Justin Rothshank

Interview with Justin Rothshank

Mayco: Hi Justin! I was just looking at your website and I do not know where to start. You and your wife Brooke are seriously busy and gifted artists and active community members. You are currently active in wood-fired ceramics and also functional earthenware. Can you explain what draws you to each of these methods?

JR: I attended my first woodfiring as a high school student. This has always been an important and energizing component of my ceramic interests. Nearly 6 years ago I began experimenting with ceramic decals. I was initially drawn to iron transfers because of their durability and function across many clay bodies. Upon moving to Indiana 3 years ago I lost access to a high fire kiln, so I made the permanent switch to earthenware for my production work. I like the control I have with an electric kiln, but also I really love the way the red clay looks with a white glaze. I continue to wood fire because it is a way for me to connect directly with my ceramics colleagues in Goshen, but also because I use wood firing as a way to experiment with new forms and ideas. I feel like wood firing is what inspires my production earthenware pieces.

I see that you were instrumental in founding a non-profit organization called the Union Project. Can you tell us about that?

I was one of the founders of Union Project in 2001. Check out the organization, www.unionproject.org. In short, Union Project is housed in a fully renovated, 15,000 square foot historic gothic stone church building in Pittsburgh. It is a community center devoted to providing space for artists, community members, and people of faith. It houses a ceramics cooperative, a coffee shop, a worshipping congretation, and at least 8 small businesses. My passions at Union Project were centered in starting the ceramics cooperative, building kilns and workspaces, and leading the volunteer driven restoration of the building. I’m very interested in historic preservation and restoration. This project continues to be a one of the most exciting things happening in Pittsburgh, in my opinion.

I was lucky enough to receive a gift from you during your time at Arrowmont for the Ceramics Surface Symposium earlier this year. It is a wood fired piece with a Mayco Foundation glaze included in the surface treatment. (for our readers: Mayco Foundations are typically used at lowfire temps in electric kilns. Justin pushed the range of the product into higher temps as well as the unique atmospheric conditions of woodfire.)

The piece is a treasure and I wondered if you could explain some of the things you like about pushing commercial glazes in this way?

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve often used wood firing as my time for experimenting. I’ve often intentionally used low fire clays, glazes, decals, or other materials in the wood kiln to see what happens. It’s not uncommon for me to unload my kiln and find pots that are warped, puddled, or bloated, or glazes that have completely run off the pot. But it’s also not uncommon for me to find experimental pieces that are extremely exciting and rewarding. Although I think that the instructions that come with commercial products (clay, glazes, decals) are important to be aware of I’m not necessarily buying the product just to repeat the picture on bottle. I want to test for myself what the product can do.

Finally, Mayco was so happy to award you the Grand Prize in our Purchase Award competition before NCECA this year. It seems that your work has entered a new (and wonderful) chromatic area with the addition of the Mayco glaze line. The lowfire decal work and Mayco’s colors are so perfectly suited for each other. Can you tell us what you use and why?

I’m very excited to be adding color to my pieces. This has been something I’ve been interested in exploring for quite some time, and the Surface Symposium at Arrowmont was a perfect opportunity to give it a try. I’m very interested in underglazes, especially for using in wood and soda fired environments. I’m also using Mayco color glazes straight out of the bottle for some of my earthenware pieces. I feel like this is an area that I’m just beginning to consider, so I haven’t settled on any given methods yet. I’ve often chosen to bring color into my pieces by using small splashes of color from decals, but using glazes and underglaze has given me a chance to reconsider some ways that color can interact with the forms that I created.