Category Archives: Idea Exchange

A place to exchange ideas about clay.

“Confrontations” A focus on the medium of clay as thought provoker

The choice of “Confrontations”, for the theme for New Mexico Potters and Clay Artists’ annual Celebration of Clay exhibition, shifts the paradigm to focus on the medium of clay as thought provoker and away from the paradigm of function.  The tradition of fired clay in human history is long and essential.   An easily accessed material, ubiquitous around the globe, is worked many ways and provides necessities such as pottery, building materials, and liquid containment.  The plastic quality of unfired clay promotes spontaneous expression.  When working small this is akin to playing with dolls.  Clay can convey gesture directly into the material and record it.   In some cases it can even record the intent of the gesture.   This spontaneity is the initial seduction of clay for most clay artists and invites a non-verbal release of ideas.

In our fast moving society there is little time for contemplation, a necessity for rational thinking and decision making.   Thought is often reduced to a quick reaction (fill in the correct bubble).  Images in the public realm are always accompanied by text telling us:   think this, or buy that, etc.   The maw of media reduces dialogue to oppositional sound bites; hammering away at rational thought process and clarity, pulverizing the possibility of real social dialogue and promotes stasis.   Monoculture thinking is not thinking.  It is no surprise we often find ourselves at a loss encountering an image with no text or title directing our thoughts.    When words fail to address essential issues, image presented with no text has wonderful potency because it engages different parts of our cognitive skills.    Asking difficult questions of the viewer, rather than solely presenting beautiful objects (I love beautiful objects, by the way) which sooth the viewer, is needed to stimulate thought and is needed for art to be meaningful and engaging.  Sometimes a jolt is required to enlarge dialogue.   This is what the theme “Confrontations” hopes to elicit.

Margit Morawietz
Margit Morawietz

Here are three entrees, types of cups, for consideration; each approach the theme differently.   Cup, a vessel of vital function, represents comfort and domesticity.  We may even go so far to say it is a symbol of culture, present and past.  The cups offered by Margit Morawietz present an immediate confrontation:  Does one want to drink from either of these cups whose throats’ dark interiors harbor mysteries and perhaps house creatures.   How can one drink from such a cup?  A straw could be used as a work-around.  These disfigured cups still hold liquid but have limited use and are the source of no comfort.  They communicate viscerally corruption, frustration and distrust.

Betsy Williams
Betsy Williams


The second set of cups are stoneware with a white slip by Betsy Williams.  The theme is explicit on the outside as a design, a form of signage.  The theme is offered at an intellectual remove.   The message is secondary to function in the same way of pictured tee-shirts.  The tee-shirts may be crass and the cups are elegant but the relation of function and use of message are the same.  Williams’ cups calmly reassure the observer of the continuum of culture.

Allen Gresham - Happy Accident
Allen Gresham – Happy Accident


The third example is a cup by Allen Gresham.  This well-formed cup has been savaged to the point of no function.  Although potters know this slicing is performed to check wall thickness and uniformity and the artist has labeled this as “Happy Accident”, the resulting image presented is contrary to the title.  This cup can hold no liquid; it can warm no heart.  Here is an example of clay’s ability to display intent.   Anger and a desire for retribution are communicated.   No cultural or domestic assurance is here.

All works exhibited in this exhibition are hand built and are unique.  This show is “artist choice”, by that we mean points of view may have teeth because they are unfettered by usual market considerations (that works required to be:  cute; within a certain price range; not able to offend anyone) are offered.

Juror on the theme of the show is Andrew L. Connors, Curator of Art at the Albuquerque Museum, with credentials thick in folk art history.

All opinions expressed here are mine and not necessarily those of the juror or the Board.  Rebuttals in the form of an article gratefully accepted by the Slip Trail.

Submitted by Sara Lee D’Alessandro,

See pictures of the works in the Celebration of Clay Show and vote for People’s Choice award starting September 1.

Contemplation of the Olla

In the nineteen sixties the argument craft verses art constantly reared its ugly head misdirecting dialogue.  It is, on reflection a spurious argument siphoning off valuable discourse.  I am a sculptor.  Clay is my medium and has been for the last half century.  Not faithful to the ceramic paradigm and not caring for shiny, I do not glaze and often paint my sculpture.  Having spent the last forty years denying being a “potter”, I was surprised to find myself this last winter totally engaged with ollas, the “ultimate pot”.
The abstract branch of my work, mostly large and for the outdoors, is fueled by exploration of the medium’s formal aspects when built by hand to scale.  This exploration lead me to understand that clay wants to be a vessel in the same way water, free of outside influences, wants to be a sphere.
After much contemplation I have settled on three essential components of the vessel:   The orifice or sipapu provides access and egress.   The chamber is a place of stored wealth, petitioning the future in cradling the egg, the seed, and the puddle.  The component often dismissed (because of the taint of utility) is the means of support, a necessity in the fruition of dreams.
I find these elemental and eternal concepts are both base and beautiful.
Sara D’Alessandro
Mudwasp Studio
Sara D'Alessandro, vessel, pot

