Stele Project: Everhart Museum
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A sereis of four ton ceramic components are fabricated, assembled, and installed in perpetuity. Their fired porosity allows them to erode, releas… Read More
A sereis of four ton ceramic components are fabricated, assembled, and installed in perpetuity. Their fired porosity allows them to erode, releasing the material down the watershed to the mouth of the Susquehanna River where the clay was mined. Read Less
Mud Man, Fire Man
Jordan Taylor jokingly suggested when
we were first in contact that I might dismiss him as one of Bernard Leach’s
orphans, perhaps my most infamous line. And yes, Taylor began as a
traditionalist, but he is also a modernist, or in my terms, a neo-classicist.
Journeys into the traditional kingdom of clay are often narrow, blinkered
experiences, heavy on the mud but light on the deeper, more complex,
multifaceted interactions that make up a creative odyssey. Its not that these
interactions do not exist in the pots, just that a lot of traditional potters do
not have Taylor's kind of analytical curiosity and so their love of clay can become
an adobe prison. That said I have not come across a better piece of writing on
the expansiveness of neo-classicist values than in this publication nor a more
beautiful expression of traditional clay-and-fire virtues in contemporary
process art.
Taylor’s essay moves gently through place, time, and above all, mind,
inspired by the El Mirador Mayan ruins he visited on a trip to Guatemala. En
route Taylor cites ceramic heroes such as Michael Cardew and Robert Turner
but also enlists a less obvious gang of modernists, John Cage, Merce 
Cunningham, Dan Flavin, Robert Morris and David Smith. His experiences
drive Taylor inexorably towards a destination that was not clear early on, a
large-scale public installation of four, six-foot (1.8m) four-ton (4000kg) stelae
in a park near his studio. Given their porosity, estimated at 6-8%, they will
slowly erode “and follow the watershed as far as the Chesapeake Bay, back to
the lie of the land.”
Taylor’s love of clay is palpable, almost religious, and it is interesting
because it is not based on what comes out of a pug mill; rather, it is more
about an existential view of clay and its place, literally, in the greater world. He
cites a paragraph from Bernard Leach’s foreword to Michael Cardew’s book
Pioneer Pottery as an early inspiration: “Cardew has spent years under a
kerosene lamp at night in the African tropics, sweating at his geology and
chemistry in order, literally, to understand the lie of his land; to find and to be
able to use intelligently the rocks and clays, ashes and oxides with which…
pots are made.”
He responded in 1996 by making “several hundred glaze line blends
using clays I had dug, and wood ashes. Underlying that research were
ambitions that I no longer hold exclusively: my goal was to make serviceable
glazes from indigenous materials. I’ve since reversed this relationship. What I
make while exploring a new clay is my response to a clay’s material and firing
properties, rather than shaping clay to execute a plan”.
But clay does not dominate. Cardew liked to say that in ceramics there
were two kinds of makers, mud people and fire people. (He identified with the
former and had a very ambivalent, adversarial relationship with the kiln).
While his generalization is correct as defining two distant poles, in-between
there are multiple combinations of the two. My guess is that when Taylor’s
hands touch new raw clay his first thought might well be, “What will this
make?” But simultaneously the sensual stuff between his fingers excites
another question, “What kind of fire will memorialize its life?” In this case he
chose a firing that allowed the clay its gradual mortality. The same objective
humanism pervades all of this project.
Garth Clark
Santa Fe 2010