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Fine Art at the Magnolia Presents

John Kellum
on Finding your Center, Trying new Things, and Throwing Pizzas
Aug. 13, 2021

John Kellum in his Studio
John Kellum in his Studio

When I'm throwing a pot, that is my time to sit in front of the wheel and let the world go. The clay won't work unless you're focused totally on the clay. If you're worried about other things, the forms just don't come out. You might get angry at the clay, but it's not the clay it's you. New potters always complain "the clay isn't cooperating today", but it's not the clay -- that's the same stuff everyone else is using -- it's your ability to focus strictly on the process.

When I'm having trouble, I go back to the basics. I focus on deep breaths, I sit at the wheel and get my mind and the clay centered. I count the steps: center the clay, open it up, flatten the bottom. Step by step. Not only does the process start working for me, but it helps clear my head from all other thoughts.

FAM2021 Date and Location
FAM2021 Date and Location

I take a lot of workshops. Whenever you study with someone, when you take a class or workshop, you have to think about what the instructor is doing and how to incorporate it into your own work.

Early on, I did a workshop with Stephen Hill. I was in an early stage of my potting career and I didn't feel that I learned much. But I did his workshop again years later and all of a sudden I was like WOW I get it now! There's still potters out there I'd like to learn from. I keep expanding and trying and playing.

I focus on deep breaths ... not only does the process start working for me, but it helps clear my head from all other thoughts.

I am particularly impressed by functional potters. They can sit down and throw 100s of bowls in an afternoon. They have that training, and they all turn out the same! That training gives you a skill set that I lack. That is, repetitiveness and consistency. The more you do something the better you get at it. I've made 10,000 pots, I don't know how many, but functional potters might make 10,000 pots in a year!

'Three Handled Perfume Bottle', by John Kellum
'Three Handled Perfume Bottle', by John Kellum

I'm always experimenting, trying different forms and techniques. Eventually, this will lend a somewhat different look to my work. In particular, I'm exploring a different glazing technique: de-emphasizing the raku, and emphasizing the intricate carving details in the piece. Raku works best on a smoother surface, and in a very carved piece the raku colors can hide these details.

I intend to focus on traditional mid-range glazes. A satin white, a satin black, a bronze -- which I like -- and another called a "celadon". Celadon is a semitransparent glaze usually in the green or blue fields. On a carved surface, celadon accents the carving by running and pooling into the grooves.

all of a sudden I was like, WOW I get it now!

I took a workshop from the Glaze Master himself, John Britt, in his studio up in North Carolina. It was a blast! There were 20 of us, experimenting with glazes. I relearned a lot and learned even more. He’d just built a pizza oven, he was so proud of it. For dinner that night we chopped up all the veggies, and all the potters threw their own pizza dough! We put the dough in the oven and kept the fire going, everyone baking their pizzas in turn.

Though I am and always will be a student, I taught ceramics myself at Valencia College for 7 years. I can see myself teaching workshops of my own in the future. For a start, I'm going to Vegas to teach a workshop, and I'm hoping to do more in the near future. In these workshops, I will be demonstrating throwing and building techniques and the Raku firing process. Many of the participants want to see how I make my teapots and my crazy handles.

'Teapot with Mini Spout and Handle', by John Kellum
'Teapot with Mini Spout and Handle', by John Kellum

People tell me "you can't just give away all your secrets," but we all learn from somebody. This is true of every technique I do, I didn't invent too much in my life. Every potter thinks they have their one unique form. I had one form in particular where I was sure "this is my form, nobody's ever done this before." I'd been making it for 4-5 years, but then I was flipping through an art book and in 800 B.C. there it was. I was like "darn!"

I believe I have something to teach, if only to pass on what I've learned from others! I want to inspire people to do this. I hope people will see pottery a little bit different.

Work In Progress -- John Kellum
Work In Progress -- John Kellum

The Bohrer Gallery

Betsy Bohrer, Founder and Curator.
Zach Weatherby, Web, Journal, and Accounts.
Zoe Alexander, Film and Media Director.
Ridley Aligerum, Marketing and Graphic Design.

With gratitude to the City of Lakeland department of Parks and Recreation, the Polk Museum of Art, the Polk Arts and Cultural Alliance, and all of our artists, patrons, and guests.
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