Fired works in the rocket kiln

A Gathering of Potters: Functional Ceramics Workshop at Wayne Center for the Arts

In the month of March, the Looney Workshop at Wayne Center for the Arts (WCA) was filled with beautiful ceramic works from some of the best artists across the country.  The occasion?  The Functional Ceramics Exhibit which led up to the Functional Ceramics Workshop which was held here at WCA on April 19 & 20.

This revered event dates back to 1977, when Phyllis Blair Clark and the visionary minds at the College of Wooster Art Department orchestrated the inaugural “Wooster Workshop.” What began modestly, with artists Ginny and Tom Marsh, burgeoned over the years under Clark’s nurturing guidance. After growing into the “Functional Ceramics Workshop,” the gathering found its permanent abode in the halls of the newly renovated Wayne Center for the Arts in 1987.

In 2012 the baton was passed from Clark to the Ohio Designer Craftsmen, entrusting them with the duty of perpetuating this beloved tradition.

“We are very fortunate to have this gathering of artists here in Wooster,” says WCA Clay Coordinator Adam McVicker. “The caliber of work displayed in the exhibit, and the instruction at the Functional Ceramics Workshop is outstanding.”

This year’s keynote speakers, Mark Nafziger from Archbold, Ohio, and Lisa Orr from Austin, Texas, were a great team as they led the demonstrations.

Mark Nafziger of Brush Creek Pottery weaves magic with stoneware and porcelain, elevating his creations with intricate slip trailing and carving techniques.  Lisa Orr has been creating highly decorative, functional ceramics for over 40 years. Her brilliantly colorful work is formed in molds and/or on the wheel, then embellished with stamps, slips, sprigs and multiple layers of glazes. 

The event was opened by Kim Nagorski, Executive Director of the Ohio Designer Craftsmen, welcoming a group of nearly 150 attendees from as far and wide as Washington State. The inviting spirit, always palpable at this gathering, welcomed both seasoned artists and newcomers alike.

“What I have enjoyed every year is the camaraderie at the event. Many have been coming for years, while others are coming for the first time, but everyone is so welcoming and supportive, including the presenters themselves,” says Kim. “This year was so special because one of our own–Mark Nafziger, a professional potter who has been working for over 35 years–was one of the demonstrators. He and Lisa Orr worked so well together! It was such a fun workshop!”

The Functional Ceramics Workshop’s commitment to nurturing emerging talents was evident by the number of attendees provided with scholarships:  16 this year!  The workshop believes in empowering aspiring artists from diverse backgrounds to learn and grow.

This year, the event was elevated by a “rocket kiln.” Lisa Orr has been working with rocket kilns for years and experimenting with designs to fire quickly with minimal wood consumption and virtually no smoke.  The attendees were invited to have their own pieces fired in the kiln overnight, and it was a fun reveal on Saturday morning!

The Functional Ceramics Workshop takes place annually at the Wayne Center for the Arts, organized and hosted by the Ohio Designer Craftsmen.  WCA is proud to continue this partnership to support artists in this wonderful medium!

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