Community: Craft Exchanges from Haiti and United States
Donna Karan and the Design, Organization, Training Center, and Parsons School of Design invited Andrew Cornell Robinson to collaborate with Haitian artisans in the design of a new ceramic studio in Port-au-Prince.
After the successful launch of the studio, Andrew was approached by a Yoruba priest who commissioned him to use locally harvested clays from Haiti and the United States to create a water vessel for the deity Olokun. Inspired by this creative challenge, Andrew created multiple offering vessels, a selection of which were presented in the “Occupy Art Project #3 – Networks” at the French Consulate, in New York City.
Creating: Offering Vessels
The invitation to create a ritual water vessel to honor the god Olokun at the behest of a friend, a Yoruba priest, offered a profound opportunity to reflect upon the function of ritual, history, faith, connection, redemption, and the concept of àṣẹ, a philosophical concept through which the Yoruba of Nigeria conceive the power to create and produce change. Reflecting upon these ideas led me to Olive Senior’s poem, Olokun: God of the Deep Ocean. *
“Olokun: God of the Deep Ocean, by Olive Senior
In the waiting room beneath the sea lies the mythical Atlantis or the sacred Guinée
Who knows save Olokun master of the deep
guardian of profoundest
Shall we ask him?
Shall we ask him where the world tree is anchored?
Shall we ask him for the portal to the sun?
Shall we ask the tally of the bodies thrown down to him
on the crossing of the dread Middle Passage?
Shall we ask him for the secrets read in the bones
of the dead, the souls he has guided to his keep?
Will he reconnect the chains of ancestral linkages?
Send unfathomable answers from the deep?
Divine Olokun accept the tribute of your rivers
the waters of your seas give back wealth as you please
guard us from our innermost thoughts; keep us from too deep probing
but if we cannot contain ourselves and we plunge
descending like our ancestors that long passage
to knowing, from your realm can we ascend again
in other times in other bodies to the plenitude of being?”
As part of a creative research project and exhibition in New York, Andrew Cornell Robinson’s work was included in an exhibition/intervention along with a group of international artists and curators invited to occupy the Greek General Consulate and French General Consulate in New York City in which work was installed in situ for one month, along with several public events, and musical and theatrical performances.
The Design, Organization, Training Center (D.O.T) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, was created by Donna Karan, Urban Zen, Parsons School of Design, and Haitian artisan and businesswoman Paula Coles to support Haiti’s artisans with visiting international artists and designers and the creation of a thriving design lab where creative collaborators can work across multiple media from ceramic, wood, metal, and textile, to fiber, horn, and leather.
Andrew Cornell Robinson was a visiting artist and educator, who worked with D.O.T. to design and set up the ceramic studio on site, and lead ceramic materials workshops including uses of local clays, surface design, and food safe glazes. He worked with Haitian artisans as well as scholars in the Parsons Design Fellowship.
Several workshops in ceramic surface design and glaze preparation were offered to local artisans. Participants learned how to prepare slip and engobe materials using imported and native clay and natural materials. Explorations using found chemicals such as rusted metals (i.e. iron oxide), to produce colorants and discussions of local materials that can be used to produce surface colors in the kiln, including seaweed, seawater soaked and dried fabric, etc.
Traditional slip trailing techniques were also explored. Since many of the participants in this workshop were relatively new to ceramic as a material (there were several jewelry makers, a sculptor, a painter, a textile artist, et al.) we spent some time producing test tiles and created a series of beads.
In the afternoon we did a workshop on the use of plaster and alginate to produce various molds for casting, stamping and press molding clay. Additionally, we did a series of printing and slip transfer techniques including stenciling, block printing, and silk-screening colored clay onto clay surface slabs.
The second day participants learned about low fire earthenware glazes. The students mixed tin glazes and developed several colored over glazes using various oxides and stains. In the morning we explored different glazing techniques by glazing about a dozen bisque ware vessels and plates. In the afternoon we explored various production techniques on the pottery wheel including throwing fundamentals, as well as some “tricks of the trade” for production work including forming, warp and crack prevention, sgraffito and finishing.
