Posted on

A Conversation with Horacio Casillas

CG: What can you tell us about your early years that informs your work today? 

HC: I was raised in Mexico and raised Catholic. Growing up in a country where 95% of the population is Catholic, it’s not only a personal faith journey but a communal one. I grew up surrounded by beautiful churches on almost every block but the memories I have aren’t just about the church buildings, but the events associated with those churches. In La Parroquia de San Jose, my grandpa along with my dad and his brothers would help with the procession of the Eucharist on the feast of Corpus Christi, the whole neighborhood would gather to sing songs and pray as we walked around the block. In El Santuario del Señor we celebrate in April the feast of El Señor de la Misericordia, hundreds of people make a 76 km pilgrimage by foot to this church and thousands more come from all over to celebrate the feast in various ways. Essentially the whole town turns into one big party that lasts several days. The influence the Catholic church has had on me hasn’t just been a spiritual one but a cultural one, and those experiences drive my work. 

CG: How did you get into ceramics? Could you articulate what it is about clay that drew you in?

HC: I didn’t have a declared major when I first entered college so for a couple of years, I just took basics and random classes that seemed interesting including art classes. I got into ceramics because it was just the next class on the list, but it was pretty much love at first touch. I hadn’t encountered a material that was as versatile as clay, a material that could bend to my will. Of course, it often felt like clay wanted to bend to its own will but the challenge to conceive what was in my mind’s eye was attractive along with its use for functional pottery. 

CG: You are currently pursuing two (seemingly different) bodies of work. What insights can you give us into both of these series? 

HC: The first series was the work I developed in graduate school after I was told my work was too generic (which I agreed with). After throwing so many different variations of forms and altering them and pulling hundreds of handles, at some point during the evolution I felt proud of what I was making. And even though evolution never stops I’m happy to continue making this series that I now think of as my corporal body of work. This work is typically wood or soda fired and references the body and the beauty of imperfection. 

My current series is a spiritual body of work which references the soul or spirit. This work is more visibly religious, and although I consider my corpus series to also be spiritual, it is not as obvious. I’ll talk a little more about my spiritus series in the next question.

CG: In a previous conversation you described the impact of watching Notre Dame burn. How did that loss impact your current work?

HC: My goal has always been to glorify God with the work I make. While I do appreciate subtlety, I wanted to represent my faith more than just conceptually.  I couldn’t help but remember a comment from my undergrad sculpture professor “religious art doesn’t sell, don’t make it”. But when I noticed the visceral reaction many had when Notre-Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris) burned, something clicked and I had a deep urge to make cathedral inspired work. It was inspiring to see people from different faith backgrounds from all over the world be affected by something that hit so close to home for me as a Catholic. Whether it was the recognition of the community that was being affected by this loss or recognizing the loss of art and architecture- society was affected on a higher level. Many people gravitate towards the ornate, the detailed, the decorative- and though I consider myself to be somewhat of a minimalist there is something to be said about the beauty of ornamentation. 

Posted on

Juan Barroso: Immigrant Narratives

My work is about Mexican labor and the plight, struggle, hope, and heritage of Mexican immigrants. With political administrations that continue to enforce policies that dehumanize and force immigrants into the shadows, recognizing an immigrant’s humanity is vital. As the son of immigrant parents, I hope to pay homage to my people and the dignity of their labor. This exhibition, Immigrant Narratives, focuses on the stories of undocumented immigrants along the US-Mexico border.

 I see the water jug as a symbol of the dangerous journey across the desert. I grew up hearing stories of family friends that died in the desert before making it to the US. The water jug form was also my response to a video of an ICE officer dumping out water jugs that had been left behind by a humanitarian group. The water bottles had been left behind to prevent deaths from dehydration, and to see this man essentially condemning people to death with a smile on his face showed me what can happen when human beings are separated by an “us” and “them” mentality. 

The water jug form references the journey, and the hand-painted images on them depict some of the consequences undocumented immigrants face when the search for a better life is unsuccessful. The image of a child’s hand behind a chain link fence references the harsh living conditions for undocumented children in detention facilities at the border, including dehydration and more than 4000 allegations of sexual abuse in the last 5 years. This image is painful to paint, but I hope that when people see it, it can spark much needed conversations on human dignity. 

