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Studio Potter Network video reviews

by Richard Aerni

CeramicsWeb note: The Studio Potter Network (SPN) is now inactive, but the following reviews may still be useful.
There are many, many newer ceramics videos available now.

This is the compilation of info from the SPN, and reviews that Richard Aerni authored
over a several year span. Hope it can be of assitance to someone.

Contact Information

The educational, cultural and entertainment value of videos is
inestimable, whether they are well- funded professional efforts or
from-the-heart homemade versions. Too often, though, they are left to
gather dust in school libraries or distributorships. It is our
intention to identify these videos, acknowledge their producers, and
make them available to our members. Because the potential viewers of
these videos are asked to pay for the privilege of purchasing or
renting them, this columnist takes his reviews seriously. While my
intention is to be supportive, it is inevitable that an occasional
critical comment will appear. If these reviews are to be given
credence they must fairly reflect the strengths and weaknesses of the
production.

 

Tuscarora
Directed by David Schickele c.1992

Dennis and Julie Parks left the eastern seaboard in the early 1960's,
settling in the former mining boomtown of Tuscarora, Nevada,
population twelve. They spent the next twenty-five years operating
and expanding their pottery school, raising a family and running a
studio. A mining company, motivated by high gold prices, began a
large open pit gold mining operation just outside of town in 1989.
Nevada, encouraging mining, writes its laws to favor that industry's
interests over all others. The pit grew ever larger, and the town
found its very existence threatened.

Spurning buyout offers from the mining company, the Parkses and the
other residents decided to stay and fight the near-certain destruction
of Tuscarora. As the video chronicles the ongoing saga, we learn much
about the Parkses, their school, Dennis' clay work and life in the
wide open west. A human scale is given to a story which is told all
too often today: as with the rain forests, the snail darter and the
spotted owl, economic forces and societal needs can threaten elements
of our natural world. In the case of Tuscarora and its residents,
relief was granted when the mine shut down as gold prices decreased.
For now it's back to business as usual, but there still lurks the
possibility of resumed mining in the future if gold prices rise again.
Director David Schickele has done a masterful job cobbling together
all the disparate elements of this compelling drama and presenting
them in a coherent, even lyrical way. I would highly recommend this
video for general viewing. It would also be useful and appropriate
for classes in government, business, and economics as well as the
arts.
A note: There are several instances where strong language is used.

Available from: David Schickele, 2638 Post St., San Francisco, CA
94115. Tel. 415-922- 6627; or The Potters Shop, 31 Thorpe Rd.,
Needham Hts., MA 02194. Tel. 617-449-7687. Length 581/2 minutes.
Format VHS. Purchase: Postpaid US $30.

 

Clay Whistles
With Janet Moniot c 1989

"Just the facts, Ma'am," could be the motto for this tape, which gives
clear and concise instructions for making clay whistles. The basic
pinch pot whistle form is introduced, then essential additions,
techniques and relationship among parts are explained and
demonstrated. Following that is a section devoted to troubleshooting
and problemsolving. The final portion of the tape presents
instructions for fabricating four and ten-hole ocarinas. A 56-page
book is available with the tape. The set is particularly appropriate
for classroom and workshop use.

Available from: The Whistle Press, 601 Alexander Lane, Long Beach,
MS 39560. Tel. 601- 863-8384. Length: 30 minutes. Format: VHS.
Purchase: Book only, Postpaid US $11.95; Video only, Postpaid US
$24.95; Book and video, Postpaid US $34.95.

 

Twisting and Turning the Classic Bowl
With Glen Spangler c1992

Interested in making bowls? For the past fifteen years Glenn Spangler
has devoted most of his potting time to them. In the film, his basic
rules of shape and proportion are explained, then demonstrated as he
throws and trims several small pieces. His language is direct, his
techniques precise and well detailed. A no-frills effort, this tape
is intended as a teaching/learning aid, and is especially useful for
beginning to intermediate throwers.

Available from: Studio Gallery, 2741 South Victoria, Number N,
Oxnard, CA 93035. Tel. 805-985-1546. Length: 40 minutes. Format:
VHS. Purchase: US $29.95.

