Archive for the ‘Resident Artists’ Category

Wasmaa Chorbachi Tiles

Dr. Wasma’a Chorbachi, artist and expert in Islamic Art and History, bridges Mesopo­tamian and contemporary Western cultures. She was born in Cairo of Iraqi parents and lived in Baghdad during the early years of her life. “My earliest recollection of my love for clay and the excitement of firing a piece of clay goes back to when I was five years old. During promenades on the banks of the Tigris River, I discovered that these Meso­potamian clay deposits were the greatest toy. The making of the piece and the material transformation with its sense of magic, over­whelmed my imagination. After that, I often ‘played’ with clay and found that it brought me joy and peace of mind,” Chorbachi writes. Educated in the best Islamic, European and American traditions, she earned her Ph.D. from Harvard with a thesis on The Meet­ing of Science & Art in Islamic Civilization: Design in Islamic Architectural Decoration.

Chorbachi recently taught a course entitled “The Arabesque and Islamic Geometric Pattern Design” to M.I.T. archi­tecture students. She also teaches a practi­cal course at the HCP Studio on the structural rules of pattern formation, along with the fabrication of tiles and murals, low-fire tech­niques of decorating and glazing, and luster firing. Students are attracted to the topic of pattern forma­tion because it shows how the simplest design can be­come a complicated tapestry with only a few fixed moves of the design elements.

Chorbachi works in the Islamic calligraphic tradi­tion, primarily in clay, but also through painting on large pieces of silk. The central theme of Chorba­chi’s surface design is Ara­bic calligraphy, a prayer or a poem, which is surrounded by textural patterning. Inscription is the dominant feature of Chorbachi’s plates, tiles and murals in which the background is expressed in extraordinary textures, patterns and colors that refer to her ancestral land. These surrounding decorative areas remind us of the traditions of ancient Mesopotamia and the first attempts of humans to create a written and numerical system on clay tab­lets with an angled wooden stylus.

Wasma'a ChorbachiChorbachi’s work retells the an­cient Islamic story within a contem­porary context and holds its own side by side with its origins as can be seen in various exhibits and mu­seums throughout the world where her work is shown.  To see more of Wasma’a’s work, click here.

~Raquel Wharton Rohr excerpted from vol 1. number 3 Spring 2009 of Sgraffito, the Harvard Ceramics Program newsletter


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Alice Abrams Sculpture

Alice Abrams trained in theatre arts as an undergraduate at Tufts University and as a graduate student at New York University. She was introduced to clay in a local art center in 1970. “The hobby grew into a passion,” said Abrams, who has been associated with Boston area ceramics programs during the past 35 years. As stu­dent, teacher, exhibi­tor and curator, she has become a well-known figure in the ceramics community. Currently she maintains studio space at the Lexington Arts & Crafts Society, where she has been a member since 1974, and at the Harvard Ceramics Program Studio, where she has been a participant for 20 years.

Abrams’ ceramics reflect her warm and in­fectious sense of humor and her emotional attachments to nature and family. A signature form for Abrams is the buffalo. Every piece is one of a kind. Each bison is hand formed and finished by firing in raku or in a sag­gar box with organic materials and metal oxides. “Making buf­falos gives me a way to honor my mother,” Abrams explains. “As a child in the Midwest I accompanied her on many western road trips during summer holidays …. The buf­falo serves as a symbol for my attachment to a courageous woman who discovered a new life and taught me about possibilities across the horizon.” 

Humor is another constant in Abrams’ cre­ations. One aspect of her current work is focused on food sculpture, reshaping the vocabulary of nutrition with clay. Abrams describes this idea as, “adding some spice to nutritional concepts to make them more palatable.” One such sculpture is a plate of donuts on lettuce titled I Will Just Have a Salad. Another is Food Pyramid, con­structed of three layers of peanuts — over 1200 in number. Abrams hand-builds these sculp­tures, using low-fire clays and glazes as mate­rials, and slabs, coils and molds for forming. She also incorporates rods and glue and other tools. Abrams is eclec­tic in her choice of clay, glazes, firing modes and temperatures, as well as in her forming techniques. She works with low-, medium- and high-fire clays and glazes and finishes in oxida­tion, reduction, saggar or raku firings. She hand-builds functional plates, platters and boxes as well as the buf­falo and food sculptures.Abrams is also skilled at wheel-throwing, using this expertise to form bowls and lidded jars, mugs and other vessels. Consistent with this diversity, she employs a wide range of techniques for decorating her work.