A few years ago, I found myself on a very long flight from Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates returning home from a project. Tired of reading I put on my headphones and proceeded to watch Mad Men. In the scene pictured I noticed the ceramic coffee cups. Having been trained as a potter from an early age, and familiar with that type of ware, I was reminded of the first time I became curious about ceramics, and design, and how these seemingly common objects connect us to a larger world, and to human history. As a boy, I would sit with my family at the kitchen table and reach out to take a sip from a brightly colored ceramic cup that I’d drank from countless times. The bottom was an earthy red/brown and the body, the surface was glazed white and decorated in yellows, ocher and a floral pattern. There was an outline scratching through the white ground to reveal the clay body below. I found myself fascinated by this seemingly banal “every day” object that I’d never given much thought to before.
Turning over the cup, I discovered it had been made in Trenton, NJ. A place not too far from where I grew up; a town whose slogan had been “Trenton Makes and the World Takes.”
Stangl famous for a type of Faience dinnerware, was America's first open stock solid-color dinnerware manufacturer. Stangl went so far as to Patent their “invention”, in spite of it being based on a tin glaze method that according to scholars like Alan Caiger-Smith, is based on innovations by 9th century Persian potters who added tin oxide to their glazes to opacify them and then paint over-glaze decorations with cobalt, iron, and copper. For over one thousand years, this technique influenced ceramic glaze methods and styles in maiolica, faience and delftware from the Islamic world and Europe across the Atlantic to the Americas.
According to the late potter and scholar Alan Caiger-Smtih, “Traditions are like rivers. The main river can be mapped and measured. Tributaries feed it… it widens and is merged with the sea. Its source is often unknown. Has the idea of a beginning any meaning except as a theoretical point on a map? So it is with the tradition of tin-glaze ware: the main tradition is clear, but the beginnings are lost to history.
The earliest archeological examples can be traced back to the middle east, Mesopotamia, about the ninth century. Tin glaze potteries are thought to have existed at or near Bagdad and on the eastern bank of the Nile River south of modern Cairo, etc., but who can say there were not many others, perhaps more will be uncovered over time. That said, from the sixth century through to today we can trace a fascinating migration and evolution of ceramic techniques across the globe from China, India, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, the Mediterranean, Europe and the Americas.
As we trace this history we might ask some questions such as:
• How do materials, motifs, and ideas travel across the globe?
• What happens when they arrive at a destination?
• How does art from one culture change or inspire the art of another?
• By considering some of these questions, we can explore the kinds of art that may be made when cultures meet.
Changing attitudes and emerging social behaviors in food preparation and the social and cultural rituals of eating have lead to changes in the way tableware is made and used.
In this short course we will explore historical and contemporary forms of table ware design. Through lectures, class discussion, research and making through drawing, modeling and prototyping in clay we will consider new categories of tableware and new roles for familiar as well as sculptural pieces. If you’re wondering what are the most appropriate forms and designs to use in your work, you’ll gain a better understanding of what’s current and gain an appreciation of the challenges and opportunities makers confront in their creative practice.
Tuesdays July 07 through August 25, 2020. 11:00 AM-1:00 PM EST Level: Intermediate / Advanced Space is limited
In this workshop I will focus on paper templates, slab, coil, and pinched forms used to make everything from plates and bowls to mugs and handles. We will discuss shapes as well as approaches to design, ranging from the practical and ergonomic to the poetic, and playful.
For this workshop, you will need a computer with Zoom. Students are welcome to act upon the project prompts and try the techniques with me as we progress from week to week. I have found its best to use the class time on zoom to sit back and take notes. The sessions will be recorded and sent to students for future reference. I’m excited to invite you into my studio to share craft strategies and answer questions about the process of making. I will send an email with a Zoom link with details to registered students before the Tuesday workshops.
This series of workshops requires a few tools. This list of suggested tools is not required for the workshop but may help when you try it on your own.
Scoring tool (a fork will do)
Metal or rubber rib
Small container for water
A bat or board
Paper for templates (Tarpaper also known as “roofing felt” can be found at any hardware home center. Typical grades are 15 lb. and 30 lb. weight, which indicates the thickness. I like to use the sturdier 30 lb. grade for making templates for large forms.)
Utility Knife and/or Scissors
Cutting Surface (you can use a board or a self-healing cutting matt)