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


Nancy Selvage

Flow Mural

The Harvard community is fortunate to have Nancy Selvage as the director of the ceramics program, a position she has held since 1978. During this time Selvage has produced a large body of public sculptural and mural work as well as other pieces shown in galleries and museums. She has also written articles and grant proposals, organized many scholarly and hands-on symposia, taught classes at the studio, and attended residencies and meetings in the field.

Selvage began her undergraduate studies at Wellesley College assuming a premed track. Fascinated by art history, she soon decided to pursue a career in art, ultimately earning an M.F.A. in Sculpture from Tufts University, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The sciences have, however, continued to wield a strong influence on her creative work, which she has successfully blended in her choice of subject and handling of the material.

One mark of her scientific approach is the meticulous research she does for each project, finding the most appropriate combinations of clays, glazes or other materials, and checking and testing every detail, every creature in a mural, every scientific formula or animal color and shape, every metal or method to be used, so that the finished product will please and endure.

In her impressive body of work, three major pieces stand out, representing her permanent public, ceramic art. In order by date of fabrication, the first is a ceramic tile mural, “Sonoran Snake”, a 50-foot-long rattlesnake whose skin is colorfully decorated with desert animals and plants. Created in 1993, it is attached to a wall leading to the entrance of the Sonora Desert Pavilion at the North Carolina Zoo at Asheboro, North Carolina.

The second is a group of ceramic pieces, created in 2000, for the Canyon View Information Plaza at the Grand Canyon. One part, “Canyon Rim”, is a 3D relief map model of 30 miles of the South Canyon, essentially replicating the topography of the rim area. It interfaces with a floor photo of the Canyon and orients visitors to the area. Another part, “Grand Canyon Camouflage”, consists of 30 low-relief sculptures of plants, animals and fossils that decorate the walls of the orientation building.

The third piece, “Flow”, constructed in 2005, is a ceramic tile mural located on the Science Building at Keene State College in Keene, N.H. It is in the shape of the local Ashuelot River and is a ‘river of scientific knowledge’ elaborately filled with symbols and images from all of the sciences.

In her artists statement she declares:

Nancy SelvageI have always been interested in the overlapping connections and associations between a functional object and the significance of its specific or broader context. A series of plates became embodiments of table manners; a table was inscribed with a litany of food blessings; some map vessels poured specific river systems; the Iraq vessel poured oil; “Wishing Well” pulled the gallery space into a vortex; “Nuclear Home” hovered between cohesion and fallout; a hearth endangered a hunt; one educational mural became a mythic snake ;another became a river of knowledge; a wall animated the streetscape and sheltered the plaza. Whether I start with a plate on a table or a wall in a plaza I work in response to the character and context of that private or public site, with the need to enhance awareness, transform experience, and discover new means of expression.

For images of Selvage’s sculpture click here.

~Suzanne Garen-Fazio, excerpted from vol. 1, number 1 Summer 2008 of Sgraffito, the Harvard Ceramics Program newsletter

Meng Zhao

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

Japanese Art historian, Andrew Maske, and Hamada Tomoo (grandson of Japan’s National Living Treasure, Hamada Shoji)  discuss recent tea bowl scholarship  with an audience of 70 students and art professionals at the Ceramics Program.


Hamada, Tomoo demonstrated glazing and gave a presentation about his family legacy in Mashiko. He is the grandson of Hamada Shoji, “National Living Treasure” and THE major figure of the mingei folk-art movement.

“Hamada, Tomoo’s pots utilize essentially the same materials as those of Hamada Shinsaku(his father) and Hamada Shoji (his grandfather) – glazes like reddish brown kaki, brown tenmoku, cobalt blue, white rice straw ash, bluish-white namako, green seiji, black kurogusuri, creamy nuka, translucent namijiro, and runny-green wood ash, all used to cover a speckled tan clay dug and formulated right in Mashiko. Unlike his elders, however, Tomoo has become much more daring in the use of unconventional shapes, extensive application of overglaze enameled decorations, and surface textures. In particular, his tiered fl asks (HT21) are very progressive, and unlike anything seen before in a mingei genre. It is clear that Tomoo has been looking beyond the works of his forebears, examining works from the early English Arts and Crafts movement, and even from art nouveau.” — Andrew L. Maske

*This program was presented in conjunction with an exhibition at
the Pucker Gallery, 171 Newbury Street, Boston, MA
from June 13 through July 20, 2009.
“Hamada: Three Generations of Japanese Potters”
Opening Reception: June 13, 2009, 3 – 6 pm
Potter’s Event: Sunday, June 14, 3 – 5 pm
RSVP to justine@puckergallery.com

“The world of traditional ceramics in Japan naturally places great emphasis on lineage. Lines of potters that began in the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century are now in their fourteenth or fifteenth generations. A lineage of only three generations may seem insignificant by comparison, but (the exhibition at Pucker Gallery) by the Hamada family makes it clear that it is not the length of the line that is most important, but rather the quality of the work.”— Andrew L. Maske

“So You Think You Can Throw. . . a Dinner Party?”

