|Photograph by Amanda N. Williams|
As a clay master of large ceramic art vessels, Bill continues to draw forms that that are often in anticipation of his next piece. His beautiful work is in museum collections here such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Smithsonian Museum of American Art as well as other museums abroad.
I made a coiled pot in 6th grade and used the pottery when I was in high school.
In art school after the war, I wanted to be a painter and then switched to ceramics and have been doing both ever since.
These are what I call memory traces and each one has an effect.
I drew all the time. and at one time thought of becoming a painter and although drawing is still at my core it is my tool now for working in clay. I often describe my clay work in the same terms as those used to observe a painting such as fluidity of paint, nature of line.
I decided on clay as a major after deciding on art education.
Abbott influenced a few of my friends who later became very successful. All of his teaching was through indirection; introducing us to his world through his eyes he exposed us to so much of ceramic art. He was my first clay teacher and I knew right after the first class ended that it would be my major. I was also very influenced by Viktor Schreckengost in the 1950s who created the magnificent murals at the Cleveland Zoo and Richard DeVore who is the greatest vessel maker of the 20th century. Also, I had the extraordinary privilege of teaching with and being mentored by Joseph Carreiro, William Parry and Marcus Renzetti. And it was the Shang bronzes of China wooed me away from the wheel and the Silla dynasty in Korea that inspired me to make vessels.
I have worked in many different diverse materials and each time I learn more about clay. When I worked in metal I learned about clay, when I worked in wood, I learned about clay, etc.
Every place I taught, I looked for native clay- and its often free for the digging. Now I have 5 clays that I purchase from Ohio, California, Kentucky, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Each has a property that's useful; it can be strength, color, etc.
All of these different clays are blended. They come in 80 pound bags and I mix 400 pounds at a time. If I want to change it, for example, I can grind up bricks to make texture. There's a chemistry all its own.
We now have greater mastery over materials; we can make them behave in new and exciting ways; and we have more master crafts people than ever before in history.
As an art education major I had to experience all creative techniques and it's part of my belief in teaching to reach out to many disciplines. I read many books on how to teach and it is not the technique but the ability to be creative, to take risks, not to do the same thing over and over. You can change all the time. The material says different things but its what you tell the material that's important. To be fully creative, you must be enjoy thinking outside of the box.
I remember during one of my classes I invented a playful experiment. I placed 500 ping pong balls in a box on the ceiling and connected it with a string that I had access to. Then when the students were ready, I pulled the string and these balls came out bouncing all over every surface including some heads. After a minute or two when the balls settled down, their project was to draw their experience. It was great fun and very interesting too.
That lesson is like drawing conceptual art and yet your work is so boldly architectural. Many of your stoneware sculptures are exquisite in their lines, surfaces, shapes and general design and remain unglazed. Many commissions that you have rendered involved pieces for building installations such as those for churches, schools and interior walls for airlines. Do you experience having an architect's creative mind?
When I went to teach at what was known as the Philadelphia School of Industrial Arts, the teachers were masters in their expertise. A
nd so I had a chance to watch them and I learned how it is to be a good craftsman. I worked
with wood, stone, clay, metal, fiber and developed a keen sense for the differences in materials.
I also worked and taught in an industrial design office where I was on a project for the World's Fair in Brussels.
Ironically, my son is an architect!
Being a good craftsman with clay requires very physical strength. Now that you are 89, how do you maintain that creative energy with "mud"?
I also draw all the time; it's a form of exploration.