Archive for the ‘Wheel-Throwing’ Category

Comments Off on Back to Not-So-Basics

Back to Not-So-Basics


MugPhlute 2013 This year took a turn (no pun intended) to wheel-thrown pieces. That ‘turn’ is one I did not expect to take a full 12 months. Making functional wares is not my favorite thing to do, but the process is one that has deepened my respect for those who do this full time. Immersing myself into several hundred pounds of porcelain and stoneware also improved my skill level immensely. The exercise of making 300+ mugs (and improving along the way) alone became a challenge as well as significant time for personal reflection. There are clear signs that ‘production pottery’ is not a direction that suits me. I still trim the bottoms of my pots and I consistently texture the bottoms and imprint my initials…those actions take time. For some production potter friends, it is more time than they spend throwing and finishing a pot of the same size. I can’t seem to cut loose that fact…and am OK with that realization as well as the financial consequences.

I am revisiting the sculptural aspect of clay. The hand-built MugPhlute image on this post is something that I made 2 years ago, but did not glaze fire until the end of 2013. The form did not seems to stand on its own and I was afraid to glaze it, knowing that multiple glaze firings would be risky with so many joins and varying clay thicknesses.  Now that it is glazed, I think I can call it a completed sculpture with functional parts (a couple of horns and a ocarina).  Even completed, I am having second thoughts…

Clay is such a plastic media and I love taking advantage of that plasticity.  There is a point, however,  where functional plasticity and clay gymnastics cross that I want to explore.  The MugPhlute in this post crosses that line too far, methinks.  If I had to create a Likert Scale that ranged from Pure Function to Sculptural Whimsy, this one falls off the end of the whimsical scale.  Somewhere in the middle of that scale is a point where function is implied and sculpture re-enforces the implied functionality…the piece is still true to its functional roots but stands on its own merit as an artful sculpture.  Although I cannot put my finger on it, my thoughts lean toward religious icons from a number of past civilizations where pieces possess middle-ground qualities of  functional narrative and figurative sculpture,  simultaneously.

It may be back-to-ocarina building time for me. It may also be back-to-figurative sculpture time. Maybe I can train my wheel to take some of those functional, basic forms and get to that not-so-basic middle-ground world. Or maybe, I should simply take less allergy medication (having just re-read what I wrote above) *grin*.

Comments Off on Hope House International Project

Hope House International Project


Hope House Project MugsA few years ago, I was invited to attend a gala dinner event for Hope House International, a non-profit organization that does incredible work with orphans in Ukraine. As part of the event, there is an art show that features paintings from children in Ukraine and others from area artists. My host friends were talking about this one day and we bounced around a few ideas of how some of my clay work might end up in that show. Well, here we are, about 6 weeks away and I am frantically wrapping up the pieces to be fired, glazed, and prepared for this event.

I have my own orphanage story from Ukraine. It isn’t one associated with Hope House, but it remains fresh in my memory as I work in the clay that ultimately turns into something (no pun intended) that will have some small impact at Hope House. In 2004, I traveled with the Belmont University Sports Evangelism team to Ukraine to work with a local church In Zhitomir. One of our adventures took us to a nearby orphanage where I met Aleksandr and a couple of his friends. The three boys played with my camera/video gear while I watched nervously, and although I understood nothing of the words spoken, we had a good time. I thought little of it until our leader stopped me a while later to say that I had no idea how special that time was for those boys. That time with the boys and the comment from my team leader stay with me even today, several years later…knowing always that there is still much to be done to bring hope to the many children who find themselves in Ukranian orphanages.

I continue my support of Hope House International and am happy to be a part of this year’s gala event. I would like to say Thank You for the quick turnaround (and solid advice) for the custom clay stamp from Joel Socwell at

Comments Off on Dealing with Old Axiom-Idioms

Dealing with Old Axiom-Idioms


In the many hours of lab work that go along with getting a degree in architecture also came a bombardment of idiom-axioms that apply to the design process. Many are attributed to famous architects. Other idiom-axioms, I think, were just annoying things that my instructor would say for lack of something original in the way of a critique. You may have heard, “Less is more” and “Form follows function”…those still rattle around in the back of my head. I’m OK with those iconic-architectural skeletons. Those quotes take on different shades of meaning when applied to clay art rather than architecture.

Runner-Exercise Mug Trophies

December 2012 – Mug “Trophies”. High fired stoneware with stains & glaze in reduction…approximately 6″ tall.

When working on a personal assignment this semester, another old idiom/axiom floated to the surface: “Good is the enemy of the best”. This generally speaks to process more than it speaks to results in terms of design. That first sketch of a project might contain glimmers of brilliance (good), but additional development with an eye toward uniqueness often leads to “better” and “best”. I have experienced this on many levels in my years on a personal level as well as a collective/collaborative level. In a Google world, it is humbling to sketch up something that appears to be world-shattering-unique, only to discover that another individual has already done something similar and posted it online. But that is where the Good-Best uncomfortable dichotomy comes into play. Yes, I look at those sketches or the results of other artists and ask, “Is there another level above this? Is there a best that would be the enemy of these (good) results? Is there a twist, parody, derivative that will take me there?”