Artists and Copyrights: Another Perspective

Our NMPCA Newsletter Editor, Christina Sullo, published an article about rules to avoid violating copyrights of other artists, which was reprinted with permission from the Corrales Society of Artists.  We posted this article to the blog here to facilitate discussion. This Post contains another point of view.

250px-marcel_duchamp_mona_lisa_lhooqThe Corrales Society of Artists article does not take into account the the widespread discussion about this topic nor the many modes of expression in the visual arts. One small example is this blogpost by Kathryn V. Williams, blogging as funnypumpkin, showing an example of an artwork that I believe would violate the “do not” rules in the article, but which is considered a valid derivative art work by Marcel Duchamps, pictured at left.   Another blogpost by Mike Masnick contains some comments about  about the source of creative ideas and the relationship to “copyright law.”  While viewing blogposts can be interesting, I don’t think we will be living our lives according to what we read there, but it does stimulate our thinking.

OK, so we are ceramic artists here.  What might this copyright violation look like.  Perhaps I go to a fair and see something that I fall in love with…and I don’t have the money to buy it.  But being a reasonably competent ceramic artist, I decide to make one for myself.  So, I copy the shape of the bowl or the look of the figurative sculpture.  Chances are great that I can’t get a duplicate glaze or firing effect, but suppose that I do come up with a creation that looks enough like the original that a reasonable viewer might think it was made by the other person.  Now, this doesn’t really become an issue until I decide that the copy was so successful that I am going to sell it and/or make more of them to sell.  At that point, yes, I think the copies violate the rights of the original artist.  Note that the motivation to create the copies was to reproduce the creative work of another person.

In looking at ceramics, I often see work that is so similar to other work that you have seen that I have to read the credit carefully to determine who make it.   More often, I will see a certain style, glaze surface, or angle of work that makes me think there might have been common sources or direct influence.  Does it make me want to buy the cheaper work?  No, but then I have seen other people buy similar pots when they could not afford the original.

Let’s consider a more common scenario.  As noted in the previous blogpost, creativity nearly always involves building upon ideas we have been influenced by.  He says:  “Art never springs entirely from 100% original thought. It’s an amalgamation of what else is out there — put together in a new way. What’s even more ridiculous is that, in almost every one of these cases, it’s difficult to see how the “original” complaining artist is even remotely “harmed” by the follow-on artists. If anything, it’s likely that the later art would only draw more attention to the original artist.”

There is a strong current of borrowed ideas running through all our work.  It is just the way the creative brain works!  I have a book titled “Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon.  He points out that if people call something “original” that they probably just don’t know the original sources.

I have a story about this idea.  Here is a scan of the postcaGrettFriendman1994Geminird image for a 1994 show at David Rettig Fine Arts in Santa Fe.  The artist, pictured next to the work, is Grett Friedman, now deceased, who was a member of the NMPCA.  Grett had this piece fabricated for her from a much smaller, two piece clay sculpture.  Years later, in the 2000’s, I was visiting with another member of the NMPCA (who had never met Grett) and who moved to Santa Fe from Texas.  He made very large wonderful sculptures.  I saw a sculpture of his in his yard that he had made from clay that was a twin of this piece.  It was about 1/2 to 2/3 the height of her metal fabrication, made from clay in multiple sections vertically, but was so strikingly similar, including the angle at the top of the two pieces, that I was stopped in my tracks.  Grett was already deceased, so I don’t know the source of her work, but I talked to the other artist and determined that he could never have seen Grett’s work.  As I remember it, his work predated hers, but it had never been shown publicly, so that Grett could not have copied it.  I can only conclude that both were inspired by some other work that they didn’t remember.

Nelson-Moore_LandscapeAnd, here is an example of derivative art from my own work.  In 2011 and 2012, I created a few of these works that I call collage sculptures.  The imagery on this one at left consists of a collage of 5 landsat photos (which are published on the internet).  I think there is clearly no copyright issue here, because the source photos are explicitly without copyright and are placed on the internet in a context to invite incorporation into other art.  However, this next imageNelson-Moore_L might be more questioned.  It consists of collage images taken from photographs of Arizona rock formations off the internet and greatly modified and distorted images of paintings.  The impetus for this work was clearly NOT to copy the original photographs or paintings.  I feel it is a valid work of art that does not violate any copyrights.  What do you think?