Alice AbramsAlthough widely divergent in construction and finish, Abrams’ body of work contains themes that are recognizably hers, most notably the shape of her thrown forms and the nature of her hand-built pieces. Threads of continuity can be perceived throughout, along with a de­sire to stretch into new territory. Consequently it is common to see herds of buffalo roaming among mugs, platters and bowls, or plates of ceramic cupcakes, in her display at the semi-an­nual Show and Sale of the HCP Studio.

~Suzanne Garen-Fazio excerpted from vol 1. number 3 Spring 2009 of Sgraffito, the Harvard Ceramics Program newsletter

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Dennis McLaughlin Pot

Denny McLaughlin is one of the more recent additions to the Harvard Ceramics Program staff. He was born in southwest Minnesota and lived there for most of his life. About five years ago during a transitional period he moved to Boston. Having taught a class here in 2003, he was familiar with the Harvard Ceram­ics Studio and its community. Within a very few years he has become a central figure at the Studio. Midwestern to his core, McLaughlin has a deep and resonant voice, a huge, warm and open smile and a pioneer spirit that en­courages exploration and promotes possibility.

McLaughlin started his university studies as an art major concentrating on two-dimen­sional work at Southwest State University, Marshall, MN, but with his first course in ceramics in the spring semester of his sopho­more year he switched his focus. After gradu­ating from Southwest State he spent one year working in the pottery studio at Marylhurst College in Portland, Oregon, and earned a Master’s degree in ceramics from Kansas State University in Manhattan, KS. He then returned to Minnesota where he started his family and his career as a production potter.

A friend helped him open his own pottery studio and taught him to balance his atten­tion between the business of selling and the production of the pottery. Consequently his customers were welcomed into his working area where they were educated in the process of producing pottery. His charismatic personality and passion for what he was doing guaranteed that no one left empty handed and would almost certainly come back for more.

He also organized spring and fall events, drawing large crowds. An annual event called “Harvest Gathering at Birch Coulee,” held on the first Sunday of October, cel­ebrated the harvest season and the regional arts and crafts. The event, located next to the historic Birch Coulee Battlefield, attracted thou­sands of visitors. When McLaughlin goes home people still ask about the harvest gathering. His pottery produc­tion in Minnesota spanned close to 20 years.

McLaughlin’s artistic sensibility was in­fluenced by his undergraduate and graduate ceramics professors, in particular under­graduate professor Gordon Dingman, whose work was similar to the work of Bernard Leach and Warren MacKenzie. McLaughlin combines this sensibility with the explora­tion of indigenous clays and glazes, produc­ing work that is strong in form and delicate in surface. He favors stoneware clays, because of their potential for varied interactions with glazes, and ash glazes for their interplay with the clay. He is precise, efficient and fast, has a broad vocabulary of forms, and each is as fresh and fluid as if he’d made only one.

Denny McLaughlin“I draw my inspiration from all work and traditions,” McLaughlin says when asked to define the sources of his artistic style. McLaughlin’s work is predomi­nantly functional, mostly wheel-thrown or formed in molds he makes, and is decorated with slip trails, sprigs and glazes he creates. Although not process oriented, he enjoys direct in­volvement in process, and even built a wood-burning, climb­ing kiln as a graduate student. McLaughlin brings all of these skills to his teaching. He is able to demonstrate processes step by step. The skills he teaches al­low his students a greater free­dom and spontaneity flowing from con­fidence in the ability to control the clay. McLaughlin’s seriousness of purpose and attention to detail complement his genu­ine warmth and his passion for his work.

~Liz Golbus excerpted from vol 1. number 3 Spring 2009 of Sgraffito, the Harvard Ceramics Program newsletter

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Meng Zhao Sculpture

Meng Zhao came to the Harvard Ceramics Program studio as an Artist in Residence in 2005, where he has taught classes in traditional Chinese brush painting and clay surface design. Inspired by ancient Chinese rocks and water forms, and by Chinese philosophy, Zhao’s work has brought him wide recognition and several prizes, including the Gold Medal at the 53rd International Ceramic Art Competition in Faenza, Italy, 2003.