 

Variations on Raku
With Gordon Hutchens c1992

Gordon Hutchens gives the viewer a "workshop in a box" with this
nicely produced video. A committed raku man of long standing, he
demonstrates many of the different techniques he uses, at the same
time expounding on his aesthetics, clay philosophy and other subjects.
Included are the uses of slips (a peel-off raw slip over biscuit ware
is prominently featured), terra sigillata, saggar firing, post firing
reduction, brushwork, and an intuitive, experimental use of glazes.
This video is helpful to beginning and intermediate raku potters, and
advanced students may also glean a thing or two.

Available in the US, from Tara Productions, 4922 NE Going, Portland,
OR 97218. Available in Canada, from Tara Productions, Box 35,
Gabriola, BC V0R 1X0. Tel. 604-247-8109. Length: 33 minutes. Format:
VHS. Purchase in the US: Individuals, Postpaid, $42.95; Institutions,
Postpaid, $85.90; Purchase in Canada: Individuals, Postpaid $49.95;
Institutions, Postpaid, $99.90. (All US$).

 

The Potter's Meal: A Film About Joseph Bennion
Directed by Steve Olpin c1992

"Potting is the closest thing I have to full-time employment, but the
biggest part of my energy and work goes into the household." Joseph
Bennion

This video takes the viewer for a close look into the life and work of
Utah potter Joseph Bennion. The above quote comes early in the
action, and we discover its truth as the camera follows him through
his everyday activities. Potting, gardening, cooking, biking,
parenting--each is shown as Bennion explains his thoughts on his work,
his life, his theology. This is really a film about
integration--putting all the elements of one's life together into a
seamless fabric. It shows that the everyday rituals in which we
engage can make important statements about who we are and what we are
trying to do. Featuring the entire Bennion family, original music by
friends Tom and Gael Schultz, and the skills of filmmaker Steve Olpin,
this video is a very tasty treat indeed. I showed it and the
following video to non-potting friends. All were entranced.

Available from: Horseshoe Mountain Pottery, PO Box 186, Spring City,
UT 84662. Length: 271/2 minutes. Format: VHS. Purchase: Postpaid
US $24.

 

Bridge of Fire: The Story of Two Potters
Directed by Alan Dater c1992

Malcolm Wright spent three years as the first foreign apprentice to
the Karatsu potter Tarouemon XII, a Living National Treasure. Upon
returning to the U.S., he settled in Marlboro, Vermont, where he has
since been producing wood-fired functional and sculptural pots.
Co-producer Dorothy Olson, a neighbor of Wright's for over 20 years,
learned that he was to be reunited with his friend Takashi Nakazato,
son of his former master, and that they would be working together for
several weeks in each other's studio. She decided the event needed to
be filmed. The result is a finely crafted, sensitively wrought record
of that reunion and collaboration.

As we watch them potting, we hear them discuss their philosophies,
techniques and expectations for the work. Silence is used
effectively. The pauses in conversation and narration allow the
viewer to absorb the feelings and rhythms of the studios: the sound
of kickwheels, the falling of the water outside Nakazato's studio, the
crackling of the wood-fired kilns, the easy, companionable silence of
two old friends sharing each other's presence as they work. Nakazato
says in the film that "pottery comes to life when it is used," and we
see ample evidence of this during the meals shared both in Japan and
in the US. This video is very much a celebration of the act of
creation and of those who share in it.

Available from: Marlboro Arts, Moss Hollow Road, Marlboro, VT 05344.
Length: 571/2 minutes. Format: VHS. Purchase: Postpaid US,
$53.95. Vermont residents add 5% sales tax.

 

Daughters of the Anasazi: Lucy Lewis,
Emma Lewis Mitchell, Delores Lewis Garcia

Produced and Directed by John Anthony c 1990

More and more I find myself drawn to ceramic videos dealing with
historical subjects or traditional ways of working. This
well-produced video is one of those, focusing on the work of Lucy
Lewis and her daughters Emma Lewis Mitchell and Delores Lewis Garcia,
Acoma pueblo potters. As they carry on the pottery traditions of the
Anasazi Indians, who inhabited the Chaco Canyon region of New Mexico
til 1300 AD, we see the painstaking production of their ceramic
vessels and hear the rationale for their methods.

