Pondered Resource

On July 14, 2004 John Gill gave a ninety-minute lecture in the Museum gallery to his summer school ceramic class. What follows is a portion of that talk.

The Victor Babu casserole, Fred Bauer's planter and Howard Kottler's plate edited by Wayne Higby

I picked out this Victor Babu casserole. The inside of this is really great. When Victor Babu makes a curve he really wants to make sure things are in there really nice and tight. He’s sweating to get this curve to be the accurate curve. Then you have this wonderful thick lip and this nice flange. It’s all porcelain with a stoneware glaze on it. A beautiful iron saturate that is separating – the iron is separating because of the firing temperature. When we get to the foot – the foot has this really amazing trimming and then you have this little piece of terra sigallata down on the bottom. Every single bit of this thing is totally thought out. When Victor Babu is trimming, I mean sweats just pouring out of him – it’s just unbelievable. Then when he’s decorating he has all of these really wonderful stencils that are cut out. Then he applies the glaze on and he does this amazing wax. He’d have this little tiny bead of glaze there and another bead of glaze here and then the wax just over that. Then he’d have this wonderful iron slip that would be put on and washed off. Then you’d just have this whole glaze that’s put on top of it – layers and levels and this great tension of engineering.

Victor communicates with all the people in the world because when it comes to this pot he basically self-destructs. He is so in love with all of humanity that it’s just coming right into that pot; it’s coming into the trimming; it’s coming into the decoration; its coming into how he is shaping it. It’s just amazing. His ideas are there…sigh….and then it’s everybody’s.

The other thing that’s really great about Victor is – I had him as a teacher – and he would – there’s ways to get me. If something is in the library; if something is in the museum; it hits home to me really fast. So Victor would do things that would be – “I saw this amazing pot. It was in Macedonia and it was this outrageous pot that just went and went on.” He was just telling me the story. So he would tell me this story about this pot that was just outrageous, just outrageous. I’ve been to museums around the world, a few of them – we went to Paris, we didn’t go to Macedonia yet. But I’ve never seen this pot that he told me about. He basically lied to me I think? But what was really good about it is that he told me a lie that was so fabulous that that’s what I wanted to make -- that’s what I wanted to go search for. So what you want to do as a student is maybe conjure – conjure up something. Think about the first scene in Macbeth where the people are taking things and they’re trying to make something. Sometimes you conjure things out of a toad or the eye of newt or maybe a form, maybe a shape. Victor was really great at that.

Let’s go next to Fred Bauer. Fred Bauer was a potter. He was trained in Memphis, Tennessee with a person by the name of Thorn Edwards. Thorn Edwards was Cynthia Bringles’ teacher and Thorn Edwards was my very first teacher – he taught at a small little art school in Seattle called Cornish. Thorn Edwards was probably the most absolute handbuilder I’ve ever met. He taught me how to perfectly roll out a coil and how to make a perfect slab. This slab would have been hammered on a piece of plywood with a piece of canvas underneath it. It would have been hammered straight down, absolutely tight. The plywood had wood on the side and then the slab would have been screed off – like what you do to concrete – level it off. The slab was just hammered down really nice and tight. Fred Bauer was Wayne’s teacher. So today when you see some of the canyon boxes that Wayne will show you just think about how tight and precise a slab he’s doing. What’s happening here is that Fred had this wonderful quality that was a little bit of early American and a little bit of Japanese. Probably one of the most amazing potters to look up is Kanjiro Kawai – Fred would have done Kawai a little bit bigger than Kawai would have done. Later on Fred did these great big machines that had all these corkscrews and he also did some wonderful plates.

The plate by Howard Kottler, it’s a commercial plate; it’s commercial dinnerware. Back in 68-75, when he was doing this he would go out and buy a commercial dinner plate and then cut up all these decals. Howard Kottler had the most amazing sense of humor. I remember meeting Howard Kottler – he wasn’t very tall; he had a big Fu Man-Chu mustache and he was a little bit bald. He was outrageous – just crazy. He was gay and he had this wonderful kind of opulence. He would collect really, really beautiful beaded bags from the Victorian era and little hand purses that were Edwardian. He also collected Noritake ware. I remember Wayne went over to dinner at Howard’s and Howard came out serving dinner on these plates. On this plate was a hotdog and a bun. I remember meeting Howard and Howard had on a lab coat that was very short. And he was in hotpants. He came out in his little lab coat and he was making all these great little tiny maquettes. I’ll show you one of them – little tiny solid clay models. He’d have a map of the United States and he’d say “this little mad cat here; this one goes to Bellevue and this one goes to Philadelphia. This one goes to…” This one is right out of the Wizard of Oz. They are wonderful little maquettes. I am really glad that the Museum got these because I remember these being on the table when I met him. Howard was a master of decalcomania – in fact I think he came up with that term. I think what’s going to happen is that later on when the history books really get rewritten Howard’s going to become one of the best educators there ever was. In the 70s Seattle with Howard was the place to be. There was a whole bunch of a really kind of amazing people there. People like Joyce Moty, Jackie Rice, Irv Tepper, and Anne Currier. Seattle during the 70s was this wonderful little hot spot of really great creativity. You had people that were over in Montana trying to figure out what was going on in Seattle. Then you try to figure out what was in Montana. I think it would be really nice to do something on regionalism. I think that what is happening right now is that the magazines and the galleries basically have homogenized what art is today.

John Gill, on the far right, lecturing in the Museum
John Gill, on the far right, lecturing in the Museum