Artists at the Studio

Artists at our Residency

Time is going very quickly or to pick another cliche, “Where has the time gone? “We are beginning our fourth week!

I picked up the second edition of Contemporary Studio Porcelain by Peter Lane from the ICS library and noticed that Imre Schrammel and Maria Geszler are both  featured in it.  In talking with Jona Gudvardottir, ceramic artist who co-runs the studio, it seems many prominent European and  North American ceramacists have worked in the ICS studio space. I feel that as a Canadian, I know little about the Europeans and their histories but the converse is also true. In Canada we have been following more the British and Japanese traditions but it is wonderful to have another area open up to me with other artistic paths and explorations.

Ms. Geszler arrived last Friday evening and unpacked many stunningly decorated,  primarily silk-screened and drawn on to cello like slip-cast bodies that she glazed and fired over the weekend in the gas kiln. It is a huge amount of work for her to do this on her own and as she says, you have to have the passion to continue with such arduous work. In the studio just next to where she is working, Mr. Schrammel is working with a former student, now fellow artist, Rosita, collaborating on a number of pieces. They are rather large chunky vigorous tile relief works they will let dry and return mid-May to fire and finish. It is amazing to be working alongside them and just to soak up the energy although I don’t believe they pay any notice to the rest of us in the midst of their work.

And, when we think we have more than enough stimuation, a sculptor by the name of Sandor Kecskemeti returns to ICS to do an oil raku firing – something I have never heard of before and a technique that was introduced to ICS by an American raku artist (who, is momentarly not archived)… at any rate, the pictures testify to the firing – after about 3 hours of warming up in the fibre raku kiln, the fibre form is lifted off and a metal; box is put over the grate that holds the red hot work. After the box has been settled, oil is pumped into the red hot atmosphere and smoke is introduced… this occurred at about 4:00 p.m. in the afternoon and the pieces will be pulled out only at about 9:00 a.m. the next day. They are supposed to have a very distinctive look and as the artist says, a very beautiful finish.

Maria spontaneously organized a slide evening focusing on a residency she recently completed in Japan at the Seto institute. It is a very young ceramics institute (10 years) and she has completed other residencies in Japan and seems to have an affection for the country, their kiimonos, food and their venerated ceramic artists. She is a person with a “generous heart” and she seems to want to share her love of ceramics and her enthusiasm for all kinds of work with anyone who is interested. Mr. Schrammel listened to her talk and Sandor K also presented a small film about his work that was in Hungarian and Maria kindly translated.

Maria will be unloading her kiln in the next few days and I asked her if it was possible to be there during the unloading and she said she wanted to do this on her own as it was a a private time for her – I understand completely but somehow was hoping otherwise. We will be introduced to the pieces later in her own time…

the comforts of home

Daily Necessities

It may not look like much but this is the cupboard that Debra and I seem to be constantly going to throughout the day– an assortment of local coffees for the strongest espresso con latte in the morning (thank you Debra for bringing the machine, and my abject apologies for making fun of you when you suggested it). The remainder of the cupboard has a collection of black, roibus, mint and green teas that we seem to be drinking constantly – staying hydrated is no mean feat when you are working with clay. The evenings are another matter though – I think some of the best beer is brewed here and we have come to think of it as a major food group – it is delicious.

Firing the Bisque

Deb and Klari spent some time loading the bisque kiln today and this is always exciting as we can get to do the next stage – glazing and firing. We are planning on sharing a salt, wood and gas firings with some other artists – as well as the workload as the wood kiln needs to be fired all night. We should be able to unload the bisque tomorrow but even more exciting to me is the fact that a very well known Hungarian ceramacist by the name of Maria Geszler is coming to glaze her work and load a gas kiln for firing on Monday.

Pieces waiting to be bisqued

It seems ICS has many well known artists who use the excellent facilities for their work. I am exited about Maria being on site as I admire many aspects of her work. She uses screen printing for some of her surfaces which are very painterly and when I was asking a techician about her technique, I was told she cuts the screen out of the frame after the image has been transferred and this flexibility allows her to use small sections or the larger piece to work around a form– something you can’t readily do in a frame… easy and very clever.

Budapest Bound

Bridge Detail Crossing from Pest to Buda

Debra finds there is something about the Budapest structures that resonate with her  – she is almost non-stop exclaiming and sighing as she describes how beautiful she finds the forms and the details that abound such as cupids and cherubs alongside the ever present graffitti. We drove to Budapest last Tuesday with the Director of the Institute, Janos Probstner, to attend yet another opening of the second gallery managed by ICS. While we did attend the opening and presentation of some  Danish ceramacists, the main excitement of the day was being back in the city we are fond of. Walking over one of the many bridges from Pest to Buda in an area we had’t explored before on a magnificent Spring Day kept us walking lightly.