Judy Nelson-Moore

Artists and Copyrights: The Article

The article below appears in the January 2014 issue of the NMPCA Slip Trail newsletter, reprinted with permission from Corrales Society of Artists. Realizing that this is possibly a controversial issue, we invite your thoughtful comments to further the discussion here on this blog post. Read down and then post your comments at the bottom.

As artists, we’ve all been faced with the individual that diminishes the effort that it takes to create art or believes that they can duplicate or reproduce our work. Some of us have overheard visitors at our booth say, “I could do that.” Or, someone will take pictures of your work for refer-ence. (Editor’s note: I remember my first big juried show in New Mexico; I had someone come into my booth and do both, in one felled swoop! She walked in the booth, pulled out her camera and took a picture of a difficult handmade paper piece and said, “I can do that, I just need a picture for “reference” and walked away before I could respond!)

According to an article on, “When a group of artists were asked how to respond to this type of com-ment (situation), there were just as many responses as art-ists polled. But, basically, they were grouped into two schools of thought.

“One group holds that no one can duplicate another per-sons’ work. They can take the same subject matter, transfer it to a canvas, using the same medium as the original creator, but because the two individuals are entirely different people, with different skill sets and experiences, no two outcomes will be exactly alike. There may be similarities but each stroke of the brush will have a different depth, strength and length; color will vary and, most importantly, the soul of the art cannot be replicated. This group of artists, how-ever, also acknowledges that there are professional craftsmen whose role is to duplicate masters’ works–counterfeiters whose skills and abilities can fool even the most seasoned museum curator. But, we are not usually referring to this level of skilled individual. This group also holds that imitation is a form of flattery and they turn their heads the other way. “The second school of thought, holds that it is copyright infringement, outright theft. The problem is how do you punish or stop the ‘thief,’ especially in this digital age? According to the copyright laws of the U.S., the moment you create anything visual—paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, etc., the work is automatically covered by copyright. While not required, you should get in the habit of putting the copyright symbol, your name and the year the art was produced somewhere on your art.” Many artists put a copyright symbol, their name and the year the work was created on the art work; however, by law, it isn’t necessary. The artist still owns the copyright, even without using the copyright symbol. If anyone copies your work and/or sells it with-out your written permission, you can take them to court and sue for damages; however, it is more difficult if you haven’t registered your copyright with the U.S. Library of Congress Copyright Office. The benefit of taking this additional step is that it creates a public record of the copyright, which may be required to prove infringement in court. What many artists do not realize is that they still hold the copyright to their work after it is sold. The buyer cannot make or sell copies of the art unless you’ve provided permission in writing. And, according to U.S. copyright laws, your family or legal heirs will continue to own the copyright to your work for 70 years after your death. Stay informed. For more information about copyright laws, visit or consult an attorney specializing in copyright laws.
Editors Note: Both and have great articles and tips, including product reviews, and resource links for budding and professional artists on their respective websites. Be sure to check these sites out for more information on copyrights and other valuable topics.

Art, Photography and Copyright Guidelines

The law states that, “Copyright is a form of protection provided by the laws of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code) to the authors of original works of authorship including literary, dramatic, musical, artistic, and certain other intellectual works.” This protection includes authorship of photographs. When a photo-graph has been published it cannot be copied except with the ex-press permission of the owner of the photograph. It is a violation of copyright law to prepare derivative works based upon the copy-righted work. It is also important to note that works do not have to bear the copyright symbol to be protected. “Copyright is secured automatically when the work is created, and a work is created when it is fixed in a copy or photo record for the first time.” The copyright protection extends “from the moment of its creation, and is ordinarily given a term enduring for the author’s life, plus an additional 70 years after the author’s death”… “for anonymous and pseudonymous works (unless the author’s identity is revealed in Copyright Office records), the duration of copy-right will be 75 years from publication or 100 years from creation, whichever is shorter.” Transfers of copyright are normally done through contract. An artist or photographer may sell his or her copyright in various forms, including first use, one-time use, limited use, or unrestricted use. It is then legal to use the work, but only under the terms of the contract. Here are the guidelines as most professional artists practice them: • DO NOT– copy someone else’s photograph to create a work of art. • DO NOT– copy a picture that has been printed in any form including book, magazine, etc. • DO NOT– copy a major part of a photograph (an animal, for instance) and place it in a different setting. This is a “grey” legal area, but it is still considered unethical by most professional artists. • OK – to copy your own photograph to create a work of art. • OK – to copy works that have exceeded the time limits for copyright protection. References: Copyright Basics Circular 1, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC. 1995;,, and

Ghost Ranch Peace Mural Update

Submissions for the River of Peace are coming in from all over the world.  We have extended the deadline for these submissions to February 14, 2014.  We wanted to give people more time to get their submissions to us.  We have less than 30 writings received so far and would like to have closer to 100.  The date 02/14/2014 seems like an auspicious date, especially since it is Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love.

