that stares back at you when you come 'round looking for the latest post. But I'm up in the shop clocked in at my other job. The money job, the one that sometimes pays a few bills. The vocation that I feel closest to, the occupation without which this blog wouldn't exist. (oh if only I were more witty, or entertaining, or whatever)

So in the coming weeks, hopes of getting all the NCECA stuff out there, and all the blog stuff in here, and all the pots out there may compete for my time. Until g00gle checks start pouring in or sows fly overhead dropping cash from their ears, this here blog is on scholarship, and the pottery shop is footing the bill!

Karen Karnes Events Reminder

Michael Kline

Curious Reader
Here is a gentle...

about the Asheville area programming in association with
A Chosen Path: The Ceramic Art of Karen Karnes
current exhibition at the Asheville Art Museum
January 28 - June 26
museum entrance fee: adults $8; seniors & students $7

beginning March 22 and currently at Penland Gallery
Many Paths: A Legacy of Karen Karnes
work by Karen Karnes and fourteen artists whose lives and work have been touched by her
free and open to the public
artists include:

Thursday, April 7, 6-9 PM at Asheville Art Museum and Diana Wortham Theatre
discussion, reception and book signing with
Karen Karnes and Mark Shapiro

Friday, April 8, 4:30 PM at Penland School, Ridgeway Hall
Film Screening of the documentary
Don't Know, We'll See: The Work of Karen Karnes
by Lucy Massie Phenix
free and open to public

Friday, April 8, 7-8:30 PM at Penland Gallery
Gallery Reception for Many Paths
with Karen Karnes & Mark Shapiro
free and open to public

Saturday & Sunday, June 4 & 5, 2 PM each day at Asheville Art Museum
Film Screening of the documentary
Don't Know, We'll See: The Work of Karen Karnes
by Lucy Massie Phenix
museum entrance fee: adults $8; seniors & students $7

On Wednesday, April 6, 7 PM at the Black Mountain College Museum Art Center
Film Screening of the documentary
Don't Know, We'll See: The Work of Karen Karnes
by Lucy Massie Phenix
$7.00 / $5.00 for BMCM+AC members + students w/ID

photos from Kathryn at Penland Gallery of ceramic work included in the exhibit Many Paths:
Maren Kloppmann, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Rob Sieminski, Phillips, Maine

Ellen Denker is a consulting curator and independent scholar of material culture, specializing in American ceramic history. She has many publications, some of which have won awards from obscure organizations. For “Sawdust & Dirt,” Ellen contributes historical insights into contemporary issues in studio ceramics and review books and exhibitions that feature ceramics. Ellen can also be reached at

Karen Karnes: A Chosen Path

Michael Kline

Ellen Denker is a consulting curator and independent scholar of material culture, specializing in American ceramic history. She has many publications, some of which have won awards from obscure organizations. For “Sawdust & Dirt,” Ellen contributes historical insights into contemporary issues in studio ceramics and review books and exhibitions that feature ceramics. Ellen can be reached at

The following is an excerpt from the upcoming review of A Chosen Path: The Ceramic Art of Karen Karnes. Mark Shapiro, ed., foreword by Garth Clark. University of North Carolina Press, 2010, that will appear in the Journal of Design History.

Recently Mark Shapiro sent notification that the book/exhibit catalog he edited on Karen Karnes has been published. For those of us who have known about Karnes for many years, this was good news, and we didn't need any more prodding to seek out the exhibition and catalog. But other blog readers may have wondered what all the fuss was about. What follows then is a little review of the life and work of Karnes in the hope that everyone will get on board to learn more.

Renowned ceramic artist Karen Karnes (b. 1925) has created a consistently significant body of work during more than sixty years of practice. Over her long career she studied and worked in the avant-garde institutions and places of the time, including Brooklyn College, Alfred University, Black Mountain College, and Gate Hill Cooperative in Stony Point NY. Her choices in life and art touched many aspects of the tumultuous social and artistic worlds of the late twentieth century, yet she remained committed to exploring her own impulses.

Karnes was born and raised in a cooperative apartment house in the Bronx, the child of Russian immigrant garment workers who considered themselves socialists. She attended Brooklyn College when the art and design department was headed by Serge Chermayeff, a British architect who brought Bauhaus instruction to the school. “I loved the Bauhaus approach,” she writes in the catalog, “I had suddenly found a kind of art instruction compatible to me.” (p. 80) After graduation she met David Weinrib; after their marriage they spent a summer in Pennsylvania and then went to Italy for a year, working in and around ceramic factories. She learned to use techniques for mass production.

jar, 1952

On their return to the U.S., Karnes attended Alfred University, where she studied independently with Charles Harder. In 1952, David and Karen went to Black Mountain College, where they taught the pottery program that had been started by Robert Turner. They happened to be there during the famous visit of Shoji Hamada, Bernard Leach, Soetsu Yanagi, and Marguerite Wildenhain, who were traveling together and giving workshops across the country: “Watching Hamada work was the most important ceramic instruction I, as a young potter, could have. He had a quiet presence—he didn’t say anything as he worked. (In contrast, Leach talked a lot and worked a little.)” (p. 84) At Black Mountain she also came into contact with composer John Cage and dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham. Robert Rauschenberg was a student. Franz Kline and Esteban Vicente taught painting.

