Julia Friend: How has the work you’ve done at the Pottery Co-Op changed over your four years?
Ava Field: When I was a freshman, I was really just learning how to throw. […] Coming here and practicing everyday was so important. I’m the Exco instructor for the beginning class, and that’s one of the things I tell them all the time is that you have to practice. A lot of what I do now is just making functional things like bowls, cups, mugs… but I’m trying to expand and make more sculptural things.
JF: How do you think about functionality as you’re making your pieces?
AF: That’s a big thing in ceramics in general. I think there’s a certain level of craft [to] making a lot of the same functional piece, reproducing the same shape as a set or as something someone can use… But then it’s really interesting when you can alter that and get more of an art form that you just have to look at.
JF: What form are your more sculptural pieces taking?
AF: I don’t really know yet. Here… this is my cactus.
JF: I was admiring it on the shelf.
AF: I was passing a garden, and I saw some cactuses, and I thought they looked really interesting, and I liked their organic shapes so I wanted to try and make one. And there’s also cactuses by the facilities building—I walk past them every time I come here, and I just want to make cactuses! This is my second attempt. My first attempt—well, it’s a sad story. All this stuff over here is raku. So, raku is a special form of pottery firing where you have a strong clay body—meaning the piece you fire can withstand rapid temp changes—so the whole process is that you take your pot that you have glazed and fire it until its gets to temperature, and you transfer it to a bin that won’t melt and will close tightly, and you fill it with combustible things—and it gets really smokey, and when it’s done, everywhere that didn’t have glaze on it turns matte, deep black. The glazes can come out really shiny. The sad thing about these is that one of our co-opers accidentally fired them in the [normal] kiln. So that’s why [this attempt] looks weird.
JF: It’s a process where you don’t know what you’re going to get—there’s some surprise to it.
JF: This [pottery] is very interesting to me as a painter because I put so much time into one [piece]. So what it’s like to make the same form over and over? Does it change over time?
AF: It’s probably one of the harder things—to try to make something the same over and over. I think it’s really fun, and it’s really hard [because] you sit down and you have all these pieces of clay [that you’re trying to make into] the same thing. And at some point you don’t really think about it anymore, and it’s okay if every one is a little different; it’s nice for each one to [be unique]. Because I can’t make everything perfect. […] I just came in with the same idea for all of them; They all have these ridges, and they all have a dimple, but they’re all kind of different heights and widths. Something that is really important that I talk to my students about—because when you’re in a beginning pottery class, I think the main thing you want to be making is something you can use. So, when I talk to them about mugs, I ask them what they really want it to feel like in your hand. Because that literally makes all of the difference. When you make something, and it’s finally done, and you look at it, and you’re like, Oh wow, beautiful, I love it, and then you pick it up, and it doesn’t feel right in your hand… it’s so shitty. Because then you don’t like it!
JF: So it’s very sensory, too.
AF: Yeah, it is. I mean, especially when you’re making mugs because you have the handle. I mean you want to figure out what’s the best way to make this handle—how do I want my hand to fit in this cup?
JF: You’re also interested in photography. Are you able to find ways to intersect that and pottery?
AF: There’s this place called Great Gull island, and it’s an island that the [American] Museum of Natural History [in New York] owns. I’ve worked there for two summers in a row. It’s like an ecological reserve for these birds… It was the craziest experience of my life. On the island there were all these blinds, and for some reason [I] was really interested in them…They have these blinds for watching birds and looking out and hiding so the birds can go about their business without being threatened by you, and I was really interested in that shape [of the blinds.] So the following summer, I was doing raku, and I made these [ceramic versions.]. But there’s also this method I’ve really been meaning to try—cyanotypes, which [uses] this photosensitive chemical that you paint onto paper or fabric and expose it to the sun. The sunlight would basically make a photo of my negative on the cyanotype paper and you wash it away with water and then it comes out blue. You can do that on pottery. It’s something that I really wanna figure out… It’s gonna happen.