Budapest Street Scene

Of great interest on the drive into Budapest was Janos talking about his childhood as he grew up in Budapest.  While driving down Ulloi Street on our way to the gallery, he described when as a boy of 13 in 1956 in this very street, he was standing in a doorway while Russian tanks filled with soldiers killed everyone around him. His descriptions were so vivid and language so intense, it made me think he relived this event everytime he drove down this street, and I guess, how could you not?

Russian Orthodox Priests Sing

In the local Catholic church on Monday evening, we listened to the priests sing Tchaikowsky, Rachmaninoff, some Russian folksongs and what we think were Hungarian liturgical songs. We took some pictures of the inside of the church but were careful, as this didn’t seem to be the norm as it was at the Hungarian Dance concert a few days before… It was so cold in the church we thought we would freeze but when we sat down, the heat came up through the seats in what seemed like hot

Interior of Kecskemet Catholic Church

water heating! Quite inventive and very thoughtful although before the end of the concert we were roasted out. An evening of beautiful  music.

While we did not feel at liberty to take photos of the priests while they were singing, all propriety was gone after their final encore when a number of the fathers raced from the nave of the church to the entrance to sell their CD’s – even bargaining while doing a brisque business… such is the life of performers.

Clay and Our Free Time


What is Wedging?” she asked.


wedged piece

Jan asked a reasonable question and the simplest response is to reply that wedging is a process to rid the clay of air bubbles and to ensure an even consistency – similar to kneading bread but not exactly the same. The prepared clay is then used to make slabs, sculpt or to throw with (make items on the wheel). Of course, the throwing process leaves an unfinished portion on the bottom of the pot which some potters don’t trim off (get rid of) but peel most of the clay away (similar to getting rid of but not as “finished). I prefer to trim the excess with a tool for this purpose, particularly with porcelain as I believe it “presents” the form of the piece better – to me it is more pleasing to the eye. Once finished trimming, the work may undergo a number of processes from painting the surface of the clay with oxides, stains or carbonates, decorating the surface with engobes or slips or simply firing the clay to a bisque (placing it in a kiln so it becomes firm), I’ll leave the next stage until later.


   Mixing Plaster for Press Molds

Deb and I took a refresher lesson from Klari in casting plaster -okay, we watched her do it. I wanted to do some relief surfaces for slab forms and Deb did a more complex two part mold of a baby. They have a wonderful invention here – and probably have it other places but we’ve not seen it – a drying cupboard. It works on the same principle as an oven but it draws the moisture out of the clay and the next day the mold is ready for use.                

Deb is doing press molds of the baby and I’ve been pressing clay into the forms and then stretching it thinking it would have more tensile strength for my forms but it isn’t working that way so it is frustrating. Just taking some time to think of next steps.

In our Free Time…..

Today Margaret, Deb and I went to a massive flea market on what I believe is the outskirts of town. All of us came back with some pottery treasures and all of us bargained. Probably go for another visit.

Margaret and Deb talking while we wait for the bus

market "stall"


Our Danish Friends –

Lisbeth Nordskov, jeweller  ( ), surrounded b Gitte Helle, jeweller(, Betting Shori, glass artist, ( ), Lone Villaume, designer(  and Ellis Hinz-Berg, textile designer .

As you can see from these artists’ work (check out their websites), it is elegant and innovative. After the opening of their work we went to yet another exhibit of photographs at the Danish Institute – where we very happily became their guests for the evening meal at a local Hungarian restaurant – much gaiety and as a bonus, leftovers for three days

Lona, Bettina, Ellis surround Lisabeth

And, last evening, we went to see the premier Hungarian Folk Dance in the local theatre. The dancers were charming and venues sold out to enthusiastic crowds who have a manner of applauding that is rhythmical itself and the audience seems to sense how to change the pace of clapping simultaneously.

There are many outstanding artists throughout Hungary performing this festival week and the menu in Budapest includes non-Hungarian artists Ashley McIsaac, works by Arvo Part and dancer Bill T. Jones – but we are in Kecskemet and are celebrating the local fare and are totally delighted with it. 

Spring Uprising and Festival

Crowds, the Hungarian flag at the town cenotaph

Monday March 15th  is the day that marks the Spring Uprising of 1848 when the youth of Buda, led by the poet Sandor Petofi, rebelled against the Habsburg occupation of Hungary.  This is not a day of mourning (although many wear black and the rebellion was quashed!) but more a day of celebrating the Hungarian Spirit that moved against oppressive rule.

Getting Ready to March

 Children, their parents and grandparents dressed in their finery punctuated with Hungarian flags to place wreaths at the town square. This year saw a beautiful sunny day with brisk chilly winds and an atmosphere was almost festive.  Speeches, puppet shows and of course, lots of food and craft fairs added to the celebratory mix.

The 25th Annual Spring Festival in Kecskemet also began on the weekend – art exhibits with many openings and speeches, concerts and public theatre are all part of it. Danish artists seem to be a focus in this community fete and ICS is hosting an exhibit and workshops about the Dane’s  approach called “Glassgoldrubberandrecycling”.  Debra and I went out for dinner with them and were impressed with their skill at speaking Engish, and their knowledge/opinions of what is going on in the world . Such a pleasure.