Clay is dug from the hills, carried home, and stone ground by hand.
Centuries-old Anasazi pot shards are pounded to bits for grog,
literally incorporating the old into the new. Pinch and coil methods
are used for construction; everything is slipped and burnished
preparatory to painting, and then the pots are decorated. Paints are
produced from hand-selected and ground rocks, mixed with water and a
binder made of wild spinach juice and the Rocky Mountain bee plant.
Brushes come from the yucca plant (well chewed for added softness).
These traditional methods of production give the pots their spirit, it
is said. The painting is elaborate, intricate and beautiful, using
symbols referring to "Mother Nature", and designs both traditional and
individual. Then the pots are fired in cow dung, cleaned, and sold.
It's like "giving away one's babies," we are told by one of the
artists.

A very interesting film recommended for both potters and non-potters.

Available from: Home Vision, 5547 N. Ravenswood Ave., Chicago, IL
60640-1199. Tel. 1-800-826-3456; Fax 312-878-8648; Length: 28
minutes; Format: VHS; Purchase: $24.95.

 

Inlaid Colored Clay, With Virginia Cartwright c 1992

Studio potter and teacher Virginia Cartwright has been producing
exquisite handbuilt vessels for many years. Now utilizing colored
clays as the basis for decoration, she shares her techniques in this
instructive 44-minute video. Colored clay loaves are assembled,
sliced, and attached to clay slabs. We follow along as she constructs
a bottle form, sharing technical tips and her aesthetic decisions.
This video is the first of a series featuring potters and their work,
and is appropriate for students at all levels.

Available from: Cartwright Ceramics, 475 Cliff Drive, Pasadena, CA
91107. Tel. 818-351- 9456. Length: 44 minutes; Format: VHS;
Purchase: $49.95 plus $5 shipping; Rental: $20 includes shipping.

 

The Space of Pottery: Ceramics by Paul Mathieu
A Documentary by Richard Harrison c1991

It is important to place Richard Harrison's name next to Paul
Mathieu's in the title, for this film's effectiveness rests equally
with each of them. This is no mere recording of an artist's words and
works; there is wizardry, artistry, and great intelligence in
Harrison's direction and production of this work. There is a
composition and flow to this video that seems analogous to a musical
score or dance sequence. Quite simply, this is the best piece of film
work about ceramics I have seen on my screen so far, and if I seem
unduly appreciative, it is because it makes me perceive the
possibilities of the genre.

This is not to downplay Mathieu's part in it all. He is a skilled
ceramist producing complex and thought-provoking works. Sculptural,
imaginative, functional, his work puts a different twist on our ideas
of mass-produced tableware. The primary work we view was inspired by
Stephen Hawking's book, A Brief History of Time, and we listen to
Mathieu articulately explain the genesis and development of his ideas
as we watch him construct, decorate and fire it.

Available from: Richard L. Harrison, 2132 Montana Ave. #D, Santa
Monica, CA 90403. Tel.213-828-8791. Length: 26 minutes; Format:
VHS; Purchase: $125 plus $10 shipping and handling.

 

100 Years of Willamette Clay c 1990

Produced to accompany the 1989 Willamette Clay Guild's exhibition of
the same name, this video offers a fascinating look at past and
current pottery from this area of Oregon. Beginning with the mid-19th
century salt and slipware potteries, this video covers the later drain
tile and brick works, and ends with the contemporary works of the many
artists/potters in the region. One sees a wide array of claywork as
well as a great many vintage photographs. Of particular interest are
interviews with descendants of the original potters, offering insights
into personalities and methods. Harold Lucas gives a vivid picture of
life at the Monroe Brickworks where hundreds of millions of bricks
were produced over a 70-year span. This video is well made.

Available from: Corvallis Art Center, 700 Madison Avenue, Corvallis,
OR 97333. Length: 31 minutes; Format: VHS; Purchase: $25.

 

Black Pottery of Nicaragua: A Woman's Tradition c 1991

Produced by Potters for Peace in order to promote interest in these
traditions, this video explores the making of traditional Nicaraguan
burnished black pottery in a women's collective in Matagalpa.

We follow the women as they work independently in their own workshops,
forming, burnishing, and firing their pieces. Techniques, influences
and philosophy are explained. Though not as sophisticated a production
as other videos that have come my way, it kept my interest and should
command that of non-potters as well.

