The Great Road: Contemporary Wood-fired Ceramics

Tuesday, February 18, 2014 - Saturday, May 17, 2014

Web banner image: Michael Kline, Jar (detail), 2013, Stoneware, Collection of Marc Poland

Named after an important primary trade route from Philadelphia through Roanoke and south through Tennessee and North Carolina that was established in the 18th century, this exhibition presents the work of nine contemporary artists whose work and lives have been influenced by generations of ceramic artists who came before them. The Great Road was the name of the specific route that passed through Roanoke. These transportation routes linked this region of early American potters together. This exhibition includes the work of Rob Barnard, Josh Copus, Kevin Crowe, Judith Duff, Dan Finnegan, Naomi Dalglish, Michael Hunt, Mark Hewitt, and Michael Kline, nine contemporary potters who reside in the same geographic regions of these old trade routes.

Many early potters settled along the Great Road because of the trade and local clay. All pottery was fired using wood as the fuel to heat the kilns. Over the last 40 years many potters moved to North Carolina and Virginia who were attracted to the region for its natural beauty, less expensive land, access to local clays and the early pottery traditions, which themselves were naturally very influenced by English pottery. Wood-fired pottery took on another dimension beyond utility with many contemporary potters when a strong Asian aesthetic was first introduced to America by Shoji Hamada, from Japan, and English potter Bernard Leach, when they traveled and taught extensively here together fifty years ago. Hamada and Leach were both internationally renowned and influential potters of their time and their legacy continues. Today, there exists a familial connection between Southern, English, and Asian pottery traditions that is evident in contemporary pottery making.

In the work on view, each artist claims the influence of one or more of these traditions and they all choose to fire in wood kilns, just as the potters in this region before them, but with an emphasis on the look and feel that wood-firing brings to their work. From sake cups to jars and large vessels, the artists use a variety of glaze and slip techniques on their wood-fired work. The work ranges from brightly colored copper glazes of Michael Kline, whose work references old traditions of the Catawba Valley potters in North Carolina; the pebbly salted glaze surfaces of Mark Hewitt who is from England but settled in North Carolina as a young potter; the unglazed, untraditional powerful forms of Josh Copus who uses clay that he has dug himself; to the quiet subtle forms and surfaces of Rob Barnard who spent many of his formative years making pottery in Japan. From the 18th century ceramic origins developed in our region, the nine exhibited artists display – through the work on view – their historical predecessors’ influences transformed into unique and powerful personal objects.

The Great Road: Contemporary Wood-fired Ceramics is organized by Donna Polseno, Adjunct Curator of Ceramic Art and will be on view in the David R. and Susan S. Goode Gallery February 18 - May 17, 2014.