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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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A record of the goings on around Michael Kline Pottery!

Filtering by Tag: critical views


Michael Kline

Don Pilcher lives in Champaign Illinois where he taught for many years at the University of Illinois. A gifted potter, thinker,and provocateur, Don shares his unique views on the field of contemporary ceramics. Visit Don's web site where you can read more of Don's stories. He can be also reached at

Earlier this week the Arts section of the New York Times had a headline which read, Still a Little Sloppy, but That’s the Point. I was moved by this line, so apt and so fully conscious of what can happen when somebody actually makes some art. That headline is the kind of description and summation which signals a host of skills we hope for in our critics; observation, context, understanding, synthesis, evaluation, conclusion and, at last, pithy expression.

Then my mind jumped to several messages I’ve been receiving almost daily now from NCECA about a new basis for criticism in ceramics and a conference out west to launch the effort. Lots of prominent people in attendance, many of whom have done good work in our field. It may be a seminal event, not unlike that confab on big ideas in Aspen every summer. But I think the odds are against it.

First, as I read history, no one since Wittgenstein has come forward with a unique context and language for common human experiences like squeezing and firing clay. And while our production is ongoing and belongs to a case that could change, it’s not very likely. The primary reason for that is found in the old saying, “God creates, man arranges.” Too much of the time, we, makers and critics, forget what a truly modest thing it is we do. We arrange and we re-arrange. But to hear some potters tell it, lighting and firing a kiln is like proving the Second Law of Classical Thermodynamics…and it is, for the umpteenth millionth time. And according to one critic, some potter’s huge jars are nearly unprecedented in size, technique and vigorous decoration. Maybe, if you ignore a couple million Greek and Minoan leftovers.

Secondly, we have presently in place an almost unlimited number of reasonable critical perspectives – reasonable, meaning they employ some measure of knowledge about ceramics. Such knowledge includes its history, broad applications in the arts and sciences, potential for function and expression, subtlety, and finally, the nearly magical capacity of the material to emerge from a kiln and simultaneously recall its ephemeral, plastic state and yet insist on its igneous permanence. In fact, these perspectives, taken together, are how criticism works in most of the humanities. And, to me, it all works well enough. Our shortage is in better ceramic artists, not better critics.

And finally, I’m a little bothered by the argument that ceramics is a special case and requires a unique context. I suppose this is not exactly parallel, but beware of the prospective mate who claims to be a special person and that practically no one understands the very special considerations due them. If you go along with that, you’ll eventually find yourself at the bottom of a human shard pile with folks who breathe in empathy and expel self-pity. I’d hate to see ceramics go there. We’re in enough hell as it is, having accepted the idea that everyday decorative objects are a legitimate form of ceramic art. That’s a very low bar, even for arranging, and makes me crave something that’s more…well, just a little sloppy.

Rascal Ware, Georgette Ore 2005

Juicy Bowl @ Ferrin Show

Michael Kline

Here is one of my faves from the firing. It's a serving bowl painted with black under glaze and a great example of the exponential power of wood firing and salt glaze. Although the pot is glazed, not sure, either amber, alkaline, or tenmoku, and then put to the test of fire and atmosphere, completely transforming the painting, the throwing, and everything else I might have intended. The result greater than the parts. Another provident result is the runniness of the glaze without the loss of the brushwork. Yummy. This pot is from the current solo show at Ferrin. You can see the show online here.

The Winners

Michael Kline

The process of choosing pots for shows, or merely looking at the pots you have just fired can be an extremely challenging task. As many have noted the expectations that a potter must put to good use in collaboration with the mind's eye as he/she decorates and glazes their work is a trickster. In the end the gut instinct, the pot that you reach for instinctively is sometimes the best in the eyes of the beholder. Although it may be difficult to assess just by looking at an image on a screen, certain key reactions are valid if not as complete an experience as holding a pot in one's hands.
The process of choosing pieces for an exhibition is usually a difficult one for me. I try to balance the group of pots against the individual favorites. I have all kinds of rationalizations that are put into play, just to make a few 'simple' decisions. This blog vote was a first for me, maybe in pottery bloggery history. I don't know. I wish there had been more votes and maybe I should have made it more anonymous, maybe next time. The candidates for the vote all made the cut, in my opinion. But to choose the five to sent, I thank you for helping me narrow the field. Here are the pots that I shipped this morning.

I'll keep you posted about the online Yunomi Show at AKAR. It opens Friday March 27th at 10 a.m.

Thanks for helping. I'll definitely do this again.