Available from: Potters for Peace, PO Box 5206, Hyattsville, MD
20782. Length: 18 minutes; Format: VHS; Purchase: $20 plus $2.50
shipping. The proceeds will be used to provide funds for technical
and material assistance to pottery projects in Nicaragua.

 

Dance of the Wheel: The Pottery of Todd Piker c1991

Todd Piker, who apprenticed with Michael Cardew, has been producing
wood-fired functional work at his Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut studio
since the early 1970s. This high-quality video takes us into his
studio for a two-month work cycle. He speaks of his background,
influences, techniques and ideas as he and his assistant throw,
decorate and fire pots. Piker articularly explains how a child of the
modern era can place himself in the tradition of an English production
potter. This is one of twelve videos in a series entitled "The
Craftmasters."

Available from: Frydenborg Productions, PO Box 250, Guilford, CT
06437. Length: 28 minutes; Format: VHS; Purchase: $49.95.

 

Making Pots on the Wheel: Technique, Form , and Function
Featuring Jerry Horning c 1993
Produced and Directed by Tom Rossi and Tom Langdon

Making Marks: Ceramic Surface Decoration
Featuring Robin Hopper c 1993
Produced and Directed by Tara Productions (Ron Holmes and David Swanson)

There has been a recent flurry of videos coming to market which
introduce the viewer to the basic techniques of potting. These two
must surely rank among the best of the lot. They are detailed,
comprehensive, intelligent, high quality productions. I highly
recommend them both.

Making Pots on the Wheel, a six tape series, features Jerry horning, a
potter and educator for nearly 30 years, demonstrating and explaining
the techniques necessary to make pots which function well and express
one's own personal aesthetic. Initially, when dealing with the most
basic steps, the pacing is slow and involves repetition, as is
necessary for beginners. However, as the series progresses (each tape
deals with new shapes and skills), the pace quickens and deft editing
eliminates extraneous detail, so that the viewer is able to focus on
the new material. There is clarity and coherence to the whole
production, and Mr. Horning radiates patience and empathy, so the
process is easy to follow. What particularly impressed me was the
complete, though unobtrusive, integration of Jerry Horning's
techniques and aesthetics. He is a former student of Warren
MacKenzie, and it shows (he is not a "tight potter"). What is
important, though, is that Mr. Horning shows how each decision along
the way, from choice of clays, tools (some hand-made) and techniques,
goes a long way towards imprinting each pot with its own personality.

An excellent resource for beginning potters and institutions which
teach ceramics (high school on up). Also of interest to more advanced
potters for the aesthetic point of view. A 100 page workbook
supplement is also available.

Available from: Los Locos Caballeros, 5204 Jones Street, Omaha, NE
68106. Length: each tape between 30-40 minutes; Format: VHS;
Purchase: Single tape, $40; Series with workbook, $200. Write for
brochure and more pricing info.

Making Marks: Ceramic Surface Decoration, also a six tape series,
features Robin Hopper, author of Functional Pottery, and The Ceramic
Spectrum, doing what he does so well--making a complex and difficult
subject approachable and doable. In this case the subject is ceramic
decoration--all kinds of ceramic decoration. Altering wet clay forms,
carving, clay additions, marbling, feathering, neriage, hakeme, slips,
stains, resists, stamps, glazes, glazing, firing, and post-firing
techniques, all these and more are explained and demonstrated in this
well ordered series. This is not a repetition of Robin Hopper's
previously published work--it is actually an excellent accompaniment,
a bridge between his two books. It would also be a perfect partner to
the Jerry Horning series, or any other basic throwing primer, as it
shows what can be done to a pot once one has actually learned to
produce one. That is the second half of every ceramic student's
basic education, one that is often left incomplete.

This series would be of interest to individual potters, and would be
of great value to ceramics programs.

Available from: Tara Productions, 4922 NE Going, Portland, OR 97218.
Tel. 604-247- 8434. (Call for Canadian address). Length: Each tape
281/2 minutes; Format: VHS; Purchase: Individuals, $149.95/series,
or $29.95/tape; Institutions, $299.95/series, or $59.95/tape
(Includes public performance rights).

