George was born in
Harlem, New York
and has lived and

Brooklyn, New York
Athens, Ohio
Eugene, Oregon
North Carolina

Commentary on Forty Years of Musings with Clay

Part 1

I had to do it and I still have to do it. It starts there and continues to go on. Working, I should say playing with clay, pleasures me totally. I don’t mean frivolous pleasure, although it does make me giddy sometimes. It’s deep pleasure; frequently excruciating, usually demanding, perplexing, sometimes pensive – even grave. It is a thoroughly creative enterprise. Call it inner necessity – or, a devotion. It is the locomotive that pulls the whole train. And I believe the joyful pleasure is wedded to another quality of the process – it requires all of me. When engaged with this most basic of materials I find all of my human capacities present and usefully relevant to the task.

That is a blessing of no small consequence; an experience of the fullness of life that is energetically expansive. Much of life does not require, or indeed want, all of me. On the other hand, when invitations are open and generous, I am often unable to extend myself fully to other opportunities as I have with clay processes. Clay constantly speaks that possibility – that the creative lies before us in everything – but I mostly shy from the risk. So that extension of the creative moment to more of life remains my fixed ideal and I expect to continue to strive for it, as the clay recommends.

Part 2

PLAY The locomotive that pulls the whole train; simple pleasure in the act of forming images. Is that enough? I believe we can trust it because it is fundamental to what makes us human. Ethologists tell us that a species trait has evolutionary primacy if it passes three tests: 

One – that it feels good; Two – that people spend a good deal of time and effort to do it; Three – universality.

Thus, art is a behavior that humans undertake because it helps us survive and to survive better than we would without it. We need to do it and no justification is required. In time we find other motivations to add fuel to the initiative. We learn other languages that help us articulate our purposes; the vernaculars of aesthetics, artistic qualification, economic viability. This soothes our families and loved ones and reduces the pressures. But if the basic, psycho-biologically driven love of giving form isn’t there, a train yard full of nimble jargon is of no account and doesn’t 

drive that train.

So I voluntarily join the multitude of those infected by clay mania. Mania is a good word – descriptive of our condition; an ecstatic obsession with wild energies. The ancients thought these energies god-like, and gave them human persona such as Apollo and his fraternal twin, Dionysos. Apollo represented the craft of forming; Dionysos, the craft of feeling! Together they embodied – how to shape what you feel.

I like to refer to these old (and still revered by some) images of dynamic human aspects. I stand in the old story. It still rings with a bold and true note for me. The mythic chronicles carry a weight of meaning that refurbishes, renews, looks back on the past with respect and affection.

Part 3

My own assessment of my work is that it seems quite modest in quantity and eccentric in character. The forms are functional but not domestic. Earning my living by teaching has allowed me to pursue enigmatic inquires and engage a kind of work never intended to meet the tastes of an immediate public. I’ve been privileged to be able to slowly “cook” ideas over time and let the conceptions ripen. The advantage of this slow growth has been the patination of a quality of psychic density to the images. This is, of course, my perception. For viewers, I hope the work evokes something beyond itself – hopefully an allusion to our collective storehouse of psycho-mythic experience.

As the poet Robert Bly has said, “Creativity is agreeing to go and live among the images – which is not the same as living among the objects. It takes courage to live among the images without retreating to the object.”

As I overview the work, begun in the fifties with formal interests paramount, the love of clay in its primal manifestations dominates. Thrown forms are pushed to lush pregnant fullness. My affection for the vessel persists, although the making of domestic vessels has chiefly served as my warm-up phase into a work cycle. In time, rather than formal preoccupations alone, issues of emotional shading come forward and direct the work. Celebration, commemoration, contemplation, ritual-purpose, enigmatic ceremony – these are the concerns that my vessels attempt to bear.

Part 4

I am primarily a form builder. Accordingly, it is the perplexities of emerging form that capture me and often my intentions get hijacked. Instead of problem solving, I get taken into problem finding! The orthodox solutions are problems solved and don’t sustain my interest. Since the surface aspect is of secondary interest for me I have been content to focus, sometimes for decades, on a few particular firing methods. I preferred salt-fires from the late sixties into the next decade. This was primarily because the salt process resolved sculptured form and did not obscure it. From the late seventies into the nineties I concentrated on lo-tech work, reducing my technology to the simplest means available; some clay, sawdust and a bit of ochre. Breaking and then reassembling forms allowed me to extend the process even further. During these last few years I’ve been re-seduced into high temperature salt and wood fires – basically drawn by the high enthusiasm of the students exploring these methods. The yearnings I once held for heroic scale work has diminished – I think. Who knows what might prove of urgent necessity once I can have available the time to throw myself fully into obsessions?

Basically, I have always followed the emerging form, trusting that thwork informs me with its own truth; allowing me to apprehend, and further, to shape my feelings as no other opportunity does. Hopefully, the creative process is further magnified as the realized image offers the viewer a seed image in turn, an invitation to image their own journey, an encouragement to Sengage the secrets of their own hearts.

Part 5

It has been interesting for me to see the shift from the fully thrown buoyantly exuberant volumes of the early work of the sixties to the dense, heavy, and concentrated forms that currently obsess me. Made from the dregs, the dross, the left behind, the abandoned clay out of students lockers at the end of the term, I pound them into condensed masses of molecules – with no air left in the impenetrable thicknesses. There is little or no adding, only digging and scraping away enough mass to find the form and honor it with old marks from old stories. Then the fire: to turn the clay into stone, and to activate the metallic oxides – not to make the piece appear as new, but to reveal its processes as primal, to announce its origins in earth and ore and fire – far, far from the refinements and deceptions of industrial fabrication. To approach this kind of form is to hold a respectful regard for the accumulated weight of arduous, ultimately painful human experience. That sum of trials and events that perhaps... perhaps, yields an ounce of gold. Over time, the joy is not diminished – but it is more dense, and appropriately, thirty years later – it is shadow work!

