James C. Watkins | Ritual Display
James C. Watkins

born 1951
Resides in Lubbock, Texas
Email: j.watkins@ttu.edu

Biography    Statement    Ask the Artist    How To    Tour
James Watkins was recently a Resident Scholar at the Japan Center for Michigan Universities, in Hikone, Japan, and for the Shigaraki Institute of Ceramic Studies. His work is featured in the travelling exhibition "Uncommon Beauty In Common Objects, The Legacy of African American Craft Art."

Watkins earned his MFA from Indiana University in 1977, with a concentration in Ceramics and Drawing. At present, he's on the faculty of Texas Tech in Lubbock.


In my current forms, I am consciously trying to make a mass of voluminous, voluptuous clay appear to exist effortlessly in space. I am using animal and architectonic forms with a subtle suggestion of movement. I want the forms to conjure up a primal instinct for ritual display - ceremonial posturing.

I use bird and snake imagery to create an interplay between technique and ritual symbolism. I am affected by the search for an equilibrium between material and texture, between color and form-- many times using materials gathered directly from the desert and canyons to color the landscapes of my pots made of memories.

I am concerned with creating intervals. A one, two, three rhythm moving from left to right. These intervals are created through visual texture, tactile texture and layering. Throughout the work, there are undertones of decisions based on whimsy or a play on memories of events that are important only to me. It is not important that this be recognized or understood by the viewer. What is important to me is to create forms that radiate strength, stability and sensuality. I want my vessels to appear both masculine and feminine, voluminous and voluptuous.

The double-walled forms create an inner space, an unseen contained space, a contained container. The walls become analogous to skin - a clay skin asking to be touched.

Ask the Artist

Where do you get the ideas for your work?

My ideas come from intense observation of nature - from recalling personal experiences, and from dreams.

Do you work alone on your craft, or with others?

I work alone on my craft.

Do you ever teach, or take on apprentices?

I teach at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, and I give workshops around the country.

What's the most exciting part of creating your works?

The most exciting part of creating my work is opening up the kiln and looking at the finished work -- anticipating new discoveries.

What's the most difficult part of creating your works?

I find all parts of my work exciting and equally challenging.

What sort of technology do you use in your work? Has the technology of your craft changed dramatically over the past 100 years?

A potter's wheel, electric kiln, and gas kiln. The technology has not changed dramatically over the past 100 years.

Do you have any advice for somebody just starting out?

Learn everything you can about your craft (technology, technique, and history.) Work very hard so that you'll be ready when opportunities appear.

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?

Every effort is valuable, even failures provide you with valuable information.

What are we missing by experiencing your work through the Internet and not seeing/hearing/feeling/smelling/touching it in person?

My work contains a great deal of tactile texture. The walls of my work become analogous to skin - a clay skin asking to be touched.

How To

VIDEO (2.7 MB) . . . it adds an element of surprise . . .

VIDEO (2.1 MB) . . . the fire will do something unexpected . . .

Kate Vogel Cheryl Williams