I had my first life altering experience with clay as a Junior art major at Michigan State University while taking a year off from going to Principia College, a very small liberal arts college in the Midwest. There was something about touching clay and working with it that just transported me. I was in love with clay.
At that time I didn’t really understand much about clay. I was amazed and mystified by what I saw some of the graduate students create. The whole firing process was a mystery to me. I had no idea what I really wanted to do with clay, but I knew I had to work with it. I had from a child always loved making things. I had worked with fabric, found objects, wood, paper and sheet metal. Those materials I understood, but clay seemed to have some magical power that I couldn’t quite grasp but that I knew I had to pursue.
Now 30 plus years later, after having been a production potter for over 30 years and having taught pottery for over 20 years, I still love clay. I love the way clay goes through multiple personalities as it changes from very wet and soupy to buttery to very malleable and impressionable like soft putty, to leather hard, to brittle and dry. Then like alchemy it is transformed by the heat of the kiln into bisque ware, impervious to water and ready to absorb the glaze, and then once again in the heat of the fire the dry powdery glazes melt and acquire luscious gemstone like surfaces while the clay turns a toasty brown.
I love all the stages of clay, each having different possibilities in the creation process. I feel I have come to know clay and my gas kiln to a degree, but there is still a mystery about clay and the firing process that intrigues me.
I feel that my work has reached another level in the last two years. I’m excited about my new work, almost the way I was excited about clay when I was first starting out. Right now I am most excited about hand building with a very coarse dark stoneware, but I’m also really enjoying throwing with porcelain. Nature and flower arranging have been a big inspiration in much of this new work. I find that more and more I will have ideas that combine my imagination with the organic way clay naturally moves and works as well as how the glazes and kiln works.
The forms made of the coarse dark brown clay are organic, strong and sculptural. While beautifully complementing flowers and plant material, for me these pots are about the clay and how it moves and sometimes cracks to the touch of the hand or tool and how the glazes interact with its rich dark brown color. The pieces made in porcelain are totally opposite the affor mentioned work. They are comparatively small in scale, finely tuned, and mostly functional ware. I use a very white Grolleg porcelain which makes the glazes clear and bright. Still, I strive to maintain a looseness in the porcelain work.
My favorite pieces are the ones that happen by some act of grace. As much as I strive to be in control of the forming and glazing processes and of my gas kiln, I find that when I trust the higher power that moves through me, something happens in spite of me which is much more beautiful than anything I could have planned. My new challenge now is to really trust my inner voice and let it lead me.
Video of Iris Minc: