Experts look at the future of pottery

Mint Museum symposium brings in a controversial critic and others to talk about ceramics movement

10/10/2012 12:00 AM

10/10/2012 6:30 AM

When Buncombe County-based potter Matt Jones took a swipe with his blog at internationally regarded art critic Garth Clark, his “critique of the critic” was a salvo that sent ceramic shards through studios and galleries across the country.

Jones, whose work is featured in Charlotte’s Mint Museum, got his dander up last year after hearing a recording of a lecture given by Clark, one of the art world’s pre-eminent critics and scholars of American crafts and fine ceramic art. Clark’s provocative talk at the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, Ore. – “How Envy Killed the Crafts Movement,” garnered national attention. Jones’ rebuttal argued with Clark’s central thesis that the crafts movement was compromising its historic roots with many potters moving between an uneasy and envious relationship with fine art to one of resentment.

What ensued was a dialogue between Clark and Jones about the future of traditional pottery and a long-distance discussion that will culminate in the two meeting for the first time at the symposium, “Traditional Pottery: Back to the Future.” The event is hosted by the Mint Museum’s Delhom Service League Oct. 16 at the Mint Museum Randolph.

Jones and Clark, the keynote speaker, will be joined in the presentation by Pittsboro potter and ceramics authority Mark Hewitt and Charlotte Wainwright, founding director of the Gregg Museum of Art & Design at N.C. State University. The event has been organized by Barbara Perry, former Mint Museum curator of decorative arts.

“I felt Clark didn’t really understand North Carolina pottery,” said Jones. “I wanted to help him see that our community has a great deal to offer and there is very viable work being done here. I was both surprised and pleased that Garth was not only responsive but instructive and more than willing to engage. His critique has helped me challenge my own notions about my work and directions I’ll take going forward.”

Perry noted that landing Clark is a coup for the Mint and the Delhom Service League, whose mission is to develop interest in ceramics by studying the world of potters and their cultures, from ancient China to contemporary America.

“Garth owned a gallery in New York City that specialized in ceramics, the first of its kind in the country. He is also basically responsible for the establishment of the ceramics movement during the 1970s and beyond,” said Perry.

Clark is spending a week in North Carolina to visit the potteries and talk with potters with Jones as his host.

“Those expecting some sort of anti-N.C. pottery antichrist will be very disappointed,” said Clark. “I am not at all dismissive of the North Carolina tradition. As a critic I’m noting that there are some problems, there is not an automatic future. Young people in particular must look for ways to adapt new techniques and processes and their approach to the business aspect of their work.

“The world is changing and the need and desire for nostalgia and the romance of connecting to the past is problematic. We can’t live on nostalgia alone.”

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