August 29, 2013

Ceramist creates pots with presence

Exhibit on display at 1719 Block Gallery

By ROBIN CAUDELL Press-Republican

---- — KEESEVILLE — Ceramist William Colquhoun creates clay vessels with verve and mystery. They have a back story, as does he.

 His first foray in clay was in Oregon. He was into metal sculptures when instructors suggested he try clay since it’s really hard to fabricate a head or torso out of sheet metal.

“You have to bend it and peen it,” said Colquhoun, whose work is exhibited in Clark Davidson’s 1719 Block Gallery in Keeseville.

“You can put pieces of metal together and get three dimensions. Clay is really malleable. You can just squeeze it.”

His first attempt in ceramics was lackluster.

“I spun a glob of clay off the wheel and said, ‘This isn’t for me.”

Later, he took a six-week course with ceramist Bonnie Foster in the Albany area. In her basement, he made a few small pots.

“I began to think maybe I could do something with this,” Colquhoun said.

When Colquhoun relocated from Oregon to Albany, he continued his practice of drawing and painting. He participated in the Sketch and Paint Club of the Junior College of Albany, now Sage Colleges.

After the woman who ran the club departed, he took over the job of locating models and setting up the room. As a perk, he had access to a free course. He signed up for ceramics with Tim Martin. Soon, he was in the studio seven days a week.

“I got hooked on it,” said Colquhoun, who had a scientific-research career.

At the studio, he met Peter Roberts, a young man who was pretty experienced in pot-making.

“I learned a lot from him as well as Tim. Peter’s mother, Ann Roberts, was very much involved with Partners of America. The partner to New York was Barbados,” Colquhoun said. “Tim and I got a trip down to Barbados to give a raku workshop. We built a raku kiln. A lot of black potters learned how to do raku, and we got to get out of Albany in the winter for 10 days.”

After a year, Martin made Colquhoun his assistant in the ceramics studio.

“I just really progressed pretty rapidly,” he said.

At Skidmore College, he attended a summer program with professor Regis Brodie.

“I learned altering forms from Regis,” Colquhoun said. “With a pottery wheel, you mainly make round structures, rounded forms. You can always paddle them to make them have flat sides or stick your hand or tool inside to make it something that is not just round. For me, it makes them more exciting. There’s a lot more variety in the form.” 

Brodie brought in masters such as Toshiko Takaezu (1922-2011), who taught at the Cleveland Institute of Art and Princeton University.

“I don’t think she was 5 feet tall,” Colquhoun said. “She made these huge pots. She gave demos and showed people how to make them. It’s called coil and throw technique. You throw a bowl form. You add a coil to the edge of the bowl. You get it spinning again and add another coil on the rim, and you throw that up. You keep going and going until you have a great big pot. She showed me how to make big pots.”

Colquhoun has created these pots with presence locally at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. There, as he did in Albany and Saratoga Springs, he made either stoneware or porcelain, all high-fired and made from first-rate clay.

It’s not solely about the type of clay or glaze, but also the artist’s intention.

“Some people just make pots. They’re beautiful pots. A dog bowl is a pretty simple bowl to make. The form doesn’t really move you. It’s functional and fine to feed your dog. It’s not something you look at and say, ‘Wow,’” Colquhoun said. “There are bowls that have a grace to them. If I try to make just a standard bowl, I try to make a form that has some beauty to it, but beyond that there’s ceramics that tend to have a more sculptural look.”

“Solemn,” a tall, imposing black piece, graces a display window in the 1719 Block Gallery. It was featured in a solo show at Hudson Valley Community College.

“That breaks toward sculpture. It has a little tiny top to it. It has bilateral symmetry. I whacked it on both sides with a stick. It looks almost like a body. That’s definitely a sculptural element,” he said.

Colquhoun’s interests include pod forms such as sea pods and things that germinate and press out.

“I throw a big, round pot and push it out to alter the form so it has an expansive look,” he said.

An example is a substantial cranberry-glazed urn.

“It’s one of my favorite pieces. It’s meant to put cremation ashes in and seal it.”

Another cranberry-glazed work, a beetle pot, received second place in a Stuyvesant Plaza Craft Fair. His award was presented by then-WNYT anchor Christine “Chris” Kopostasy, now Chris Jansing, host of Jansing and Company on MSNBC.

The prize-winning ceramist was also a recipient of a $2,000 award from Hudson Valley Community College for a huge ceramic-tile mural he created and installed for the college’s Philosophy Department. He fired the tiles, complete with contrasting verse from the Bible, scientists and sages, in one of Martin’s kilns.

His biggest influence remains Takaezu. Through her, he can trace his ceramics pedigree to Maija Grotell (1899-1973), Takaezu’s mentor at the Cranberry Academy of Art. Grotell is the “mother of American ceramics.”

Davidson’s art-business savvy introduces his pots to a wider market.

“I have really enjoyed working with Clark,” Colquhoun said. “I respect his art knowledge and his enthusiasm. It has been a really good thing for me.”

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IF YOU GO WHAT: Ceramics by William Colquhoun WHERE: 1719 Block Gallery, Front Street, Keeseville. WHEN: Gallery hours are from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. CONTACT: Call 569-0001 or email