Barbara Hanselman

Interview with Barbara Hanselman

Mayco: Please tell us about your signature style and how does it fuel your creative fire?

Barbara: I wish I had just one signature style! I simply can’t begin to enumerate the many ‘looks’ my clay work has taken and how it has led to what I love making today!

Mayco: What was your route to becoming an artist?

Barbara: Before I found clay, I ate, slept and breathed interior and architectural design, and spent all of my time engrossed in the needs of others. I had no life without my client list. Then in 1994 while on vacation, I attended a workshop given by Jeanne Haskell at The Vermont Clay Studio in Montpelier, Vermont. At the time, I didn’t know the difference between wet clay and the mud in my driveway, but once my hands started poking and stretching and feeling the hunk of clay I was allotted, I knew I had to learn more. Upon returning home, I immediately signed up for classes at Perkins Center for the Arts in Moorestown, New Jersey and The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I took workshops offered by clay artists whose work I came to admire through area galleries and national publications. I was being consumed by all things CLAY. The more I experienced, the more I realized there is to experience, and the more I needed to ‘do clay.’ Although I didn’t start out on the wheel learning to make strictly functional ware such as plates and bowls, I did begin hand building very utilitarian pieces. I love gladiolas, and I never had a vase tall enough to hold them, so I slab built a whole series of ‘GLAD’ vases. Three of the first ten leaked, and I quickly learned about properly attaching a bottom and testing for water-tightness at the bisque stage. At classes and workshops I was introduced to texturing and stretching clay, building forms which have three-legs, lids, handles or spouts and using engobes such as terra sigillata as alternatives to glazes. I raku-fired with Steve Branfman in Vermont, sawdust-fired with Jimmy Clark in Chester Springs and was quickly becoming a clay junkie! Sometimes my drug of choice was stoneware; sometimes earthenware with an occasional snort of cream cheese porcelain. Other times I reached nirvana by simply burnishing or texturing the various clay bodies I had on hand. Intent on exploring everything I had been exposed to in more detail, I mentally filed away ninety percent of the information for future exploration, then set about starting at the beginning and mastering the three basic hand building techniques of pinching, coiling and slab construction. Finishing a pot with the right glaze was always harder than making a good clay form. Glazes never were explained or discussed at length in any of the classes I took at area art centers; our work came out of the bisque firing and we were expected to thoughtlessly dip our pieces in buckets of runny liquid to create a finish. For years I fought this idea and turned to brushing or pouring glazes on my bisque ware. Then I had an epiphany – the clay slabs I roll out are the fabric I use to make my pieces. If I were a fashion designer, would I attempt to manufacture a line of clothing without first envisioning the colors, textures or patterns of the fabrics I would use for each creation? Of course not! So, why was I doing this as a clay artist?  Why was I building forms out of clay ‘muslin’ when I could be using clay fabrics rich with textures, patterns and colors. I began fantasizing about clay surface finishes and to this day, I’m still discovering profound ways to influence the clay at the conceptual, greenware stage. Dedicated to becoming familiar with ALL my options, I constantly draw upon my years of acquired knowledge asking ‘what if’ every time I sit down to interact with clay. Recently the ‘what-if’ query led to my discovering Mayco Designer Liners and all they can do; my work hasn’t been the same since.

Mayco: What inspires your ideas for imagery? Form? Color?

Barbara: Simplicity… Patterning… Symbols from the past, present & future… Contrast… Balance…

My ongoing exploration into engobes, underglazes & terra sigillata has helped me discover new ways to generate colorful patterns, textures and finishes on all sorts of clay bodies. Whether shaping simple clay beads or fine tuning a transfer-to-surface process, I enthusiastically explore ALL my clay options, asking myself ‘what if’ every time I’m confronted with clay and its possibilities. But once techniques are mastered it is time to really listen to the clay…

First I wanted to build with clay, eat off its river rock surface and drink from the empty spaces it defines. I then wanted to hear the sound of clay as it moves to and fro within itself or as it tries to be its own call in the wild – so I make Rattles which memorialize beginnings and Garden bells. Next I wanted a total “Clay Shibumi” where I am the adaptable turtle or the Bodhi leaf I impress in the clay’s surface; where I know the power of each single hand-formed bead touching my skin. I want to be what the clay is saying as I wear it and fondle it (the way old Greek men stroke their worry beads). So I strive to compose with the language of clay and I eagerly impart the intriguing ways of clay to anyone willing to listen.

Mayco: Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?

Barbara: I fondly remember making pinch pots with Jimmy Clark, a total master of the pinched form. He had an ongoing friendship with Paulus Berensohn who wrote Finding One’s Way With Clay; Finding One’s Way With Clay is a beautifully written book about Paulus’ esoteric approach to clay through pinching. Early in my ‘discovering clay days’ I found his book and my approach to life & clay has never been the same. Being able to learn to form and sawdust fire pinch pots inspired by the sensibilities of these two potters left an forgettable mark on my clay psyche.

Mayco: I see you use a lot of Designer Liner, how has using this Mayco product changed your artwork, if at all?

Barbara: Most potters working in stoneware produce cups, bowls, pitchers or vases with a certain similarity. Some mimic classic shapes while others masterfully produce stylized forms. A few make functional pieces assembled in a style uniquely their own; I am one such person. My ceramic work, constructed mainly from slabs can have the look of metal or embossed leather. Most recently though, it offers hand drawn, whimsical zentangle-like images. My latest passion for patterns employs Mayco Designer Liners and underglazes. Using them, I am able to achieve lasting crisp colors as well as draw patterns, from the simplest to the most involved, with unbelievable ease. Designer Liner underglazes work on both earthenware and stoneware, functional or sculptural forms as well as jewelry components. My latest signature pieces still evolve from asking the proverbial, “What-if?” as well as listening to the clay as it tell me what if want to be. It is my unorthodox methodologies coupled with classic hand building techniques – pinching, coiling, slab – that fill my days. Because of my constant explorations into all things clay, my classes have evolved from the functional to the fanciful, offering insights into clayful delights, what-ifs and learning to see; now what could be better than that!