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Michael Flaherty

Clay / Breaux Bridge, LA / Master Craftsman

Artist Statement

Glaze chemistry, clay and tools are purchased from Alligator Clay Co. in Baton Rouge. Prior to that, supplies & materials were purchased from Southern Pottery Equipment Co., Baton Rouge, Standard Ceramic Supply Co., Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and the Ceramic Store, Houston, Texas.
My works are influenced by classical & ancient Etruscan, Greek and Persian pottery. Seeing the Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Aida in the Roman Forum (sometime between 1961 and 1962), with live horse-drawn chariots charging downstage, made quite an impression on me as did the Roman Form itself. The Moorish architecture of southern Spain in the Alhambra-Granada region also influences my work. I lived in Madrid, and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain as an adolescent, and thanks to my parents traveled throughout Spain and parts of Italy, Switzerland, Denmark and England, taking photographs along the entire way with a Kodak Brownie box camera.
Most of my work now is wheel thrown, trimmed, footed and embellished with detailed ornamental handle-work that adds a decorative element to the actual and/or suggested functionality of the vessel shape. I currently use stoneware clays ranging in color from dark brown to white; bisque fired to Cone 04 and finished with custom studio formulated lead-free glazes, fired to 2,195 degrees Fahrenheit (Cone 6), in an oxidation atmosphere in a seven cubic foot kiln. I use no less than three glazes on a piece, meticulously building up color & glaze depth with many layers of various glazes. The transition from one color, texture or pattern to the next and from the top of the piece to the bottom, from the body to the handle, to the lid, is very important to me. To broaden my color pallet, I regularly experiment with new glaze formulations and combinations.
I photograph my own work, using a black back-drop, several 90 watt halogen and 300 watt incandescent photo lamps, and a Canon PowerShot SX110 IS 9.0 megapixel digital camera set on a tripod, manually setting the white balance, then using the smallest aperture and long exposures, to maximize depth of field. It’s a basic setup which works alright (except for the reflections on the pieces), until I can afford to upgrade to better equipment. Before the “digital era”, I used a Nikon FM with a Nikkor 50mm 1:1.4 lens or a Nikon AF N8008 with a Nikkor 28-80mm lens, both which provided excellent slides using Kodak EliteChrome 160 Tungsten film.

Biography

I started handling clay in Tom Ladousa’s pottery and sculpture classes while an Architecture student at what was in 1972 the University of Southwestern Louisiana. I took every class available in both sculpture and pottery. At the time Tom was doing ten foot tall latex rubber caterpillars made on clay armatures. Then, most all of my work was hand-built; the wheel was intriguing but difficult to master, Tom favored experimental large scale hand-built work & I enjoyed doing that too. We bisque fired (barely), in an old burnout kiln for lost wax plaster molds and glaze fired in electric kilns, initially, then resurrected the old “kiln shack” kilns (about one hundred yards from the classroom so we carried work back and forth by hand), which had an old natural gas updraft tunnel kiln and gas downdraft kiln, both in very bad condition. The downdraft kiln had a sunken floor with much of the outer steel jacket rusted away and the updraft kiln a roof caving in and frayed door-lift cables. Tom let me loose to fire as needed, so I did a lot of late night firings in both kilns, always with exciting results. Reduction was a tricky procedure as partially closing the dampers was the technique used to reduce, risking the burners going out all of a sudden, a real adventure! About a year after the Student Union opened in 1971, I got a student worker job as a leisure learning pottery teacher so had to learn wheel throwing, which by virtue of inventing descriptive explanations of the various techniques, and with the patience of the students, I did. Anticipating that I would eventually have my own studio, and needing a good wheel to teach with, in March of 1975 I purchased a 1.5 hp direct drive Max unit from Kickwheel Pottery Supply, Inc. From that point on, I was hooked! I stopped teaching in 2008 to build and start working in my new studio.