Juan Barroso. 2021.

I have included a limited series of iron decal mugs with images of the ICE officer that was recorded dumping out water, a caged child, and a monarch butterfly. These images were turned into decals from photographs of two large-scale graphite drawings I drew during a short-term residency at Companion Gallery. Because of its migration between the US and Mexico, I see the monarch butterfly as a symbol for the immigrant. The inclusion of the concertina razor wire reminds me of the photographs I saw of a mother and her child severely cut from the wire in an attempt to cross the border wall. In those images I saw an example of the price people are willing to pay for a chance at the American dream and a chance to provide a decent meal for their families. I made this series in an attempt to have both a more affordable tier of work and more pieces with these images out in the world. If I had hand-painted these images on each mug, the price would be higher than $350 just to get above minimum wage and this show would have taken all year to complete. Using a hand-drawn reference, different colors, and different image placement felt like a great way to still make unique pieces with a significant message. 

Before my parents became legal residents, I spent my childhood in Mexico waiting for my mother to get her green card. She sewed clothes, repaired clothes, washed clothes, and sold clothes so my sister and I could eat. We would ride around on bicycles to collect small payments because the people of San Miguel Octopan, Gunajuato could not afford to pay full price. The pitcher forms I have in this show are made from molds of detergent bottles. It was a way to honor my mother and everything she did for my family. The happier images on these pitchers have become a way for me to cope with the political work that takes an emotional toll over time. 

For the hand-painted images I use a small watercolor brush and paint my images with Amaco’s black underglaze on functional vessels. I use a pointillism technique because the process is time-consuming and labor intensive. The process, with time invested, becomes an act of devotion. 

After the imagery is painted on bisqueware, I bisque again to set the image and avoid smearing the underglaze. I protect the images with liquid latex and airbrush a clear glaze on the rest of the piece. I make the work permanent and functional by firing to cone 10 in an electric kiln.  – Juan Barroso

Posted on

A Conversation with Ashlyn Pope

How did you get into clay? 

In college is where I first got into clay. I signed up for a Ceramics I class because Sculpture I was full. My first piece fell apart and I fell in love with the challenge of mastering a material that gave push back. It still pushes back and I am still trying to master it. 

Nearly all of your vessels include an addition of sweetgrass elements. Why is this important to you and how has it evolved since you began? 

The sweetgrass elements are included on my works because they are apart of my Gullah Ancestry. I am a descendant of people with a long, rich history of being artisans. One of the arts that they are known for are Sweetgrass baskets. I bring the elements of these baskets into my own vessels to represent the idea of our ancestry and culture being the foundation of what makes us who we are today. Using these elements are also important to me because as a descendant of these amazing people, my family line in particular, lost the history and knowledge of making these baskets on the way to assimilation. As designs and the ways of making these baskets are handed down through families, I have been unable to learn the practice of my people. I still hope to find someone within our culture who is willing to teach me, but for now, I use a permanent material to reclaim my culture so that it can never be taken or lost to me again. 

The sweetgrass inspired forms I am make have evolved quite a bit. Originally, they were forms strictly focused on recalling the idea of baskets. Now, my pieces use elements of sweetgrass basket forms and work harder to incorporate content that extends beyond Gullah culture and into addressing broader experiences of the African American community. 

Observing the last few series of work that you have made, it seems that you approach imagery through many different techniques i.e. carving, painting, mishima and slip trailing. Your patterns, lines and imagery begin to feel like quilting. Could you speak to the significance of your imagery and references to quilting?

I use imagery mostly of cotton but sometimes there are images of rice plants, indigo plants, tobacco plants and even sometimes magnolias. These are all crops important to the foundation of American history and the reason for slavery. I use images of cotton, rice and indigo in particular because the Gullah people were brought to the islands off of the coast of the Southeastern United States and to the low country of South Carolina in order to harvest these particular items. I use magnolia’s because they are my favorite flower and a way for me to pay homage to Billy Holiday and her song Strange Fruit. The use of plants as decorations on ceramics is my acknowledgement of ceramic history. However, it is also simply because plant imagery on pots is beautiful and the audience gets to see something beautiful. Though, if the audience chooses to pay more attention, they will understand the full weight of the history behind those flowering buds and what it means for those white lines (usually slip trailed in white) to be drawn across Black bodies. 

