Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Dave Berfield Ceramist: #1

The Island Gallery represents more than 100 artists from the United States and other parts of the world, each one unique, dedicated and inspiring.  They never fail to thrill us with the endless devotion and energy they pour into their art.

But artists, like mere humans, occasionally do things other than make art.


And when they do, it’s often with an eye that sees the world in a very interesting way.

If you read the July 2016 Gallery Picks Newsletter post immediately prior to this one you may have noticed our new feature, "An Artist's Approach.”  In it we discussed how one of our mixed-media artists applies her artistic talents to cooking, creating a whole new canvas for herself in the process. (We also learned how to make a stunning – both to eat and to look at – French fruit-based dessert named Clafoutis, so everyone enjoyed that!)  Through similar contributions from our artist community, we hope to show you how our artists sometimes approach non-art related areas of their lives - and how surprises of all sorts can pop up!

For example, let's say you’re one of these wonderful artists; suddenly, your family has a big wedding coming up.  What do you do?

Call the caterer, line up a photographer, track down the minister, the engraver, the florist... right?

Well, certainly; hiring a crew of pros to help pull off a most precious family celebration is a necessary part of getting everything done.  In fact, we recommend nothing less!  But if there’s an artist in the family, the “normal” approach to wedding planning and execution is not likely where the event will ultimately end up...

In this three-part series we'll take you on a local ceramic artist’s months-long journey to contribute to one very special day, along with an up-close and personal tour of the art of wood-firing ceramics.  We hope you will enjoy it, and return for the second installment, scheduled for early August 2016. 

Ceramist & Father of the Bride

Bainbridge Island ceramic artist Dave Berfield, who exhibits with The Island Gallery,
is on a bittersweet journey. His daughter Kathleen and Shane Morrison are going to be
married here on Bainbridge Island in September.  Kathleen and Shane are both medical
doctors and met while they were in residency together at the University of Washington.
Shane is a Resident in the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Program and Kathleen is
a Thoracic Surgeon at the UW and the VA Puget Sound.  Kathleen, affectionately called
Sachi by her parents, made a special request of her father to create flower vases for
her wedding.   We thought it would be fun to follow and share the creative process
of a parent and artist over several months, from design to fabrication, firing and
finishing phases to the final celebration.

Dave is originally from Pennsylvania and like many of us, is now transplanted
to the Pacific Northwest.  He studied ceramics at the University of Hawaii where he
received an MFA.  But after moving to Seattle he became interested in enameling
techniques and established his own firm, The Porcelain Company, to pursue that art form.
Over the years he worked with a wide range of firms.

In addition to his own work he collaborated with many artists including the noted African
American painter Jacob Lawrence on the large-scale public mural, Games, originally
produced for the Kingdome and moved to the Seattle Convention Center when the
dome came down.   Lawrence is often considered one of the most important artists
of the 20th century. He accepted a teaching position at the UW in 1971.

Games.  Jacob Lawrence

Although he is now working mainly in ceramics, Dave recently worked with artist
Ellen Forney on the model for her enamel on steel art work for the Sound Transit
Capitol Hill Station that opened this March.

The first step in any artistic process is design.  The design of the vases was a
collaborative effort including one of Dave’s former students, Brian Choy, now an
award winning flower designer living in Hawaii, and Bainbridge Island neighbor/flower
arranger Suellen Cunningham. Design is a “Goldilocks” process.  Here the vase
design needed to be large enough to support the flowers, but not too large for the tables.
They needed to be slender, but stable, impermeable and eye-catching.  There were a
number of trials.  The final recommendation came from Sachi who asked that
a blue glaze be incorporated in the design.  The end result, we are sure you
will agree, is "just right."

On one of our visits we found Dave hand-building several vases.  Beginning
with a lump of (stoneware) clay, he worked it, forming it into a thick, rectangular
block which he laid out on his work table.  

He then used a cutting tool made with a thin wire cutter to skillfully slice
quarter-inch thick slabs off the block. For a committed late night TV addict
it was a little like watching James Bond dealing with one of the guards who was,
unfortunately for the guard, looking in the wrong direction.

Dave then laid one of the quarter-inch slabs on the table, and using a template,
cut the slab into the shape of the vase.

He reinforced the top edges of the proto-vase...

...and then placed it upside down on a wooden form
the size and shape of the vase.

Folding the slab around the form, he took care to close the edges. 

He memorialized the bottom of each vase with initials and year, and imprinted a
stamp design on the sides of the vase, using a technique inspired by his days
in the Peace Corps observing clay artists in Colombia.  He once again sealed the
corners and ensured that the partitions were sturdy.

Dave can construct three vases an hour when he is not being interrupted by

people asking questions and taking pictures.  Under those less ideal circumstances,

production drops to about one vase every two hours.

Next, the damp proto-vases are allowed to dry and then they are bisque-fired
in an electric kiln.

This firing removes water and dries and hardens the vases so that they can be
glazed and fired in a wood-fired kiln.  Dave makes his own glazes.  He glazes
the inside of the vase so that it will hold water.  He applies a glaze on the
outside to produce the design effects he desires using
the “drip and pour” glazing method.

With all this completed, the vases are now ready for final firing
in his wood-fired kiln.

Next time we will highlight the firing phase! Stay tuned.

(The next post in this series, Dave Berfield Ceramist:  #2, appears in the blog on August 22, 2016.)