Filling the Tank: Fuel for the Creative Life

This weekend Gabe and I had the good fortune to attend the Lawrence Art Center Ceramics Symposium in Lawrence KS as part of the midterm meeting for my graduate program at Fort Hays State University.  The Symposium featured 6 very well-respected ceramic artists working in a variety of techniques and approaches.  The artists that participated were: Sunshine Cobb, Gerit Grimm, Chris Gustin, Akio Takamori, Patti Warashina and Stan Welch.  The two days were divided between simultaneous demonstrations and artist talks.  We also had the great good fortune to visit the studio of Kris Kuksy.


The slide lectures were an opportunity to become acquainted with the artists of the symposium through the history of their work.  Chris Gustin works primarily on the wheel, making large vessels and platter forms and then wood firing.   His inspiration comes largely from the geometry found in nature and art and architecture of the past.


chris gustin

Akio Takamori creates simplified human figures and then paints  them with underglazes. These painted figures have the look and feel of dimensional sumi paintings.   The work explores his identity as a Japanese person living in America and his interest in the act of looking, at art, people and culture.



Patti Warashina also works with the figure.  Her slip cast pieces, inspired by surrealism, are complex narratives that examine human nature and culture.

patti warashina

Stan Welch combines photographs, ceramic, installation and two-dimensional design to create large wall hanging pieces that feature ceramic figurines and the ocean.  These large works evoke both isolation and anticipation.


The demonstrations took up most of the day at the symposium, and while we wanted to see everyone work, it made the most sense to drop in and focus on the work of a couple of artists and get the full benefit of what they had to offer.  We chose to watch the demonstrations of Sunshine Cobb and Gerit Grimm.

Gerit Grimm is a German born artist making figurative work on the wheel.  For the demonstration she made two works, a horse and rider and a woman with a flower-pot.  Her process began with throwing parts, torso, head, arms, legs and other bits.  Once the work had dried efficiently it was assembled into incredibly engaging sculptural forms that reference both the style of making and that which they are meant to portray.

photo 2

Gerit helped us deepen our understanding of complex form and multi piece attachment processes.  She was an engaging and funny presenter and we had a great time with her.

photo 4



Sunshine Cobb is a functional potter who combines hand building and wheel techniques to create pots that have an incredible vitality and integrity.  The work is aggressively formed and there is no attempt to hide the means of their making.  The vigorous finger marks and pinching cracks add humanity to the handmade work that is for some artists has become indistinguishable from factory produced work.   Her methods were quick and confident and we came away feeling energized and motivated in our own work.  Another great thing about Sunshine’s presentation was her straight talk about the nature of ceramic business.  She offered tips and encouragement on a subject that is often neglected in these types of events.




We had a great time getting to know her and feel really inspired by what she taught.

photo 1



The weekend offered other opportunities as well.  The first night of the conference the art center opened a show titled “Souvenirs from the Future: A Survey of Contemporary Ceramic”  It was a very good show.  Here are a few of our favorite works:


Stephanie Craig, Raft Lake Fables: “Home Before Dark”


Josh Zimmerman.  Stratified Construction #2


Shalene Valenzuela.  Implements of Self Construction: Paint by Numbers


Brett Kern.  Inflatable Astronaut

In addition, Russel Wrankle had a solo show up featuring dogs with things tied to them.  The idea he said came from the old trick of tying a dead bird to the neck of a dog that kills chickens.  Wearing the bird until it rots off was though to cure the dog of the chicken habit.  I don’t know about the practice, but the work was wonderful.  This piece titled “Frog Muzzle” was our favorite.


We also had the outrageous good fortune to visit Kris Kuksy’s new studio and get to chat with him about his work, upcoming shows and the fine art of kit bashing.  We couldn’t photo any of his work as it’s for an upcoming show, but we did catch this sweet little vignette of roosters and death in a corner of the space.

IMG_6766 IMG_6771


If you don’t know Kris’s work, you should.


We also paid a great visit to Bracker’s Good Earth Clays.  They were super friendly and helpful and had soooo many lovely tools.  I’m afraid we got a bit carried away.  It was a good connection to make and I am sure we will be doing business with them in the future.


We learned a huge range of useful things this weekend, fundamental to our discoveries was the importance of clay body to technique.  That without exploring a range of bodies, it may not be possible to fully engage a personal technique.  Each change brings new challenges and as those are overcome a true vocabulary can be built and potential explored.

This was the bones of the weekend, the rest was inspiration to return to the studio with new perspectives and techniques to push our work into the next project and beyond.  Fuel for the creative life.



This lovely pic is a bonus from the walls of The Java Bean Cafe in downtown Lawrence.