My work does reference quilting as it was a tradition I did receive from my elders. My grandmother showed me how to quilt and I proceeded to take the visual aesthetics with me along the ceramics road that I chose to travel. Quilting is also important as quilts and quilt making is a large American tradition. Within the Black community they became ways to tell stories that could be passed down from generation to generation. I think of my ceramics as a way to tell stories. I also have a degree in Fashion design, so fabric and pattern really mean quite a bit in my practice. I no longer wish to make clothing but instead call to my history with fabric for my ceramics. 

In your most recent series of cups, the majority hold evidence of having been bound and constricted. The same forms also offer an abundance of volume. Could you talk about your treatment of the vessel as a figure/body and what it feels like to make these pots?

Clay, to me, even in its most unrefined form represents humanity. I grew up in church and though I am not much of a practitioner now, I remember being told that God shaped man from clay. To me, my vessels have no other choice but to be the human body. So, when I am discussing the Black experience in America as being bound and restricted, I physically have to bind and restrict my forms. 

I would like to say my actions in physically binding and then unbinding is therapeutic but if I allow myself to think beyond the physical actions needed to do this, then it becomes an emotional burden. Seeing my brown clay bound by my hands can be emotionally taxing. I feel some relief when I remove its binds but I find sorrow in the scars I left behind. The only solace I have in the entire process, is seeing that the pieces are still standing tall despite having been forced to fit into constraints. We as Black bodies manage to survive within those constraints.  

If you could make a mix tape to reflect the vibe of your studio practice, what would be the first 10 songs?

Strange Fruit- Billy Holiday 

A Change Is Gonna Come- Sam Cooke

They Don’t Care About Us- Michael Jackson 

The Lord is Coming- H.E.R ft YBN Cordae

What’s Goin On- Marvin Gaye 

Django Jane- Janelle Monae 

Freedom – Beyonce ft Kendrick Lamar 

Human- Rag’n’Bone Man

Tightrope- Janelle Monae

Let it Be- The Beatles 

Check out Ashlyn Pope’s bio, artist statement and available works HERE.

Posted on

A Conversation with Rebecca Zweibel

CG: How were you introduced to clay and what about it drew you in?

RZ: I was first introduced to clay via a community college course that I took after my two children were in school. As so many others have said before, it was initially the feel of the clay that drew me in and then the realization that clay could be almost anything; not only as form, but as a blank slate upon which  limitless marks can be made.

CG: Could you talk about your decision making while applying color and developing compositions?

RZ: Questions about my decision making of design and composition are difficult ones for me. Maybe I’m easily bored, but I am constantly in search of ideas for new forms and color combinations. I have a large number of jars of colored terra sigillata combined with slip made up in my studio, which I frequently add to or subtract from, although I have a few shades which I always find useful. The availability of a lot of colors is important to me and seems to free something up and open my mind. I open the jars and think over what appeals at the moment and then often add a discordant note or two so things don’t get too sweet. Different days equal different colors and configurations, and the reason for the choice is obscure. Thinking too much causes me to feel stiff and awkward in my strokes and the shapes I make not pleasing to me. I do some underpainting and texture before adding larger, more sharply defined blocks and lines of color. Additional smaller shapes and sgraffito marks are applied at the end. Texture and layering are crucial design elements for my work, adding depth and underlying intensity.

CG: After studying these vessels I’m intrigued by your use of ‘almost images’. I see a ladder… or a DNA strand. I see a submarine… or a bath toy, a mitten, a queen’s crown, a motorcylce, a cactus…  almost. Describe where your thoughts are while creating imagery. 

RZ: Your mention of ‘almost images’ is interesting to me. People often talk to me about what they see in my imagery. It’s amazing how many various things they see—one man was sure I had made a map of Paris.  When I’m doing the sgraffito part of the surface decoration I try to detach myself from my thoughts as much as I can and just let my hand go where it will. I consciously tell myself to not think and force myself not to stop even if I’m not sure what I want to do next. It doesn’t work perfectly, but its the only way I’ve found to free up my brain/hand connection. My belief is that I’m revealing experiences and yearnings derived from a not-ideal childhood. It feels right to me when my lines encircle or attach to each other and I’m not sure why. 

