Saturday, April 10, 2010

Influential Potter Series #4: Jane Graber

I didn't have any takers on the guessing game I posed a couple of days ago. I asked anyone who wished to, to guess who the potter is who created the work in this picture...

I might just as easily (and to fun effect) asked, "What's different/special about the three pots in the picture?" I did pose that question to one group of friends. Perhaps the most interesting response -- and the response that gets most to the point of why I find Jane to be such an influence on my pottery -- was from my friend, Frazer who guessed, "...they all have very pleasing shapes and proportions that look exactly 'right'."


I live with nearly forty of Jane's pieces around my house. I have them on shelves in my kitchen. I have them on shelves in my dining room. I even have them on a shelf in one of my bedrooms. And I pick them up from time to time just to examine them, wonder, and learn.

Yup. Live with Jane's pottery and learn about pleasing shapes and proportions that look exactly 'right'.

And here's why the lessons on shape and proportion carry such impact...

That's right. My friend, Jane, makes the finest stoneware and redware miniatures in the country.

It's almost shocking to be able to pick up one of Jane's pieces and have it elicit exactly the same feelings, the same sense of proportion as one might get from the full-sized version.

I've heard it said that a good way to judge the success of a miniature is to photograph it and see if thus removed from its surrounding context, it is impossible to judge the size of the piece. I think I just illustrated that Jane's pieces do, indeed, pass that test.

Jane has no internet presence, but I was able to find at least two sources if you are interesting in investigating her work further.


  1. Great stuff! I had a double take when I saw the scale!! Last time I taught at Penland we talked a lot about scale. Many people say they have trouble making large ware because of the strength needed. But I challenged everyone to make miniatures, too. We found that they are extremely hard to make! (but not impossible) I found that I needed small tools as well!
    Thanks for the eye opener and bringing Jane's work to my attention!

  2. oh btw! I have a 4 gallon Red Wing crock with exactly the same slip trailed 4 and "bee sting" design. They must've made thousands of those!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing these! They are truly amazing and I agree how well they demonstrate the importance of shape and proportion. I never would have guessed their size. Even the speckling on the surface is to scale!

    Weird synchronicity with this post is that just yesterday I was discussing scale with a former student who at one time had been making smallish 2-4 inch covered jars that were more successful than his larger more normal sized ones. His difficulty had been to translate all the successful details of proportion, surface marks and shape to the larger scale. Somehow he had learned to see the pots better when they were that small, and had difficulty translating it upwards. Michael's observation about the tool size making a difference also plays into this. Learning how to do certain things with a particular tool doesn't means we are always prepared to use that tool in unfamiliar circumstances. Sometimes our understanding of a tool and the force of our habits are so ingrained that we are better off switching the tools used to fit something like a new larger/smaller scale. Sometimes those favorite tools are simply no longer appropriate.

    Do you have any advice on using scale to demonstrate truths about ceramic practice? I mostly use downsizing scale as a way to take the pressure off of learning new techniques or forms (as in learning to make small covered jars to get the mastery of making a gallery and lid before investing enough clay to make full sized ones).

  4. Michael and Carter,

    I find that trying to understand scale in pottery is an endlessly fascinating study. I think this because (as should be obvious) understanding it better can hopefully lead to "better" proportions in my pots.

    But additionally (and less obvious) I also find it can be a tool for expression and animation.

    It took me some time to figure out (mostly by trial and error .... and most of that by error!) that "mistakes" in proportion and scale led to some humorous or meaningful new "gestures" in the pots. Exaggeration can be a useful tool.

    Still, I confess to being a guy who's madly in pursuit of "timeless". So I generally tend to gravitate toward attempting to perfect proportion and scale.

    But that may be one reason I do so many gourds and themes from nature. It sets me free. It allows me to play a bit with proportion and scale.

    One observation....and this is just something I suspect (not something I know, or can prove)...

    It seems that when creating biomorphic shapes, "mistakes" in scale and proportion are more likely to come across as monstrous. Geomtric shapes don't seem to render "monstrous" when proportions distort or change.

    As my neice would say, "whatever"

    My neice is not nearly so fascinated with me as I am.

  5. I love Jane Graber's miniature pottery and have a number of her pieces. To my knowledge, she is the only potter who makes miniature redware. It is gorgeous. I recently purchased a sprigged lidded jar from her - it is now my favorite piece.

  6. I know Jane personally. She's an incredibly talented and loving person, which is told boundlessly in her work. Although she has focused on miniatures, the full size cups, bowls, and plates she created early in her career are pieces of fine art cherished by my family.