So far the nature of the submissions have varied from original thoughts to quotes from other sources, both of which are welcome.  The subjects include peace between nations, races, and cultures, cessation of violence in our workplaces, schools, and communities, caring for the earth and reduction of natural destruction, and  ideas conducive or leading to inner personal peace.

The imagMarionGaffene in this post is a submission from a Dutch woman living in Israel.  She wrote her writing, photographed it on her iphone, and emailed it to me.  So wonderful that we can share this from half-way around the world.  She  learned of the project from a friend in Israel who had heard of the project from Michael Lancaster, one of our NMPCA members.  Here is the text of the message she send accompanying the image for our project:

Last week Morris told me about the river of peace and asked me if I would be willing to write something about peace for your project in Dutch.
What a wonderful project !!
I hope that the little “wave” that I wrote from the heart may contribute to the river.
I  will give you a little bit of background as for you to understand how close your project  is to my heart.  I am an art-teacher in Beir Tuvia high school and retorno a rehab-center of N A, working with kids 15-18 yrs old.   I live in Israel was born and raised in Holland-lived in France a bit–volunteered in Israel- traveled “around” lived in NY city – Philly then moved to Montreal – Canada- moved with 2 little children to Israel !
Now 18 years later (exactly on new-years day ) The harsh reality of my son joining the army has arrived.
This week at the ” swearing in “ceremony for my son at the Western wall in Jerusalem – I got overwhelmed with mixed emotions – sadness and pride – my son being chosen for this special fighters-unit – Feeling sad to  see all those hundreds of boys standing there- holding a weapon, feeling that this is their duty as Israeli boys to protect their country.  Besides some strange patriotic pride also skeptical thoughts occupied me – this is absolutely absurd – what kind of mom am I – did I do something wrong – what can I do to  spread peace – besides here and there some art projects – talking peace  with my students and as a mom – living a peaceful life – being at peace with myself and others – ???
I pray that our eyes will open to this magical planet and still have not lost hope that one day there will be PEACE for all beings on this planet.
May your garden of peace bloom and spread all over. May your peace-river flow peace.  Thank you ! With love

Marion Gaffen Vermeulen
Sent from my iPhone

Supplies and Equipment Ideas

I asked member Judy Richey if she had any ideas about what we could post about supplies/equipment.  Here’s what she sent me:

“I have been developing really painful arthritis in my right hand.  I have always reprocessed and reclaimed all my scrap clay and struggled with wedging clay that I purchase that is either way too wet as is often the case from NM Clay, or too dry – Laguna.  My husband gave me the most incredible Christmas gift last year.  He gave me a Peter Pugger VPM-9 stainless steel deairing/power mixing, power wedging pug mill.  The most wonderful machine.  It is small (batch size 25#), relatively quiet, and does a fantastic job, saving my spirit and my hands.  This is one of the few – maybe the first? completely stainless steel pug mill, which is necessary for my studio as I do porcelain which tears up a non-stainless mill. 

“Other than that I think a link to MUD TOOLS, Michael Sherrill’s web site would be good.  He makes the most amazing ribs and his throwing sponges are incredible.  I first became aware of his ribs and sponges at a workshop that I attended at Geil Kilns before I bought my kiln.  Tom Coleman was the artist at the workshop and he showed these tools to us.  The sponges were on back order for some time and several of the people in the workshop were familiar with them and were also waiting to get some.  Then I saw him at NCECA in Phoenix.  I am a devoted fan.  He has amazing tools.  His website is

 “Wonderful brushes at reasonable prices:  Oriental Art Supplies in Huntington Beach CA.  Website

“Last but not least are Phil Poburka’s trimming tools.  He is known as Bison Studios.  These tools are wonderful because they stay sharp forever.  Take some getting used to as they are very sharp.  They do best with leather hard clay and a slow wheel.  The tools are more expensive than other trimming tools, but they last forever or he will resharpen them for you.  The tools are made of Tungsten Carbide and will break if dropped, but as with any excellent tool, taking care of them becomes second nature.  He is always at NCECA. website:

“These are just a few of my ideas.  I would love to get some wonderful tea pot handles.  Most of those I have found locally are really crude.

“Hope these ideas are of some use to others.”

Judy Richey