Q&A: 28a Clay
Updated: Oct 7, 2019
‘From within our modern context of mass-produced ceramics, we strive to make thoughtful and beautiful pots which can cast light on our relationship with daily articles of domestic life. We hope to help attune people's awareness to the subtle ways in which a pot can enrich our everyday experiences, bringing thoughtfulness and human connection into our lives as a whole.’
Having received their basic training in ceramics while at Skidmore College, Meredith and Harry Kunhardt are a largely self-taught pottery duo who have worked over the past 4 years to establish a pottery in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Their interest in the history and geology of the region has lead them to explore the potential of local clay, stone, and wood ash as the basic materials from which their pots can be made. We put 5 questions to Meredith and Harry which produced some thought-provoking answers:
What first lead you to engage with the medium of clay?
28a: Meredith and I were fortunate in being introduced to ceramics together, at the same time, towards the tail end of our time in college. We were in the same class, Intermediate Ceramics, and both of us were immediately captivated not only by the medium itself, but by our professor and the way he spoke about pots--the satisfaction of a handle that is perfectly fit to the shape of the cup, the 'visual weight' borne onto a pot by its proportions whether or not its heavy, the critical importance of termination points, that they not be left untreated but resolved intentionally. For the first time in our lives, we were seeing the shape and design of cups and bowls as a serious matter. In that class our eyes began to open to the world of ceramics; not only to the amazingly rich history of ceramics, or to the incredible work being made by potters today, but also to all of the industrially produced ceramics that we use all the time without usually noticing.
What drew you to strive away from the modern context of mass-produced ceramics and focus more on the beauty in the individual?
28a: The more we learned, the more we began to see, and we saw a world inhabited by a lot of poorly designed, lifeless pots. On the other hand, we were learning about pots of a totally different kind--made with gesture, and injected with some spirit from the potter's hands, these pots were superb for their humanity. We knew at once which kind of pots we wanted to make.
Its in a sense a journey motivated by a revelation--that good pots are valuable in and of themselves, that they make our lives richer and more humane
You mention how your works are aimed to raise awareness of how pots can enrich our daily lives, what stimulated this desire?
Ever since we decided to make pottery for a living, we aimed to hone our craft and bring handmade ceramics into people's homes. Its in a sense a journey motivated by a revelation--that good pots are valuable in and of themselves, that they make our lives richer and more humane--and the desire to communicate that belief. This can be a difficult insight to explain in words, and it is only by living with pots that we begin to see their value. Our own kitchen is full of pots we've collected over the years, some made by dear friends or mentors, others by artists that we admire, and even a couple of historical ones. Every day we use these pots to eat and drink from, and each time we are connected to the people who made them. It is this experience that we want to share with people—the kind of heightening of awareness and human interconnection that washes over us whenever we sip from a cup that was made by hand.
How has the geology of the Catskill Mountains influenced the creation and production of your works?
28a: We have to consider the history of ceramics, at least in a general way. For thousands and thousands of years humans have been making pottery, in almost every region and culture around the globe. This makes some sense, as clay is one of the most common materials on earth. In fact, it really is just earth itself. Because it is so common, pottery of one form or another can be made just about anywhere. And locally produced pottery was made to meet the needs of every day eating and drinking, as well as storage, for the community it was embedded in. Potteries have generally been located near a clay source, as moving clay long distances would be expensive and impractical. Because of this, every locality in the past would have it own distinctive pottery—not just in terms of the style and techniques used to make it, but simply due to the material itself. As ceramic technologies advanced, and glazes became part of the process, local rocks, minerals, and plant ashes became important elements as well. The result is that pots made in a specific time and place were rooted to that time and place in an essential way.
When we set up our pottery in the Catskills, we both became fascinated by the geological history of the mountains, trying to learn about what the earth was made up of here, and how we might use it. While practical considerations have meant that we cannot completely shed the use of some commercially available materials, our aim is to incorporate more and more of the local resources available to us to make our clay and glazes. Right now we are experimenting with a clay that is comprised of 75% local clay dug down the road from here at our neighbor’s farm. No one else is using this clay, so these pots truly are a unique piece of the Catskills that cannot be reproduced elsewhere. While we cannot return to the past, we can try to recover aspects of it which tie us to the earth, and to each other.
No one else is using this clay, so these pots truly are a unique piece of the Catskills that cannot be reproduced elsewhere. While we cannot return to the past, we can try to recover aspects of it which tie us to the earth, and to each other
What is the importance of using local materials for your works?
28a: Today, our modern industrial infrastructure has made possible the transportation of materials across vast distances. A clay body might be made from three different kinds of clays mined in Florida, Tennessee, and England, with additions of silica from North Carolina, and feldspar from South Dakota, all processed and distributed from Pennsylvania. The ability to bring materials together which are sourced so far from each other has made it possible to create precisely formulated clays and glazes that can meet the demands of industry for qualities like durability and water-tightness. At the same time, it has stripped our pottery of its groundedness in locality. In the same way that mass produced ceramics alienate us from the human qualities of clay, these ceramics splinter our connection to the land that was inherent in the pottery of the past.
Questions by Ava Howard