more Portage and more news

Here are three newspaper articles on ceramics that I have come across. With the Portage opening this evening and a house guest, no time yet to do a blog. I’m repeating my invitation, to anyone in town interested to talk with Takeshi more, to join us tomorrow (Friday, 7th) evening at 14 Sheridan Lane, Freemans Bay, for a pot-luck shared meal…. not a late night as it’s full-on the next day. Feel free to come any reasonable time after 6/6-30pm.

European Cities Join Forces to Attract Ceramics Enthusiasts




The Middleport Pottery factory in Stoke-on-Trent in England, a city of six once coal-rich towns known as “The Potteries” and home to more than 350 ceramic-based businesses, with about 30 open to the public.



Delft, the Netherlands, and Limoges, France, and four other European cities have long attracted travelers with their venerable traditions in the ceramic arts. Now those cities are working together to make it easier for enthusiasts to plan visits.

The project and its new website — called “ViaCeram: the European Route of Ceramics” — also includes Faenza, Italy; Stoke-on-Trent, England; and Höhr-Grenzhausen and Selb, Germany.

With the European Commission financing 75 percent of the venture’s budget of about $350,000 and the cities the rest, the six ceramic centers will “co-promote a shared history, heritage and visitor experience,” said Adeline Porchez, the route’s coordinator.

ViaCeram’s website, still a work in progress, suggests where people can find behind-the-scene tours or try throwing a pot or painting a plate; offers itineraries, packages and links to area sites and surrounding villages; and will eventually include detailed ideas for romantic, gastronomic and other nonceramic detours, Ms. Porchez said.


A bench made of ceramics in the Dutch city of Delft. Credit ViaCeram


The venture coincides with efforts in the participating cities to enhance their offerings for tourists. At Stoke-on-Trent, a city of six once-coal-rich towns known as “The Potteries” and home to more than 350 ceramics businesses, Wedgwood plans to open a £34 million ($55 million) “World of Wedgwood” visitor complex in early 2015.

Anthony Jones, the executive vice president and chief financial officer of Wedgwood, said the complex would expand the current offerings for visitors and would include a museum that explores more than 250 years of the company’s history; a design studio that showcases the creative process; and a new flagship retail store with a tearoom, a 176-seat restaurant and an indoor-outdoor children’s play area.

“We will make sure visitors can see every aspect of the manufacturing process,” Mr. Jones said. That means they will be able to see roughly double what can be seen on the factory tour today. Elevated gangways will keep viewers out of harm’s way where firing and casting is done, and a more accessible area will allow visitors to get close to where master craftsmen will paint and gild objects, he said.

All the cities use ceramics in their public spaces in inventive ways, said Ms. Porchez. In Limoges, where she is a city officer, visitors can learn not only about the region’s distinctive “white gold” (porcelain) and the other “fire arts” like enamel and glassmaking; they can also wander in the nearby gardens of La Borie and listen as the wind and running water ring ceramic chimes, she said.

In Delft, the city’s famous earthenware can be viewed at Royal Delft/De Porceleyne Fles, the last remaining factory from the 17th century, where Delftware is still entirely hand-painted. It is also incorporated into city benches and encrusted in pavements.

In the two German ceramic centers on the route, a giant coffee pot graces the middle of a traffic circle in Selb, and travelers can follow a ceramic trail in Höhr-Grenzhausen.

Fascination with ceramics as an art form dates to the Middle Ages, when Chinese porcelain was introduced via trade routes from the East. “Since then, we’ve loved them, we copied them and we’ve cherished them,” said Eike D. Schmidt, curator of decorative arts and sculpture at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, noting the strong influence of Chinese ornamentation and motifs. The blue-and-white color theme, replicated in Persia and later in Holland, “was so fashionable that the English created English Delftware,” he said.

Works from many periods can be seen at a number of museums on the ViaCeram route, including the International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza, “one of the greatest ceramics museums in the world,” said Dr. Schmidt, who has no connection with ViaCeram. Faenza also offers visitors the chance to see pottery produced with traditional methods “where secrets have been passed on, uninterrupted, in studios that have been in families for centuries,” he said. Today, the city “is one of the great international centers of contemporary ceramics; people come from around the globe to create and display their works,” Dr. Schmidt said.