Banner on Front of ICS Gallery

Their work rejects most traditional “art” materials  with some of their restrictions and focus on playing with form and design with  essentially cast-off materials, such as bicycle inner tubes. Since natural resources of the world are limited (especially in western Europe) they ask the viewers to change our attitudes about consumption and recycling to create a more ecological balance for the our. 

Once again, Deb and I became lost in the streets looking for

Deb's Cozy Feet on Return

the ticket kiosk to purchase tickets for the Russian Orthodox Choir performance on Monday evening. The ICS secretary, Ildiko gave us a map and sent us off and we were lost in the walk before we had gone five blocks. We feel like total “dweebs” since we really should be over our jet lag and more with it. Not speaking the language (which is  challenging to learn) makes me appreciate once again the difficulties that new immigrants have when they come to Canada. As we circled the block yet again, saying, “It has got to be here!” feeling frustrated and then so stupid when the building was right where it is supposed to be and we just didn’t push the door in the right direction!!!

freshly thrown bowlsNow, a little about the clay which is why I am really here. Did some tests of the clays and engobes – nothing really jumps out and I am reminded about how the bisque stage of the clay is the most lifeless. I finally kept a few thrown porcelain bowls (at Deb’s insistence) for trimming and to observe the drying patterns of them – s curve cracks and the like. I have thrown most of the work out and am feeling a little anxious as Deb and our neighbour Margaret are all in solid keeping work mode. I need to remind myself that I have not been producing for a Working at the wheelwhile and I need the time to produce work that is more confident and quiet those voices questioning what I am doing.

Well, Mary, remember that tomorrow when you are trimming those pieces and going to the workshop at the gallery and the opening in the evening….

technology and clay

No, I’m not speaking of chemistry of clay but of the desire to learn new technology (to me) stuff while working in the era of clay –  dust  gets everywhere… mmm, wonder why there isn’t the same concern with those of us working in the studiios.

In attempting to blog, I am finding my voice stilted in a way  I don’t like – is that really me? Throwing – which actually improved today, and listening to my itouch and tuning into songs,  podcasts etc. when your fingers are gooey with  slip is not wise… clay dust gets everywhere….

Debra and I spent the day working with new clays, slips and colourants.  Even though we have been working for two days, the studios are looking well organized and busy in a productive purposeful way.  Yeah!

to the studio…

Deb and I have been busy – seems like we have been here for a long while even though it has only been four full days. We have been welcomed by the people at the studio, found our way around town speaking no Hungarian but showing lots of good will – the usual hand signals, a smile and willingness to attempt to speak the language seem to go the distance.

We are still finding it cold (even though they say it is 6 degrees outside) – snow remains on the ground and it seems even though it is a holiday weekend, people are scarce in the street. I like to think they might be attending the local baths but think that is optimistic.

We finally made it to our studios today to do some work – so much time has been spent talking with the technicians Klara and Jakob, and getting materials and equipment set up. Both of us did some tests with engobes and colourants – with somewhat different qualities here, and I spent some time using the local porcelain which surely is luscious but also very pernickity. It was good to throw again after such leaving it for such a while – porcelain is probably not the best clay to begin witih again but perhaps the other clays will be easier after this! My red overalls (thank you Nan) were covered in the stuff – I’m certainly messy – that much hasn’t changed.

Deb toiled away making a damp cupboard for us, as well as cutting material for slab slings and doing a multitude of tests for her own work on three of the local clays. I admire the orderly way she has of working with materials and know I will learn lots working in the same studio with her. Good day today.

Market Day – cold and snow

First Days in Kecskemet

We arrived after what seemed a long flight feeling tired yet excited about our residency  -looking tired as well! Nothing like travelling for twenty hours in cramped spaces to do that…Steve, one of the managers at ICU, very kindly met us at the airport and drove us through the flat prairie-like landscape to Kecskemet. The studio was more deserted than when we were year almost two years ago but it is part of the pleasure of being in a different country experiencing the rhythm of the area with the change of seasons moving through Winter’s end, Spring and early Summer.

After a quick tour of the place, a meal of spicy Hungarian goulash, sauerkraut salad and beer we walked about the old town…

As it is the beginning of the season for the studio there are few students here – this quietness suits me well – it will become very busy before long. We have an American artist from the University of Wyoming living on the same floor by the name of Margaret Haydon. Her interest is working with sturgeon and she has contacted the Ministry of Fisheries to talk with them – a fusion of science and art. Today, Hungary’s most famous ceramacist is on site – Schrammel Imre. A book on his work called Schrammel, illustrates his largely expressive figurative sculptures. He’ll be working in the studio for about three weeks and welcomes the attendance of students. Reveared as a craftsman and artist in Hungary so there is lots to be learned.