Part 6

Soon after beginning my journey as a teacher, I shaped and still carry the conviction that forming a teaching is every bit as creative an enterprise as any other art form. My understanding of what that meant was that I should be prepared to take the same kind of risks in the classroom that I take in the studio. I have tried to be faithful to that conviction. Accordingly, what is evident in this showing of work are the material aspects of my practice. The greater creative portion of my teaching career lies sheltered in my mind and heart and is not exhibitable. It is a shared experience that I hold in trust. I trust it is clear that the one constant through all my efforts as a teacher and in my artistic practice is the joy in the work. My musings begin and end with that testimony. That is the baton I extend for the pass....


Brooklyn Museum Art School – 1961-1963
Indiana University Summer School – 1965-1966
Ohio University – 1965-1973
Director of Publications, NCECA – 1998-2001
University of Oregon – 1973-2012


Haystack School of Crafts, MA
 1987, 2001

The Great Mother Conference –
Wisconsin 1988, 1997, 2005; Vermont 1990; Maine 1995, 1998, 2002; Montana 1993; Orcas Island 1999, 2000

Penland School of Art –
1986, 1987, 1989, 1992, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2004, 2010

Hui No'ueau Art Center, Maui, HI
1993, 1997, 2000, 2007

Mendocino Art Center, Mendocino, CA –
1991, 1995, 1996, 1999, 2002

Banff Center for the Arts, Banff, Canada –
1991, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999

Pendle Hill, PA –
1998, 1999, 2001

Art Chicks, Eugene, OR 2007

Syracuse Ceramic National
New Talent - Kranner Art Museum
Scripps National Invitational
Edinboro First Annual Invitational
Ohio Northern Invitational
Salt-Glazing - Museum of Contemporary Crafts, NY
NCECA National Invitational
Northern Arizona Invitational
University of Wisconsin National Invitational
Museum of Contemporary Crafts, NY National Invitational
Northwest Crafts Invitational, Spokane, WA
Indiana University Bicentennial Craft Exhibition
Museum of Art, University of Oregon
Lodestone Gallery, Boulder, CO Invitational
"Archaic Clay" Open Gallery, Eugene, OR
Maude Kerns Art Center
Miami University Invitational
Idaho State University
"Origin-al Clay Vessels" Artists' Union Gallery, Eugene, OR
Signature Gallery, Atlanta GA - Penland Faculty
Northwest Ceramics Today (J. Takehara)
Oregon Invitational Ceramic Sculpture Exhibition - LCC
Voulkos-Leedy Gallery, Kansas City, MO
Northwest Sculptures Invitational Symposium - Maude Kerns Center
1990 NCECA Juried Members Exhibition, Cincinnati, OH
"Songs of Clay" Hult Center, Eugene OR
"Fire" Exhibition, Northern Clay Center, St. Paul, MN
Manchester Craftsmen's Guild, Pittsburgh, PA
"Functional Wounds" Banff Centre for the Arts
"Influence & Introspection, Pacific NW Ceramics" Corvallis, OR
"Sabbatical Musings" Hult Center, Eugene, OR
"Magic Mud" Idaho and Washington
"Bald Headed Potters of America" Grossmont College, El Cajon, CA
"Generations: Penland Teachers/Students" Penland, NC
"Bald Headed Potters of America" Indianapolis, IN
"NCECA Honors & Fellows Exhibition" Fort Worth, TX
"Global Ceramics Invitational" Amsterdam, Netherlands
"Archetypal Imagery" University of North Carolina, Charlotte, NC
"Archetypal Imagery" University of Colorado
"Visions & Inspirations" Contemporary Crafts Gallery, Porltand, OR
"Latest Work" Contemporary Crafts Gallery, Portland, OR
"Songs of Clay" Lane Community College, Eugene, OR
"The Tangible Transcendent" Baltimore, MD
Clay Art Center, Portchester, NY
University of Oregon AAA, Eugene, OR
Schnitzer Art Museum, Eugene, OR

Contributor of articles to NCECA Newsletter - 1975-1990
Article:"Should the University Administer a Craft Apprenticeship Program?" Apprenticeship in Craft, Daniel Clark Books, Goffstown, N.H. 1981 Pgs, 131-141
Article: "The Green Man" – Studio Potter Magazine, December 1990
Article: "Recovery" – Ceramic Monthly Magazine, October 1992
Article: "Caring for Emerging Meaning"Studio Potter Magazine, December 1994
Nothing is more useful to man than those arts which have no utility.

There is no art of which all the possibilities are capable of being imparted by a teacher.

A truly exploratory atmosphere, a real learning experience, must be substituted for the conventional teaching experience where non-existent principles of art are wrongly postulated as absolutes to student artists.

It is nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction
have not yet entirely strangled
the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to rack and ruin without fail.

Museums are just a lot of lies and the people who make art their business are mostly impostors.

Once the psyche finds out you've plugged in the telephone, it'll start calling you up, giving you the latest chapter of your life story. The whole point of working with your dreams/Art is to change our lives in a very real way. Otherwise, it is just an intellectual fantasy. The point of integrating these experiences is to do some healing and to expand awareness of who you are and your place in the world.
Edith Sullwold

Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.