There are many questions that I ask myself when reflecting on sketches that have been set aside to mature or mellow. What once looked like a great idea becomes something better simply because of the original glimmer of good. So, enemy might be harsh, considering that good isn’t all that bad. But when it comes to striving toward best, a shot of reality harshness, be that from a humbling Google search, a mellowed sketch, or constructive criticism may be what it takes to be unsatisfied with good.

What may be the most difficult lesson to learn is that the trash can is your friend when good sketches push you toward best designs.

Comments Off on More CityScapes Coming Soon

More CityScapes Coming Soon


Stoneware CityScape Bottles by Paul ChenowethThe initial CityScape project  that consumed much of my free time in December was well received at York & Friends Gallery…so much so, that I am scrambling to get a few more pieces ready to show.  Having a bad case of hail-storm-damage-life-interruption hasn’t helped much but there may be a silver lining.  It is one of those, “while you are at it” doing repairs, replacing roof and windows,  how about let’s get this studio conversion completed as part of the process.  So it goes. One more iron in the fire and much to get accomplished in a short period of time.

These bottles are fun to build. The taller ones are wheel-thrown in two sections and then carefully joined.  Once joined, the finished spout is collared-in and pulled to its finished form back on the wheel.  The result is a fairly light weight, thin-walled bottle.  I have been asked a couple of times to show that exercise on video but keep forgetting to take a camera into the studio. Yes, that’s what I need…yet another project.

What you see here is the impatient stage. The bottles are tightly covered for a week or two and allowed to get leather hard.  From the leather-hard stage, there is a considerable amount of carving, sculpting and texture work to accomplish before the first, bisque firing. Those images will have to wait for another day.  More CityScapes are coming, even if coming slowly.

Comments Off on Wealth & Poverty – Reflection

Wealth & Poverty – Reflection


 - Weath & PovertyI was 15 years old when I first traveled to Central and South America. The experience broadened my horizons more than any single event in my entire pre-college experience. There were 100 of us..Boy Scouts selected from every state to represent the US at the First Pan American Boy Scout Jamboree hosted in Rio de Janerio. Our travels took us to some beautiful places and that included impressive places in and around Caracas, Venezuela.

I remember being escorted to La Rinconada horse track. It was fairly new at the time and perfectly manicured…an absolute garden of color surrounded by pristine architecture. Just beyond the beauty of the track were brown, boulder-covered mountainsides that seemed to have an odd texture peeking through gray-blue clouds that hung close to the ground. The reality of what I was seeing, however, was not a natural rock formation covered in fog, but shacks of poverty-stricken people built one on top of another, visible through the smoke of cooking fires, as far as I could see across the valley and leading down to the edge of the city’s high-rise buildings. Obviously, it made an impression on me.

This project is a reflection of that experience. The 15 tall bottles assembled in some fashion will create the silhouette of a city skyline. The skyline provides a background canvas for a subtle, second, textured skyline that terminates in a clutter of smaller houses and shacks protruding slightly from the base of each bottle. The bottles can be rotated in any number of arrangements and the basic result is the same. The power and wealth of the skylines will always dominate the poverty of the slums in their shadows.

With the amount of masking an multiple layers of sprayed glazes I anticipate doing, it will be another month before this project is ready to show. In the meantime, I’ll try to keep some progress images coming.

Comments Off on Work in Progress

Work in Progress


When I proposed a thirteen bottle, sculptural piece as my initial clay project for this semester, I was thinking that a couple of hours on each bottle would get the job done. As it turns out, 5 to 6 hours of throwing, carving, and texturing to this point translates into the fact that not even the first, test bottle has been fired or glazed. All that to say, I need to get some images online for everyone to see the work in progress. It indeed has turned out to be a bunch of work!

Comments Off on Experimental Ceramic Drums

Experimental Ceramic Drums


Experimental UduI would love to give someone else credit for the inspiration of this piece.  I looked at so many images of UdusDoumbeks, and Directional Conga drums.  Somehow, this assembled mixture of parts is the result of numerous sketches and several great ideas from other artists.

First of all, the stoneware drum is assembled from 6 wheel-thrown parts.  The upper-most portion is designed to accept a stretched, goat skin head that will be secured just below the lower lip of the top opening.  A ring-hole that references the side hole of traditional Udu drums is one of two outlet holes that come into play when the drum head is played…it could also be played, using this hole, like a Udu.

The lower portion of the drum is a closed bowl resting on a permanent ring stand.  This is probably a no-no for the percussion community, but this piece is intended more for display than actual use and I wanted the vertical display to be the only option.

The bell-shaped piece connects to the upper drum-bowl and is a funcional outlet for sound, much like a directional Conga.  The sculpted face has been pushed/altered from the wheel thrown piece to imply a human element attempting to escape the bonds of the ceramic musical instrument.  That aspect may be emphasized at the glazing/staining stage to relate the bell-horn shape with the trapped face.

To provide interest on what might be a plain back to this instrument, two wheel-thrown rings are attached that might function as strap connectors… I am a bit shaky on that thought at the moment but will wait to get a feel of the overall weight and strength of the piece before determining if these rings will provide a function other than decoration.

Four other experimental clay drums are currently drying in hopes that some of these will be ready in time to be featured in the upcoming Alumni Art Exhibit at Belmont University’s Homecoming next month.