PUTNEY >> Three local ceramic artists bridge the gap between function and art in the From Clay to Table exhibit at The Putney School's Michael S. Currier Center. Rob Cartelli, Teta Hilsdon, and Todd Wahlstrom opened their collective show last January. The show will continue to be on display until March 6.
Naomi Lindenfeld, the ceramics teacher at The Putney School, curated the show. Inspired by a magazine spread in "Ceramics Monthly" called Pots at Rest, she developed a vision for the school's gallery to exhibit the artistry of functional pottery in its natural and informal environment. When displayed on furniture or in a dish rack as in every day use rather than gallery pedestals, functional pottery is also shown at rest. Unlike artwork hung on a wall or sitting in a case, tableware by ceramic artists becomes a part of a person's day as the subtleties of shape, color and texture are discovered and become familiar. When the exhibit begins to wind down workshops are planned with each of the artists for Lindenfeld's students, exposing them to this unique relationship between art and use.
Cartelli works in porcelain clay these days, creating tableware that is light, translucent and elegant. First introduced to the art of pottery as a way to balance out his Political Science studies while in college, he found he enjoyed doing pottery enough to pursue it further. First working in wood-fired dark, iron-based clays, he always wanted to try his hand at the contrasting light colored porcelain clays. In 2009 he was asked to create a wedding registry for a friend and jumped at the chance to transition to what he called a fantastic but tricky clay. Cartelli said he likes the translucency of the porcelain and how light travels through pieces. He uses a thin glaze to give tints of blue to the finished pieces, decorating with color lines that are inlaid before firing, not painted on.
Wahlstrom is a studio potter living and working in Whitingham. He and his wife Aysha Peltz are the resident artists at Town Hill Pottery; he also operates a business manufacturing products for potters. He has been honing his pottery skills for 32 years now, working in dark clay that has a high iron content. He admits it can be a bit difficult to master glazing of dark clay, but when successful it is beautiful. He likes the purity of saturation of dark colors, and the pieces are robust and utilitarian. As a functional potter he may be limited to forms of dinnerware, but the possibilities are endless in design. He also includes a pleasant little surprise design carved into the bottom to be discovered when his earthy stoneware is turned upside down. He said that pottery bypasses the mystery of art, it helps us understand it. We associate patterns with aspects of our life and the surface texture and patterns on the pieces communicate with us. When asked what has been his favorite work, he said, "That which I fired last, that is what I am interested in, particularly a style such as the pattern on a rim, rather than the piece." He stated in his bio at the gallery, "My pots are conceived with utility in mind and are meant to function in the context of the home. They utilize a flexible vocabulary of form, color and pattern in combination with each other. Their subtleties of weight, balance, tactility and service are revealed through use and over time. They feel personal when I give into and trust my sensitivities and compulsions in the ways I touch clay, imagine form and shape detail."
For Hilsdon it was love at first sight when she discovered pottery during her sophomore year at Franklin Pierce College. After finishing her studies at Marlboro College in the '80s she co-founded Brattleboro Clayworks alongside Lindenfeld and six other potters; her passion for pottery has not waned. She focuses on functional pottery because it is a tactile form of art that you hold every day. For this show she had to borrow back pieces from friends and family to pull together a striking table setting of her copper-glazed tableware of deep blues and light greens that contrasts sharply against a red table cloth. She stated in her bio, "I work with high-fired stoneware, a gas reduction kiln, and colorful glazes in earthy tones that contrast the color of the clay. My favorite stage of the clay is what potters call "leather hard," when it is no longer slick and soft but is still malleable. It's at that point that the clay is wonderful to carve. Dragging a metal tool through the surface is somewhat like finessing a calligraphy brush. I love the way clay is acutely passive, taking impressions with an intensity that amounts to spirited intelligence." She pointed out a favorite serving bowl displayed on a side table shiny with a cobalt blue glaze, edged in matte unglazed terra cotta for a visually pleasing variety of color and texture. But her specialty is her mugs. The weight, the texture, the sensation on the lips enhance the enjoyment of coffee or tea. She said functional has to go beyond visual, it has to please you in very day use. Her favorite thing to hear is when someone says of one of her mugs, "It is my favorite mug!"
The Michael S. Currier Center Gallery at the Putney School is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. The show remains on display until March 6 so there is still time to check out the exhibit. Elm Lea Farm, 418 Hougton Brook Rd., Putney. For questions about the gallery call 802-387-7312.
Contact Cicely M. Eastman at 802-254-2311 ext. 261.