“Each city introduces people to places that have much to offer that might not be on their map,” Dr. Schmidt said: beautiful historic centers, cathedrals and Renaissance churches. In Limoges, visitors can explore “the entire Middle Ages in a nutshell,” he said. And in and around Delft, a typical Dutch city with canals, historic houses and picturesque bridges, they can view the work of the native son Johannes Vermeer and other great 17th-century Dutch painters, and avoid the long lines at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.



The Frimkesses finally get their due

LA Biennial’s Bright Young Things, Ages 77 and 84.

LOS ANGELES — Prominent artists like Cindy Sherman and Mark Grotjahn have bought the work. Galleries on both coasts are beginning to promote it. Now the expressive, comics-inspired pottery of the husband-and-wife team Michael Frimkess and Magdalena Suarez Frimkess (he’s 77 and she’s 84) has become a sleeper hit of the Hammer Museum’s biennial, thanks to a younger generation of local artists who have been bringing it to light.

“I think they are a real discovery for people here,” said Michael Ned Holte, a co-curator of the biennial. “I’m seeing a lot of artists not just interested in this work but obsessed with it.”

The Hammer biennial, called “Made in L.A.,” is considered the West Coast’s answer to the Whitney Biennial: a snapshot of current trends from 35 artists billed as new or underrecognized. Underrecognized, of course, is rather subjective. While one gallery features small, elegant bronzes by Ricky Swallow, 39, a closely watched sculptor with major galleries on his résumé, another showcases the colorful pots by the Frimkesses, who struggled for decades to land an occasional gallery show, with long dry spells in between.


“Condorito Vase (Greek),” a 2004 work by the Frimkesses. Credit Stephanie Diani for The New York Times

In his review of the biennial, Christopher Knight, art critic for The Los Angeles Times, said the Frimkesses “have been making compelling art for a few decades more than most of the others have been alive.”

But the fine print of museum labels reveals a connection across the generations: A handful of the couple’s pieces are on loan from collections of Los Angeles-area artists. One of the most striking pots in the show — a classic, Greek-style vase painted with lively scenes of the popular Chilean comic book character Condorito — comes from Mr. Swallow and his wife, the painter Lesley Vance.

“I’m a deep fan,” Mr. Swallow said during a recent visit with the couple to the show, which runs through Sept. 7. “Once you see their work, it’s impossible to walk away from it.”

Mr. Swallow first learned about it two years ago from Karin Gulbran, a Los Angeles painter-ceramicist who helped Ms. Frimkess land a solo show with White Columns in New York this spring. Mr. Swallow included their work in a 2013 group show at David Kordansky Gallery in Los Angeles and introduced them to the “Made in L.A.” curators. The Frimkesses currently show their work through the men’s wear shop South Willard, where their prices now range from $600 to $14,000.

One afternoon last week, Mr. Frimkess, who has multiple sclerosis and is recovering from a broken femur, rolled his wheelchair closer to a display table filled with their artwork. “Ricky is our savior,” he said of Mr. Swallow. “We’ve been kicked to the side for 30 years.”

Ms. Frimkess was more sanguine when asked about the recent attention. “Better late than never,” she said, smiling.


Detail of “Paired Cones, No. 2,” by the sculptor Ricky Swallow. Credit Stephanie Diani for The New York Times

The Hammer is showing 19 examples of their work spanning the last two decades. For most, the pair used a tag-team sort of collaboration: Mr. Frimkess throws the pots — without input from his wife. Then she paints the surfaces — without consulting him.

Most of their pots have classical forms, nodding to Chinese temple vases or, in the case of the piece lent by Mr. Swallow, a Greek wine jug known as a volute krater for its looping handles. Mr. Frimkess achieved the thin walls of this pot — and its beveled neck — through an unusual technique: throwing the pot dry by using very hard clay without adding water.

The surface features vivid paintings of Condorito, a bohemian birdlike character given to clownish mishaps.

“He’s my philosopher — Condorito has answers for everything,” said Ms. Frimkess, who has described her own life as a soap opera. She was born in 1929 in Venezuela and was living in Chile with her first husband and two teenage children when she moved to New York in 1963 on a fellowship to the Clay Art Center, in Westchester County, N.Y., where Mr. Frimkess was an intern. The two moved to Los Angeles in 1964 and later married.