 

Traditional Thai Pottery
A video by Louis Katz c 1991

This video is an outgrowth of a Fulbright grant awarded Louis Katz to
document Thai pottery centers. Essentially a survey of potters and
their craft as they exist today in five villages throughout Thailand,
it was filmed using hand-held cameras, available light and sound, and
with minimal overdubbing. These latter facts had been described to me
as a liability, but I found that they enhanced, rather than detracted
from, the effectiveness of the documentary. The first hour focuses on
Dankwean, Katz's home base for the project. A wide variety of ware is
being produced there, from small intricate jewelry to decorative
vessels and sculptural fish, all the way to large carved murals. Katz
pays just enough attention to potters' techniques to interest serious
ceramists, while not dwelling too long to bore the more casual viewer.
The second hour unveils four other villages and their ceramic
techniques, some of which will startle and amaze. All in all, I found
this to be a most interesting expedition. It would appeal to potters
in general, and also to those interested in learning more about other
cultures. A 36-page Pottery Guide and Dictionary is available, which
would be a great help to those traveling in the area.

Available from: Louis Katz, 219 Cutler, Helena, MT 59601. Tel.
406-443-4165. Length: 57 Minutes each section; Format: VHS;
Purchase: Tape alone, $39; Pottery guide, $7.

 

Beatrice Wood: Mama of Dada
Written and Directed by Tom Neff c 1993
Produced by Diandra Douglas, Tom Neff, and Amie Knox

This award-winning video premiered in March of 1993, on Wood's 100th
birthday. It is many things--a documentation of early 20th-century
art movements and her participation in them, particularly dadaism; a
reminiscence on the personalities within these movements; a glimpse
into her life and work today; and the loving celebration of an artist
who has always lived a creative life. We visit Wood through a clever
and effective juxtaposition of period photographs, interviews with
friends, original artworks, commentary by art historians, short
segments of dadaist video,and many conversations with Wood herself.
This is a film of the highest quality, from the technical aspects to
the original score to the creativity of its director and production
staff. It is less about ceramics in particular and more about art,
history and personalities. Intended for the broadest possible
audience, it was broadcast on PBS earlier this year. If I were to
have one humble criticism, it is that there are a few too many
gushings by critics/dealers. But make no mistake, this is an
excellent film.

Available from: Wild Wolf Productions, PO Box 34571, Los Angeles, CA
90034-0571. Tel. 310-926-9553. Length: One hour; Format: VHS;
Purchase: $34.75, includes shipping and handling, and a 10 page
viewers guide.

 

Betty Woodman: Thinking Out Loud
By Charles Woodman c 1991

At the end of this video, Betty Woodman recollects that her mother
once took one of her ceramics courses so that she could better
understand her daughter, whose passion for clay ran so deep. She
muses that a similar desire for understanding may be part of her son
Charles's motivation for producing this video. Whether or not this is
the case, it certainly is a good way for us to get to know her better.
Her boldly colored sculptural vessels have been part of our ceramic
scene for almost 30 years. Now, in this interview with critic John
Perrault, we learn of the influences and experiences that have led and
directed her over those years. The dialogue is often dubbed over
scenes of her working in the studio, along with shots of her finished
work from past years, so that we can see the concepts she describes
take shape before our eyes. All aspects of this video oare well
executed. This profile of a vigorous and talented artist would be
well suited for ceramists and serious students.

Available from: Charles Woodman Video, 304 Tennessee Ave. NE,
Washington, DC 20002. Tel. 202-543-7517. Length: 20 minutes;
Format: VHS; Purchase: $40, includes shipping and handling.

 

STUDIO POTTER NETWORK VIDEO LIST

Additional titles on hand, but not yet reviewed (as of 3/28/95)

 

Form and Function:Ceramic Aesthetics and Design (5 Tapes)

with Robin Hopper

A Sense of Place: Ceramics by Les Manning

Rudy Autio, Montana Artist

Key Principles for Successful Firing The Orton Firing Institute

I'm All Clay, You're All Clay An intro to Throwing with Jan Parzy

These videos are reviewed, but are no longer available for loan from
The Studio Potter Network Video Library

 

Raku Ceramics with Jim Romberg c 1990

One of a series of "video textbooks" covering a wide array of
subjects, this film takes you through raku from A to Z.
Artist/teacher Jim Romberg demonstrates and explains in well-
organized and meticulous detail the process and philosophy of raku.
A resource for beginning and intermediate students, the film has a
"timed" table of contents, amking location of details easy. I confess
that I occasionally longed for a bit of levity to lighten things up;
however, it is a useful teaching tool.

