2015 National Mature Media Award WINNER

2015 National Mature Media Award WINNER
The Creative Landscape of Aging Wins a NMMA Award!

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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

An Interview with BILL DALEY: Man of Monumental Ceramic Art

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.
 
Your first experience using clay was in elementary school building a pot and then in high school you learned to use the potter’s wheel. Did you have a string of "clay memory" that spanned those years?
I remember swimming in a small creek in the summer with friends when I was about 8 years old. It had a mud bank and we would cover our bodies with mud and then jump off a tree branch into the water and rinse ourselves.

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.
So you remember being focused on both painting and ceramics , but it was not until you met Charles Abbott in your junior year at Mass Art that you decided to major in Ceramics. Can you talk about this? Who were other ceramic artists whom you revered?
During the first 2 years of art school, I had to take all types of art classes and by Junior year I had to declare a major. I was a veteran-most of us veterans wanted to teach because it was a challenging program and we felt profoundly that art could make the new life better for everyone.

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.

In learning more and more about clay, you became a clay inventor combining different clay sources together; some with iron, all with plasticity while creating these mud elements with different percentages of grog and water to get different colors through firing in the kiln.

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.

It's amazing to consider the depth of your resourcefulness with clay and that you have no boundaries in teaching art.. At PCA (Philadelphia College of Art), you taught and supervised a wide range of art related courses that included ceramics but also had the breadth of courses from drawing to textiles. It's amazing that you can cross over and engage so many art disciplines in teaching. How does this affect your own art?

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. And 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"? 
You must have inner energy to want to do it. I am focused on keeping well with yoga, walking and eating healthy. I am starting to do smaller pots now so it is something I can lift myself and move myself to and from the kiln.

I also draw all the time; it's a form of exploration.