I consider myself an artist first and have been immersed in art from early childhood. I have a background in music, theater, poetry, painting, sculpture, and pottery, among other art and craft forms and media. Because of my work at Westville and my teaching, I am known mostly as a potter I apprenticed with my father at 15 working with some of his college students in the late 70’s in what was then called Sugar Creek Pottery, later just Hawks Pottery. My father’s textbook for teaching then was Charles Counts book Pottery Workshop: A Study in the Making of Pottery. Both he and my father were influenced by Marguerite Wildenhain who studied at the Bauhaus. I saw countless potters working growing up, mostly in GA but my first pottery memory is from the Cole pottery in NC.
I worked later with Ron Meyers at UGA, Don Penny at Valdosta State, Jeff Kaller at Columbus State, and Holly Hanessian at FSU. When I began working at Westville in the late 1980’s, early 90’s, I interviewed D. X. Gordy who started the Westville pottery, watched him work and visited with him a few times both at his home and at Westville. I also did extensive historic research starting with Edgefield pottery and tracing the forms and craft as it migrated throughout the south, including some of the other origins that were specific in the development of GA pottery including places like Salem NC, etc. Technical ideas came from disparate sources on wood, salt, and slip glazing including Denis Parks and the whole Leach/Hamada/Cardew tradition.
I began to do face jugs at Westville and writing on some of them, in dialogue with Ned Berry, after my studies of the original face pieces from Edgefield SC. My father and I did face pieces back in the 70’s outside of the southern tradition more connected to a broader history of effigy ceramics. The totems came about somewhat outside of the traditions as well, though most of mine were slip and salt glazed, and wood fired. I had always admired Joe Bova’s work and am also a lifetime student of esoteric spirituality, specifically Christian esotericism as expounded on by the philosopher and early 20th century teacher Rudolf Steiner. My totems were directly inspired by a simple line drawing that Steiner did of the seraphim (also traditionally called the four evangels) as they relate to the human spiritual body, like the orientation of the chakras of eastern esotericism. My other totems are more comical and are closer to traditional face jugs and figurals.
The imagery of the four Seraphim, is a part of Judeo-Christian spirituality. It can be found in the old testament in the book of Isaiah and in the new testament in Revelation. They are later depicted in Medieval illuminated manuscripts of the 4 Gospels. In many manuscripts, images of the four figures were ornately drawn on the first page of each gospel, the eagle being associated with John, the angel or human figure associated with Mathew, the lion with Mark, and the Bull with Luke.
The piece shown at the beginning of this article was the 2nd in a series of approximately 9 around the same theme, in many ways the best, still in my possession along with one other. The rest which maybe 7 were completed, exist in various collections. The other one I still possess is an Americanized version, replacing the forms with a buffalo, a mountain lion, a Native American and a bald eagle. I have one more in this series yet to be completed and only exists in my mind and drawings and includes Anubis at the top as it came to me in a dream. Some of this is difficult to explain.
The serendipity of experiences extends to this specific piece as it had a kind of spiritual power and life of its own, which I do not claim as coming from me but from something higher. It also approached me, after making it, in a dream. During the firing, it withstood one of those kiln disasters you hear of; stacks of work in front of it collapsed. Consequently, it was blasted full force by the flame, ash, and salt which accounts for the patina it has. Many other pieces in that firing were not so fortunate. Things like this happen when dealing so directly with the elementals and other spiritual forces that sometimes make your hair stand on end.
*Note: I have been motivated by resent interest in this series to finish this one that I have contemplated for years. I am in the process of developing the work in the context of a larger installation work. Some thoughts as I worked on this new piece:
American Totem 8/6/2021
I have added Text and finished with the colored (red, yellow. blue, and violet) and black slips. The Coyote has only the black slip and raw clay. “That Good May Become” is from the Foundation Stone Meditation by Steiner as is the Verse for America. I get impatient with my own writing so just improvised and it is not the best text, I may inscribe some more imagery on the back but haven’t decided yet. When I am finished with the work, I will work on a longer explanation of my intention for the piece. hopefully it will come across some without the explanation. Most art is autobiography at some level.
Verse for America
May our feeling penetrate
into the center of our heart,
and seek, in love, to unite itself
with the human beings seeking the same goal,
with the spirit beings who — bearing grace,
strengthening us from realms of light
and illuminating our love —
are gazing down upon
our earnest, heartfelt striving.
~ Rudolf Steiner, 1923
The totem is a cross and will be on a simple wooden alter with 2 candles. The candle holders will be 2 sculptures like my form sculptures, blue and red, representing Jacob and Boaz, a gate and 2 guardians and tempters as the country passes the threshold of consciousness and into the spirit world. Though the 4 lower figures still represent the seraphim, they are also traditional representations of 4 human archetypes, the melancholic, the choleric, the sanguine, and the saturnine. also used before modern medicine for diagnosis.
I still feel some ambiguity as to the use and meaning of the Coyote. In the dream, it may well have been Anubis. At any rate, I have used the coyote as it is more representative of America and in Native American culture the coyote is an important figure and is often a trickster. This can be seen also as a positive. Like Br’er Rabbit, he is always escaping peril, sometimes in humorous ways.