CG: I can imagine these vessels unfolded and the compositions existing successfully on a canvas. Why is the vessel important to you? 

RZ:  I’m always searching new and ancient artworks for fresh ideas on vessels.  A sense of enclosure and containment are what is appealing to me. Working the surface in 3 dimensions presents a host of problems, not least of which is handling a leather hard pot deftly enough to be able to cover the inside and bottom without damage to the vessel. Developing a cohesive composition around all sides of a pot can be daunting, but I try to combat this by not ending my surface decorations at the edges or ends or bottoms of the pot, so that one can pick the vessel up and turn it any way and still understand the design elements. I’ve recently been considering a detour into experimenting with my designs on a 2D canvas, but my feeling is that I will always continue my exploration of the 3D surface.

Posted on

Free AMACO Equipment & Materials Workshop

Amaco/Brent, Companion Gallery, & East Mitchell Clay will be offering a free equipment & materials workshop July 13th & 14th. The workshop is free and open to educators & students.

Sharon Gardner, Quality Technician & Educational Outreach at Amaco/Brent, will lead participants through the maintenance of any model Brent wheel or  Excel kiln. We will have several models of Brent wheels on site, all in varying states of disrepair. Sharon will lead the group in repairing the wheels/ belts/ brushes/ foot pedals, etc.  Gardener will also lead the group through the process of changing kiln elements, checking relays, replacing thermocouples, kiln-sitters etc. Our hope is that participants will be able to employ the skills they learn in their own schools or studios.

In the afternoon sessions, visiting artists will demonstrate a variety of handbuilding, throwing, and underglaze techniques. Demonstrating artists include, Stephen Creech, Ashley Bevington, Mike Cinelli, Sharon Gardner & Eric Botbyl.

The workshop will take place on Saturday & Sunday, July 13th & 14th from 10am to 6pm both days.

Registration is limited. To register, email Eric at We look forward to working with you!

Posted on


A word from Chris…
My name is Chris Gray, and thank you for your interest in my work. This body of  work is the culmination of years of making functional pottery out of stoneware and porcelain, and even more years of cooking. I love both, and loved that they worked together… but eventually that wasn’t enough. That’s when it occurred to me that flameware clay could be the answer to my problem. So I researched a good bit, made some clay, and started testing. And testing. And testing. Luckily, many have come before me that have done the majority of that research and I could focus on using it, and testing the limits.
Flameware is a high fired, heat and fire proof body that can withstand vast temperature changes. It has a wonderful ability to handle thermal shock. So after testing many pieces myself, and giving some to trusted friends who cook, I started to get busy designing and making cooking and heating pots. Flameware is very similar to cast iron in its heat retention, and non-stick properties. In fact, I season mine just like I do my cast iron pans. I find the pans I make to be even more non-stick than many cast iron pans after being used many times. It can go from the refrigerator to the stove top. I tend to heat the pan up with the stove top burner just to be safe and thorough. I also use these very often over a wood or charcoal fire with no problems. You should never use flameware if it has been cracked in some way. And this is ceramic, so dropping it will shatter it. On my larger frying pans I make handles like a cooking pan would have. I do not use the handle for flipping food, but for moving and positioning the pan over the fire.
    I have had no issues with washing these in warm soapy water, and losing the non-stick properties. Many use salt and warm water to scrub it clean. That works well too.
    I hope you enjoy using these as much as I do, and if treated well, these will last a very long time.
    Thank you and keep cooking.
Posted on

Valentine’s Day Show: Preview

Only 10 Days til Valentine’s Day! Flowers and chocolates, right?

Imagine those flowers in a hand carved porcelain vase by Kelsey Nagy…or a single stem in one of Bill Wilkey’s Wildflower Vases. Imagine those chocolates in a handmade bowl or one of Rothshanks’s coffee cups.

We are excited to announce our 5th Annual (Pre)Valentine’s Day Show. On view will be functional and decorative pottery by 10 nationally recognized ceramic artists. There will be scores of handmade coffee mugs, tumblers, teapots, serving bowls, vases, baskets, pitchers, bakers, and platters available. Love someone? Give them pots.

Friday February 6th: 11am-7pm

Saturday February 7th: 11am-6pm

The Companion Gallery is located at 3638 East Mitchell St, Humboldt, TN (behind the Crown Winery)