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Technical ceramics and art ceramics—only a brain apart

Teapot by Diane KW and Corey Lum featured in the Potters Council 2012 Teapot Collection calendar. Credit: Ceramic Publications Company.

Is this a familiar experience? You are at a social gathering and somebody asks what you do for a living. You tell them you are a ceramic engineer, and as sure as oxygen follows nitrogen on the periodic table of the elements, the next question will be whether you can fix their dish/teapot/flower pot, etc.

No clue. Sorry.

But, that does not mean that technical ceramists are not interested in the beautiful artifacts that ceramic artists and potters create. We left-brainers admire the ability of our right-brain brethren to control and create in a medium that we endeavor to control and engineer. Our training and curiosity have us guessing: what transition metals yield that color; how did the artist make such a thin-walled vessel without it collapsing; what kind of atmosphere is in a wood fired kiln, etc.? More than a few ACerS Fellows were first attracted to ceramic materials through art and eventually felt drawn to a more rigorous understanding of the material and its properties and processing.

The American Ceramic Society was founded in 1898 to serve the needs of technical ceramists, and almost a century later, the Society extended its reach into the art world when it acquired Ceramics Monthly magazine in 1996, which is now in its 60th year. In 1997, Pottery Making Illustrated was launched to address the needs of potters interested in learning ceramic techniques, and the Ceramic Publications Company was born.

CPC is a wholly owned subsidiary of The American Ceramic Society, and has grown into a robust business that includes the aforementioned magazines, the Ceramic Art Handbook series and other art books and the Potters Council, a benefit-providing organization for professional potters and clay enthusiasts.

According to Sherman Hall, CPC managing director, the mission of the Ceramic Publications Company is “to provide inspiration, information, and instruction for practitioners of studio ceramics.” Hall says, “This audience includes professional artists and potters, instructors and students at all levels, as well as gallery personnel and collectors.”

In 2007 the Ceramic Arts Daily website was launched, growing the audience from 40,000 to over 100,000 and rising. Hall says, “The transition from print to the web really opened our eyes to the power of good information delivered in several formats. Our reach and reputation increased exponentially.”

Hall attributes CPC’s success to several factors. “In the course of building these products for this market, we have internalized one thing more deeply than anything else, which is that content is king, regardless of format. The task of identifying and developing content that this market wants has been far easier for CPC than it could otherwise have been, because the individuals responsible for acquiring that content come from the audience themselves. Not only does the editorial staff have extensive training in the ceramic arts, but much of our content is contracted out to experts, artists, and authors who are active in the field.”

CPCs business areas fall into three categories.

Ceramic Arts Daily (six emails per week, three new editorial posts per week, one always being a video)
Ceramic Arts Daily DVDs (12 per year)

Potters Council
Four workshops per year, plus sponsorship of others’ workshops
Group health insurance, shipping discounts, merchant services, mentoring, and several other benefits

Ceramics Monthly (published ten times per year)
Pottery Making Illustrated (published six times per year)
Ceramic Art Handbooks (2-3 per year)
Other art books (2 per year)

Engineers and scientists will appreciate the Potters Council calendars, which are illustrated with stunning ceramic artwork. The image at the top of this post, for example, is from June in the Teapot Collection calendar. Other calendar themes are: Alternative Firing Collection, Food + Function Collection, General Collection and Sculpture Collection. The calendars are priced at $19.95 and available from the Potters Council website.

Subscribing to the Ceramic Arts Daily may help rouse the inner creator that engineers and scientists need to look at technical problems from a different vantage point. Or, perhaps, CAD may just provide a pleasant break in the day!