Susy Siegele and Michael Haley have been working with colored clay since 1976 when they became interested in developing colored clay bodies while they were ceramics students of J. Brough Miller at Texas Women's University. Michael did his Master's of Fine Arts thesis using colored clay in the raku technique at about the same time Susy began experimenting with a series of colored porcelain bodies for high-fired work. They soon began marketing laminated colored porcelain dinnerware, which continues to be the mainstay of their business.
Besides giving workshops for other potters, Susy and Michael volunteer their time to do clay, papermaking, and drawing classes for the local elementary schools and Headstart program. Their pieces are in the collections of all the Russian cosmonauts who have orbited the Earth.
Nearly all of their work is slab constructed although they spent a couple of years doing wheel-thrown wood-fired pieces in the late 1970's while Michael was employed at a living history museum in Dallas recreating late 19th century salt glazed utilitarian ware. They are still under the influence of woodfiring, although it is now used only during the later stages of the firing process (from 1600 degrees through 2400 degrees) to take advantage of the flashing and consistent temperature and reduction that wood affords.
Although they have experimented with ceramic stains, the colorants they consistently use are raw oxides which are pugged into the clay body. Currently they are mixing about thirty shades of porcelain containing various amounts of red and yellow iron, cobalt, chrome, and granular ilmenite. These clays are stacked, sliced, extruded, or otherwise manipulated as they are constructed into loaves that weigh up to two hundred pounds, which are then sliced into thin slabs from which dinnerware is made.
Ask the Artist
Where do you get the ideas for your work?
- Our ideas come from a number of diverse sources such as the rock art of the Desert Southwest, tropical fish in the Caribbean, the graphic works of M.C. Escher, aboriginal dream paintings from Australia, critters we have encountered here and there, and from the things we experience in our daily life here in the Ozark mountains.
Do you work alone on your craft, or with others?
- Although we worked along or with one assistant for ten or twelve years, we currently have four assistants who help with out line of one-of-a-kind dinnerware.
Do you ever teach, or take on apprentices?
- We do not take apprentices, but we give workshops to other studio potters and pottery students.
What's the most exciting part of creating your works?
- Ours is such a slow process that "excitement" is generally not the adjective we use to describe it. "Fulfilling" might be a better choice. Designing new work is often fulfilling, and currently we are in the middle of a new series of teapots that are pushing the envelope of what is possible using the "Neriage" process.
What's the most difficult part of creating your works?
What sort of technology do you use in your work? Has the technology of your craft changed dramatically over the past 100 years?
- The hardest part is making yourself go back to work after a disastrous kiln firing. (Yes, Virginia, even after twenty years experience the kiln can humble you.)
Do you have any advice for somebody just starting out?
- We are pretty low-tech; our wood-and-gas burning kiln and almost all of out tools are homemade. The most high-tech part is the computer system we use to keep all our records straight. The work we are doing today could have been done with the technology available a hundred years ago (or a thousand years ago, for that matter.)
Can you share a "secret of the trade" with us--something nobody else knows or that you found out only after years of experience? Put another way--what do you wish somebody had told you when you were just starting out that might have saved you hours of wasted effort?
- Learn as much as you can about different techniques while you are in school.
Tools and equipment are expensive, so learn as much about then and how to use then on someone else's time; that way when you have to buy your own, you'll know a little more about what you really need.
Live humbly; keep your expenses low and be willing to work hard for virtually nothing until you master your craft.
Keep a sketchbook.
Have a good partner.
Be really lucky.
What are we missing by experiencing your work through the Internet and not seeing/hearing/feeling/smelling/touching it in person?
- The best secret I ever found out is to enjoy the puzzle of life as it is happening to you. To paraphrase the novelist John Barth, "the key to the puzzle is the puzzle itself."
- The information sheet we give with each piece we sell says that our work is made to be used. Each piece is a 3-dimensional object with a design inside and outside, and out porcelain clay body has a look and feel that can't be experienced fully in any way other than by handling it. These are things that the computer simply can't convey.