Unexpected technical challenges and surprise personal interactions are frequenting our studio this May and June as we work through filling spring orders and finalizing our summer collection designs.
In between all the “unexpecteds,” Leah and Kevin proudly pressed forward to refine the glazing process and production timing for our new line of tableware–bowls, mugs, tumblers, and vases–that we call Ephraim Elemental.
It seemed appropriate that some of us present a collective toast to mark the day a week or so ago when we officially introduced this signature offering of functional tableware to the world at large.
Shipped from Indiana, a box of baby chicks arrived in Laura’s workspace this month. They charmed everyone who encountered them. By next spring, they will provide a steady stock of eggs as they join the current flock of four two-year-old hens and a pair of roosters now in residence around Laura’s farm.
Since first we met at the studio, the chickens are getting so big! Their fluff is now replaced with homely pin feathers, it’s kind of like an “awkward teenager phase.” Next, they will grow into a brood of beautiful, multicolored hens–some speckled, some black, some red, some brown, and all girls (fingers crossed)! Laura finds her feathered friends calming and fun to have around.
After unscheduled breakdowns, we are happy to report that two of our valued pieces of equipment at the studio, the glazing spray booth and the floor scrubber, are up and running smoothly. Alek has since returned to his throwing wheel where he experiences much less frustration.
Our new clay mixer is set up. Working with a clay mixer seems like a good idea–we are now able to reclaim clay lost to trimming, turning and sculpting. Reconstituting it not only allows us to be good stewards of the earth and our resources, but adding aging clay to our mix makes it more plastic and malleable when throwing on the wheel and sculpting.
With all this activity around us, we discipline ourselves to make time to continually explore new and evolving ideas together. We especially respect the part of the handmade process that takes place away from our hands and eyes, the part that takes place in the kiln overnight. It keeps us in a state of anticipation. Opening the kiln can be humbling or exhilarating, we simply never know which to expect. Stay tuned for what comes next…
Ephraim artists Jennifer Alexander and Kevin Hicks created this unique piece which represents how we continually explore new directions that drive the evolution of our artwork. Over the years, Jennifer pioneered a tile design inspired by stained glass featuring curvilinear line work and pooled glazes, while Kevin established a low-relief carving technique drawn from the historic Marblehead Pottery methods and designs. Years later, Early Bird merges these two styles to create something fresh and new that becomes next-level Ephraim.
Creating the Early Bird Vase
Jennifer was instrumental in developing glaze techniques for Kevin’s Marblehead-inspired designs which eventually informed the Early Bird glazing process. With two glaze firings, the color palette could be expanded while spray and brush techniques eliminated glaze dripping. This, along with Kevin’s refined incised carvings, boldly brings the panoramic band of spring blossoms and chickadee to life on the throat of a clean, modern, sure-footed form.
Nothing brightens a room more than freshly picked flowers! Hello Sunshine is Ephraim’s debut functional vase, fired to a higher temperature and finished with our newly-developed functional glazes so there is no need for a liner. These sunny vessels are offered in two sizes to accommodate your favorite cut flowers or the treasured, hand-picked bouquets delivered to your backdoor by bright-eyed children.
Imagining the Hello Sunshine Vase
New ideas rush into our studio effortlessly and often. When we imagined an Ephraim functional glaze, we knew we wouldn’t find that formula in a book. Our idea was different–a glaze fired to a higher temperature that is flawless, modern, and exciting poured over a refined, distinctly-Ephraim form that tolerates temperature variations and the rugged pace of day-to-day living.
Inspired, we invested an untold number of hours discovering the perfect combination of raw elements and refining a beautifully-thrown form to showcase it. Hello Sunshine embraces Ephraim’s aesthetic, it offers comfort and practicality in the hands and homes of Ephraim Pottery enthusiasts. It was definitely worth the effort, we hope you enjoy our new idea.
At Ephraim Pottery, we hung up our aprons and set aside our clay tools to travel to Minneapolis for the annual NCECA, National Council for Education for the Ceramic Arts, Claytopia conference. At the crack of dawn we piled into Leah’s big blue Eurovan and settled in for the epic journey ahead.