Available from: Ashland Video Productions, 341 Mowetza, Ashland, OR
97520. Tel. 503- 482-1334; Fax 503-482-4253. Length: 75 minutes;
Format: VHS or Beta; Purchase: $39.95 plus $2 shipping and handling.
Quantity discounts available.

 

Paul Soldner: Thoughts on Creativity c 1989

Excerpts from a workshop given by Paul Soldner at the Southern Chapter
of the American Ceramic Society, providing glimpses of his work and
personal history, followed by 20 minutes of Soldner talking as he
works on pieces. The quality of the sound is less than perfect due to
the noise of a ventilator fan in the background. The presence of the
audience in the picture is often distracting, but I found myself very
interested in the thoughts of this prominent person in the ceramics
world.

Available from: American Ceramic Society, 30616 Ganado Drive, Rancho
Palos Verdes, CA 90274. Tel. 213-541-1584. Length: 28 Minutes;
Format: VHS; Purchase: $35 plus $2.40 shipping and handling.
Quantity discounts available.

 

Raku Ho'olaule'a c 1984

Chronicles the annual raku weekend of the Hawaii Craftsmen. Not
really educational, this is the record of a good time. There's
history of the event, action on the beach and around the fire pits,
Hawaiian music, and, as I watched, I wished we could do something that
much fun at our clay group's annual picnic. They should consider
rental.

Available from: Hawaii Craftsmen, PO Box 22145, Honolulu, HI 96822.
Length: 28 minutes; Format: VHS; Purchase:$33 including postage and
handling; No rental.

Other Raku videos available:

 

Piepenburg on Raku

Available from: Robert Piepenburg, 1313 N. Main St., Ann Arbor, MI
48104. Length: 30 minutes/tape, 3 tapes. Format: VHS; Purchase:
$33 each.

 

Raku with Douglas Johnson c 1988

Available from: Bob Ogren Productions, 756 W. Hoyt Ave., St. Paul, MN
55117. Format: VHS; Purchase: $37.50.

 

Agni Jata: Fire Born c 1989

From the video jacket: This video documents an experiment in building
technology. The experience takes place in Auroville, a community
situated on the south-east coast of India. It is hoped the experiment
will lead to a viable solution for high quality, low cost housing
consistent with the need for conservation of the earth's rapidly
disappearing material and energy resources." Potter/architect Devron
Ray Smith has taken on this challenge in the video produced by the
Auroville International Foundation. His solution is to develop a
building technology using local clay formed into bricks and tiles at
the house site, laid up raw by local masons, then fired after the
structure is completed. The result is a solid, monsoon-proof
structure, aesthetically pleasing, of indeterminate cost. The video
is meticulously produced, and of excellent quality. It takes the
viewer through every stage of the process, from the initial concept
all the way to the local production of many accessories, including
clay toilets. The ingenious use of interior space during the firing,
and the firing process itself are also fascinating. This and other
videos detailing the work of the Auroville International Foundation
are also available by writing:

Available from: Auroville International USA, PO Box 162489,
Sacramento, CA 95816- 2489. Tel. 916-452-4013. Length: 34 minutes;
Format: VHS; Purchase: $49.95.

 

A Tea Party c 1988

This video documents the 10th Annual Teapot Show presented at Pinch
Pottery in Northampton, MA in October 1988. The works of over 200
invited artists and craftspeople are shown, ranging in style from the
strictly functional to the whimsical and fantastic. Straight ahead
camera work is utilized, featuring each piece revolving on a carousel
for a full 360 degree viewing. A lively jazz score of tea-related
songs keeps everything moving. Initially filmed to provide out-of-town
collectors an opportunity to view and purchase works ( a sheet is
included giving dimensions and prices), this video is valuable to
anyone interested in the many and varied approaches today's artists
take toward this most traditional form.

Available from: Pinch Pottery, 179 Main Street, Northampton, MA
01060l Tel. 413-586- 4509. Length: 45 minutes; Format: VHS;
Purchase: $35 plus shipping.

Richard Aerni

 

- all reviews copyrighted by Richard Aerni and used here by permission
email: ArcyA@aol.com

 

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