The name of Shawn Panepinto’s class, listed in the course catalog, gave those who enrolled a good idea about what was going to be in store for them in the Spring of 2009.

The focus of the class was, as the title suggested, preparing to give a dinner party on the last day of the semester that would include members of the class and their invited guests. The preparation included each student making 2 place settings (2 dinner plates, 2 salad plates, 2 bowl shaped containers, 2 drinking vessels, and one luminary for the table), and it also included planning a menu and then preparing the food.

The class divided into five teams each choosing a country or a region that its pottery and menu selections would represent. After lively debate, the teams announced their choices: the Caribbean, Spain, the Middle East and North Africa, the Southwest United States, and China. In addition to the place settings and food, each team also created a centerpiece, chose appropriate music, and decided on drinks to be served with the meals.
The culmination of the semester would be, of course, the dinner party itself! The guest list included many spouses and family members who had heard about classes and about studio activities for years, but had never actually visited. There was anticipation and excitement.

So… with a lot of work, a lot of preparation, and a lot of collaboration, it seems this class can indeed throw a dinner party!

Here are reactions to the party from some of the guests and the participants.

Last evening, the studio was literally transformed into a multi-cultural wonderland. Guests were escorted inside to help celebrate the semester-end of Shawn Panepinto’s advanced class. Dressed up in white linen, with spectacular lighting and exquisitely decorated tables displaying handmade dinnerware, it was barely recognizable. Many hands worked tirelessly to create a truly special event that featured homemade cuisine from China, The Caribbean, the American Southwest, North Africa, and Spain. Full menus were prepared and presented by members of the class, and served on handmade dinnerware inspired by those same cultures. From appetizers to desserts, with amazing main courses in between, guests were treated like VIP’s. Shawn had put together a slideshow that featured most of those in attendance, who, along with their work, were shown in memorable situations from the past. Many spouses were there (some for the first time), Cathy McCormick and her husband Dewey Dellay attended, Shawn and Delaney were presented with gifts and accolades, and Nancy Selvage put in an appearance just to finish the party on a high note.
To say that a good time was had by all would be a huge understatement! A memorable celebration of a memorable class!
(Jim Anderson, guest)

A feast to the eyes. (anonymous guest)

The food was all wonderful. (Austin de Besche, guest)

Martha Stewart, move over, you’ve got competition. Candlelight flickered in ceramic luminaries in the Main Studio as Shawn Panepinto and her 25 students greeted 35 guests on Wednesday evening, May 6, for the culmination of her Advanced Ceramics class. The course, titled “So, You Think You Can Throw a Dinner Party?” challenged her students to throw, both ceramically and literally, a gourmet dinner party in which every single place setting, serving platter, candle holder and centerpiece was to be made by them during the semester. The class had been divided into 5 teams for the two term project. The Fall semester focused on an exploration of tableware ceramic technique. During the Winter/Spring Semester, each team studied a region of the world to find artistic inspiration and a culinary theme. They created complete menus for each of the 5 regions and began to design the serving containers for the native dishes they would be cooking. As May approached, the teams added party planning to their duties; they designed the invitations, and organized the decorations, flowers, music and entertainment. The last week was a flurry of kiln firings and human activity as the class transformed the studio into a colorful banquet hall. The night of the party, guests were feted to delights from China, the American Southwest, Spain, the Carribbean, and the Arabian Mediterranean countries. The visual spectacle of 60 original handcrafted place settings was stunning. So, did the class succeed at Shawn’s challenge? As one of her students, I would answer, “Yes ( we can!)” Perhaps that’s why the lifesize cardboard cutout of President Obama was standing in the doorway. The class extends joyous thank you’s to Shawn, for guiding us “soup to nuts” through another creative endeavor. The party may be over, but the place settings will be on view at the Show and Sale. Put it on your calendar, May 14-17. (Alice Abrams, participant)

Pam Gorgone


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.

tea set

tea set

For Harvard senior Dave Tischfield the freedom he finds in the studio, where he can ‘just start making’ anything that he can imagine, serves as welcome relief for the stresses and ‘reality’ of working on hardcore lab science. Since freshman year Tischfield’s creative passion for making and firing ceramic sculpture and vessels has been infectious. With wit and energy Tischfield has produced Clay All Night, a popular undergraduate studio party;  taught classes at the Quincy House ceramics studio; run studio workshops for kids with AIDS; and contributed to Ceramics Program presentations for Harvard’s Arts First Festival, a variety of student groups and courses, and the City of Cambridge’s  Riverfest.

David TischfieldWhile giving his students the skills they need to accomplish their creative goals has been both fun and rewarding for Tischfield, ultimately he plans to build on his undergraduate neurobiological research by pursuing an MDPhD. But first he will take a year off after graduation, dividing his time between polishing his thesis for publication and finally having the opportunity to focus on his own sculpture and pottery projects. If he receives sufficient funding, these projects might include studying at a ceramics workshop in China, and field work in Nicaragua to help establish a ceramics microenterprise development project. ~Sue Post