We fanned out to cover more ground, attend more lectures and demonstrations, and shop for new artist tools. With a focus on maximizing this rewarding and mind-expanding experience, it will no doubt enhance the dynamic of our work when we arrive back at the studio.
While everyone was excited to arrive and dig in, Ken found a welcome cup of coffee to shake off the early morning travel fog.
Ravens often symbolize insight and prophecy. An omniscient raven perches on a branch, silhouetted by the full moon. Cutouts on the rim suggest the architecture of the material world, to which the raven foretells a message from the eternal realm.
Design inspiration, creating the Foretelling Vase
Laura Klein designed the Foretelling Vase. Her initial concept began as a tile drawing. Laura is often inspired by Art Nouveau imagery and this piece exemplifies her Nouveau sensibilities.
Alek Schroeder throws the Foretelling Vase:
Jennifer Alexander glazes the Foretelling Vase:
Ephraim’s raven motif evolves
The raven appears as a more recent theme in our studio works. In 2011 it first surfaced as Take Flight, a Kevin Hicks design exploring the mysterious nature of birds through the raven’s intelligence and beauty. Since then, this motif returned only five times–in low relief sculptural designs, two-dimensional Craftsman-inspired pieces and as a silhouette against the night sky. Along with Ephraim’s new Foretelling Vase, there are two raven pieces currently in production, the Bungalow Crow and the Rookery.
Ephraim employees (and their families) took a break from throwing bowls to throw a few bowling balls instead. Our annual party was a blast! We rented the historic bowling alley in the basement of the Fort Atkinson Club in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. The kids all had more fun setting up the pins than rolling the balls…it worked out perfectly!
Peek at the behind-the-scenes making of our 2019 Studio Collection catalog
Many thanks to Laura and Andy Salerno who graciously shared their century-old home for Ephraim’s 2019 Studio Collection photo shoot. Each year we scout out a unique site that acts as a backdrop to our new designs.
Built in 1897 for the Scholl family as a double residence, or a modified duplex to accommodate mother and daughter, this charming Queen Anne-style home with American Gothic influences graces the tree-lined south end of Main Street in Lake Mills. It’s nestled between several other historic homes and its interior boasts original pocket doors, wood floors, a coal-burning fireplace and embossed Victorian wallpaper, or Lincrusta, among other period-specific architectural details.
Meet Jacob, the Norwegian Forest cat. With his hardy disposition and curious nature, he is the “alpha kitty” among an endearing bunch of felines who happily abide in this cozy home.
These meticulous and artful architectural renderings of the Salerno home were discovered behind a neighbor’s shelving unit 100 years after the home was built. At the age of 43, the architect Charles P. Rawson worked for the Radson Architectural Company in Madison. He was an original contributor to Architectural Digest and a published subject matter expert, authoring several books in his day.
Last, but not least, a big thank-you to our photographer, Nicole Cooke for her incredible technical skill and artistic eye. And to our graphic designer, Tony Cooke for his creative work pulling all the little pieces together into a sweet catalog.
During late winter, Ephraim artists boldly engage in an emerging tradition. We find space on our shelves and in our creative consciousness to build miniatures based on beloved Studio Collection designs. Our fine motor skills are already honed from holiday ornament production which intuitively turns our attention to what we fondly call “minis.”
Miniature Octopus Vase
In fact, it’s the artists’ experience over the past 15 years in developing and making hand-thrown ornaments that led to experimenting with one-of-a-kind miniature vases. The process offered our studio unique challenges, taking years to work through.
Miniature Stalwart Oak Jar
While the finely-wrought details in glazing and sculpting minis require similar techniques to their full-sized counterparts, it also requires more delicate motions, sharper tools, and ongoing patience. Loading an asymmetrical, minuscule figure with a tiny foot into the kiln demands precise balance so the pots can fire evenly.
Miniature Craftsman Rose Vase
To date, Ephraim has only managed to offer four miniature designs in short-run, limited editions – all in the last six or seven years. We will continue to welcome this post-holiday challenge because, in the end, the effort keeps us nimble and each successful attempt keeps us cherishing these astonishingly adorable and rare mini reproductions.