In 1990 potter and architect Wayne Branum and I embarked on what now is a decades long collaboration. We built and began sharing a studio.
In 1990 potter and architect Wayne Branum and I embarked on what now is a decades long collaboration. We built and began sharing a studio. We combined our existing studio resources and created the Branum/Pharis Studio. When I began teaching at the U of MN I moved from Houston, MN to a rural property outside of Roberts, WI. Wayne designed the new studio to over look the rolling Wisconsin countryside. In 2004 Wayne also relocated to Roberts from Stillwater, MN and built a home adjacent to the studio. Our first kiln at this studio was a wood and oil fired salt kiln. I fired work in this kiln for a few years. However, when the studio opened my transition to working with earthenware was nearly complete and I was no longer salt glazing. Over time, electric kilns gradually replaced our original salt kiln and my focus on earthenware replaced the salt glaze process. Wayne also migrated from stoneware and salt glaze to working with earthenware.
"My world opened to ideas and forms that lay outside the conditions of the potter’s wheel."
I was able to see volumetric and dimensional relationships in a flat slab.
I began hand building in the early 1980’s. It was a tentative beginning that was preceded by years of altering thrown pieces. The thrown work became more geometric with architectural references. I began making and using paper patterns as an aid for making symmetrical volumes – squares, hexagons, covers, spouts, etc. I found help and resources in the crafts of metal work and sewing, both of which could be volumetric but were cut and assembled from sheets. This opened my world to ideas and forms that lay outside the conditions of the potter’s wheel. It took some time, but eventually I was able to see volumetric and dimensional relationships in a flat slab. I spent a lot of time drawing shapes and patterns that I hoped would result in folded forms that I would be happy with, but that wouldn't be revealed until I had assembled the paper image into a clay volume. I settled into this way of working, and with soft pencils, a compass, straight edge, and a 30/60/90 triangle I was able to accomplish a lot.
My early tries were uncertain and mixed, but the whole adventure was so interesting and compelling that it didn’t matter much. The horizontal and vertical seams of the slabs became analogous to the throwing marks of fingers and ribs. The volumes and scale of these new pieces were similar to my old wheel thrown work, but the underlying symmetry of the wheel became a choice.
I worked this way for nearly a decade before realizing that I was spending too much time making patterns that resulted in forms I didn’t like. I began searching for a computer program which would help with the visualization and pattern making process – a program that could unfold a three-dimensional form into a two-dimensional pattern. More importantly, a program that allowed me to see a form I wanted to make before I had taken the time to make a pattern. I had been working backwards by making a pattern first and seeing the clay form after – not before – the pattern was made. TouchCad was the answer. TouchCad was started as a marine design company focusing mainly on smaller leisure and work boats. Designs included boats made of wood, plywood, and aluminum. I have used this program to design forms and print patterns for many years. It’s a bit quirky, but I like it and it helped me see the making of pots in new ways