In 1954, David and Karen joined M.C. Richards, John Cage, David Tudor and Paul and Vera Williams in a community of artists in Stony Point, New York, called “The Land.” She stayed twenty-five years, giving birth to a son, separating from her husband, and setting up a regular business of supplying casseroles, jars, and bird feeders to Bonniers at 59th and Madison, NYC, and making special commissions. The seasonal work and occasional commissions gave her time to explore her relationship to clay.

salt glazed vessel
Stony Point 1969 15 "h

In 1967, she participated in salt firing while teaching a workshop at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina because the school had a salt kiln. She submitted to the kiln “…just an ordinary pot with some slips poured over it. But when it came out of the kiln, I was very excited to discover a whole new surface.” (p. 88) In 1968 she met British potter Ann Stannard, whom Richards brought to the U.S. to teach a workshop in kiln building: “We just went mad building things—an oil drip kiln, a salt kiln, a small wood-fired kiln, a peat kiln, a sawdust kiln. It was so exciting because there wasn’t much kiln building going on in the late 1960s.” (p. 91) A few years later, Stannard came to the U.S. to stay on with Karnes.

Gate Hill 1974

Eventually, Karen and Ann retreated to northern Vermont, where Karnes could work out the creative problems she set for herself and be free to teach workshops across the country. In 1998, they lost everything when their wood kiln burned the kiln shed and their house. It was a year before Karnes found a new direction for her work.

split-footed bowl
Morgan VT 1990 13'" h

Karnes describes herself as “fortunate to be in on the beginning of the ceramics movement” (p. 94) and to have had the freedom “to work from my own impulse. … Today there are so many people working in clay that it must be hard for younger potters to know what to make. … So many people try to work from other people’s impulses—one person will make something, and suddenly you will see clones everywhere.” (p. 95) The title of the book is A Chosen Path, but it just as easily could have been called "Be True to Yourself." Judging from the illustrations and essays in this catalog, seeing the exhibition will be an important experience. I urge you to get a copy of the catalog and prepare yourself for the visual journey.

The original installation closed recently at Arizona State University, but the following venues will feature the exhibit on this schedule:

For those readers who live nearby, the Penland Gallery opens an exhibit on March 22 titled Many Paths: A Legacy of Karen Karnes. It will feature work by Karnes and fourteen artists whose lives and work have been touched by her (through May 8).

[ed:More information about the events at Penland, Black Mountian, and Asheville will follow.]

A Chosen Path

Michael Kline

Mark Shapiro is a potter, workshop leader, occasional curator, and now editor! from Worthington, MA. Mark Shapiro has made wood fired functional pots in Western Massachusetts for the past twenty years. Mark's pots can be seen in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Racine Art Museum, the Mint Museum (NC), the International Museum of Ceramics at Alfred,NY, and the Currier Museum (NH). Mark can also be reached at

I have recently edited the book A Chosen Path: the Ceramic Art of Karen Karnes published by University of North Carolina Press. Over her long career, Karen Karnes has created some of the most iconic pottery of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. The body of work she has produced in her more than sixty years in the studio is remarkable for its depth, personal voice, and consistent innovation. Many of her pieces defy category, invoking body and landscape, pottery and sculpture, male and female, hand and eye.

Equally compelling are Karnes’s experiences in some of the most significant cultural settings of her generation: from the worker-owned cooperative housing of her childhood, to Brooklyn College under modernist Serge Chermayeff, to North Carolina’s avant-garde Black Mountain College, to the Gate Hill Cooperative in Stony Point, New York, which Karnes helped establish as an experiment in integrating art, life, family, and community. After twenty-five years of communal living, Karnes moved to rural Vermont with partner Ann Stannard and began making some of the most complex work of her career.

Karen’s life and work illuminate both the golden age of the American craft movement and the ethical, aesthetic, and living choices that all craftspeople face today.

Editor's note: Here are some reviews so far,


"Filled with high-quality images spanning 60 years of [Karnes's] work. After reading the book, you will understand why she is commonly referred to as the 'grandmother of American ceramics.'"

"There are too few books that treat pottery as seriously as other art forms; too few that pay sufficient tribute to the achievements of women artists; and too few that situate great art within a rich biographical context. This finely textured book does all three, providing in-depth analysis not only of Karnes's pots and sculpture, but also of the life of the fascinating person who made them."
--Glenn Adamson, Deputy Head of Research and Head of Graduate Studies, Victoria and Albert Museum

"Mark Shapiro has assembled a stellar cast of essayists to explore the intriguing life and work of potter Karen Karnes. They write with a grace, clarity, and reverence befitting this maker of sublime yet curiously humble clay masterpieces."
--Mark Hewitt, potter and co-author of The Potters Eye: Art and Tradition in North Carolina Pottery

"A great book about one of the important potters of our time. Seven artists, critics, historians, and friends, followed by Karen's own observations, document her life and work. Central, analytical, and factual, it is a fascinating story of creativity and dedication. Inspiring and long overdue, it is important reading for all artists."
--Warren MacKenzie, potter