Mr. Frimkess, a Los Angeles native, had studied in the 1950s with Peter Voulkos, the California master who boosted the reputation of ceramics as an art form. (Mr. Frimkess once described Mr. Voulkos as both a “mentor” and “tormentor.”) But it was a bit later, during Mr. Frimkess’s time on the East Coast, that he learned the ancient dry-throwing method, using it to copy Greek vases from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This technique — and, he said, his devotion to creating a superfast-firing kiln — were radical enough to challenge the ceramics establishment and to sideline his career. (Others say that multiple sclerosis, diagnosed some 40 years ago, had limited his productivity.)


Detail of “Cartoon Pot,” a 2013 work work by the Frimkesses. Credit Stephanie Diani for The New York Times

Mr. Frimkess saves his toughest criticism for himself. “There’s nothing here that I would call a masterpiece,” he said of the forms on display. “They are all attempts.” He pointed to a handsome vessel only to note “its neck should be taller.”

Mr. Swallow shook his head. “That’s something that I admire about Michael, even if it drives me crazy: Works that I find successful, he sees as failures,” he said. “Michael is one of the most stubborn people I know in setting strict parameters for quality.”

Mr. Swallow went on to praise Ms. Frimkess’s “postmodern or punk-rock” narrative flair — the way she brings together images from art history and pop culture, war and family life, Chilean and American landscapes, into collage-style compositions. One vessel, “Guernica Pot,” reconfigures images from Picasso’s nightmarish vision of the Spanish Civil War; another, “Deaf Bertha,” is her take on Berthe, a deaf woman painted by Toulouse-Lautrec. “Michael says I never listen to him, so I found a model that Toulouse-Lautrec painted,” Ms. Frimkess explained.

The Hammer is also showing “Mickey Mouse Circus,” a lumpy-looking jar with a rather homely Minnie Mouse on top, like a slumped wedding cake figurine. The Frimkesses say they are aware that Disney takes its intellectual property rights seriously. That hasn’t stopped them from making versions of its characters.

“Nobody’s put a gun in my back not to do it,” Ms. Frimkess said.

The Mickey Mouse pot is an example of one of Ms. Frimkess’s solo creations, for which she shaped the clay as well as painted it. While Mr. Frimkess is less active and throwing fewer vessels these days, she has picked up the pace by making and showing more of her own works, typically smaller pieces like tortilla plates and tiles.

Does she have any interest in throwing on a wheel? “Not really,” she said. “That’s Michael’s work. I don’t compete with the master.”



Picasso’s ceramic studio in southern France fallen into disrepair

The Madoura workshop in Vallauris, bought by local authorities last year, requires urgent renovation.


Three months after the attic studio in Paris where Picasso painted Guernica was classed as a historic monument by the French state, in response to a petition to protect it from re-development as a hotel, Le Journal du Dimanche reports that the pottery workshop in the south of France where the artist created more than 4,000 ceramic pieces requires urgent renovation.

The Madoura workshop in Vallauris had been closed for six years when an association of local authorities bought it from the original owners, the Ramié family, for €3m last May, re-opening it to the public in December. While a temporary exhibition space is currently hosting part of the town’s 23rd ceramics biennial, the building where Picasso worked from 1947 to 1971 has fallen into disrepair. Problems include damp in the walls and holes in the roof.

Jean Leonetti, the president of the association and the deputy mayor of Antibes, told Le Journal that the most pressing renovation work would start in the autumn. “Studies show that the budget isn’t excessive,” he said. The mayor of Vallauris, Michelle Salucki, said that though the town did not have the means to buy Madoura outright, it was collaborating on the project to turn it into a “cultural centre for ceramics”.

Well, here’s hoping it happens. I recall visiting this pottery back in the ‘70s…soon after Picasso had ceased working there. It was a good-looking place and set-up as I recall. There is now an excellent book (finally) on Picasso’s ceramic work from his 25 years at Madoura. Called Picasso and Ceramics, it was published in 2004 by the Musee Picasso (Antibes), The Gardiner Museum (Canada) and the Musee du Quebec for the event of a major exhibition that toured all three museums.



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