Zhao’s current work reflects his process of bridging the two distinct cultures of ancient East and modern West. His sculptural pieces explore the ancient paradigms of Chinese art to test the boundaries of form and balance, surface and texture, made possible with clay and glazes. Zhao prefers clay for the qualities of flexibility and suppleness of the material. Philosophically he is attracted by the combination of elements in the ceramics process, earth and water, fire and air, complementing each other rather than competing with each other.

Rocks in China have long been admired as an essential feature in gardens, representing a miniaturization of mountains and inviting meditation and contemplation. Prized by collectors, scholar’s rocks are a natural sculptural form, found and refined, and can be viewed as a major three-dimensional tradition of Chinese art. Non-traditional colors, textures, and shapes have emerged in the rock and water pieces Zhao has created at the Harvard Ceramics Program. Zhao creates his scholar’s rocks with an eye to his Asian past and with a hand in contemporary clay sculpture. Similarly, Zhao creates clay images of water and waves that have a visual reference to the calligraphic line in Chinese brush painting. Following the teachings of the Tao Te Ching as a source of inspiration, Zhao uses the philosophy of vacuity or emptiness, “form is emptiness, emptiness is form”, as a common theme in his work.

Meng Zhao

 We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel; But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends.  We turn clay to make a vessel; But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends. We pierce doors and windows to make a house; And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends. Therefore just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.

 Chapter 11 of the Tao Te Ching  (translated by Waley)

 –Maria Luisa Mansfield, excerpted from vol. 1, number 1 Summer 2008 of Sgraffito, the Harvard Ceramics Program newsletter

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South Station

2 to 1

Pam Gorgone is a Ceramics Program instructor and a long-time Non-Resident Tutor and ceramics Instructor at Harvard’s Mather House. Her small scale sculptural work, often focusing on sets and serial objects, has been described as quiet, meditative, and elemental. Pushing the limits of porcelain’s plasticity she rises to the challenge of making ultra-thin hand-built pieces, and is more interested in the color being part of the material rather than something applied to the surface. “Born to pot,” Pam finds inspiration in repetition and rhythm, the paintings of Agnes Martin and the sculpture of Donald Judd, and the interrelationships within her own family. She prefers the “doing and the making” of her vessels and sculptural componants and, once they have been fired, in their recombination.


Pam Gorgone Pam Gorgone BFA at Tufts/Museum School and instructor at Harvard’s Mather House.

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Lucy Scanlon

wave tiles

wave tiles

Lucy Scanlon credits the required and often difficult ‘source talks’ she gave as a graduate student at RISD with helping her understand “what I wish my pots were about.” Verbalizing her intentions, she says, is like being forced to throw on a kick wheel, where a potter translates their effort into kinetic energy that in turn becomes the potential energy used to create the pot. The roster of mentors Scanlon has worked with as she moved about with her growing family includes first-tier ceramicists Toshiko Takaezu at Princeton, Mikhail Zakim and Byron Temple in NYC, and Makoto Yabe at the DeCordova Museum school. Scanlon inspires her own students to work with ideas and forms that excite them, in addition to imparting technique. Her love of the sea, which she enjoys from a summer studio on Martha’s Vineyard, is evident in both the aqua color and water motifs of many of her soda-fired slab and altered wheel-thrown pieces.

Lucy ScanlonLucy Scanlon BA in Geology in Harvard College; MFA in Ceramics from Rhode Island School of Design; former instructor of ceramics at Rhode Island School of Design. Lucy makes hand built and wheel thrown functional pottery, often incorporating animal and water motifs.

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erotic table setting

erotic table setting

The diversity of Amy Woods’ fanciful table settings belies her abiding commitment to the integrity of the various clays and glazes as well as the piles of found objects she often uses as source material. While not intending to be too obvious or offensive, Woods’ work subverts the concepts of identity and playfulness, and pushes the opposing boundaries of both sculptural and surface decoration. AS a TA and summer course instructor, Woods encourages her students to relate their ceramic practice to their life outside the studio. ~Sue Post


Amy Woods

Amy Woods graduated from Boston University with a B.A. in German literature.  Her next endeavor was to transform herself into  a professional potter getting most of her education “hands on” through the Harvard Ceramics Studio (formerly the Radcliffe Pottery Studio) with the addition of some summer workshops with Walter Ostram and Marilyn Dintenfass.  She has produced an abundance of specialty presentation-ware for vegetables, fruits, beverages, and blancmange, that is not to be trifled with.




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