This award has been a great honor and has provided the means for me to take new steps in my work. I am so thankful for the generosity of all who helped to make it possible for me and other artists like myself to take new steps in our research. Thank you to NCC and to all of the artists and professionals that have made the Warren MacKenzie Advancement Award happen. It is a great opportunity and I hope that it continues into the future.
The first part of my research funded by this grant was to learn the RAM press process in order to understand its potential to studio potters like myself. RAM press technology has been a popular production technique in industry for quite some time now, but has not been widely used in studio pottery. This is due to the fact that the press itself is a large capital investment, but also that the mold and die-making process is particularly involved. The strength of this process is that one can have a high production with relatively little physical effort. Also, unlike the slip casting method, one is not limited greatly by the type of clay one can use and this is a big plus for me as I am interested in local clay. I wanted to gain access to a press and learn die-making techniques before I invested in one so that I knew first hand if it was something that I wanted to pursue. With the help of this award, I traveled to Roberts, Wisconsin, and spent time with Mark Pharis.
Mark Pharis was generous enough to let me stay at his home, feed me, and teach me the basics from his own studio over the course of about two weeks and asked for nothing in return. I am honored that he was so willing to share his knowledge with me, and I am humbled by his generosity and example as a mentor. Thank you Mark for making me feel so welcome in your home and sharing your knowledge.
We chose a mortar and pestle as our project. This form is relatively simple, however the curvature of the interior of the mortar and the grinding end of the pestle needs to be fairly particular for it to grind efficiently. To do this by hand is quite time consuming so I felt this would be a great form to RAM Press. Likewise, Mark had never attempted to press two objects in the same die so it was a learning experience for both of us, and it proved to be quite challenging. Below are some photos following the basic process.
Again the tubing system is formed and suspended inside the die and the plaster pouring sequence is then repeated
for the other side of the mold.
|While the first side of the mold went smoothly, the second half proved to be very challenging. The deep recess of the mortar broke off inside the original while being purged with compressed air and had to be removed with a chisel.|
|Finally we got the second half of the mold to come out and we were ready for the fun part.|
Compressed air is passed through the bottom mold and the press is opened with the object clinging to the top section of the mold. Air is then passed through the top mold and the object is released into your hand or onto a ware board.
Here is when the power of the RAM press shows. I pressed 75 mortar and pestles in about 2 hours total. To make this many by hand would have taken me at least two weeks, if not more.
This process is deeply involved for sure. It takes a great deal of equipment and a lot of patience, but it also has a huge amount of potential. After learning the basics I could begin to see what could be done with it. One can press objects out of very stiff clay having the objects come out of the mold basically ready for the kiln. In contrast, very wet clay could be used and the forms could be manipulated by hand after pressing. While you are limited to only pressing objects that can be made from two-part molds, objects could be pressed in sections and joined. For example, a closed bottle form could be made by joining two pressed halves of the object, or more basic forms could be utilized as elements for handbuilding.
I have had a few conversations with people who are confused by my interest in this process. To them it seems to not fit in with the wood-fired, local clay process that I developed. To me, I do not see a problem; instead, I see great potential. With the rest of my process being so physically taxing, having a way to make quality forms quickly might mean the difference with being able to maintain the local clay woodfire aspect of my work or not. Besides the production aspect, I think it creates some interesting questions for my work at a time when I am ready for them.
I am very excited about what I have learned so far and I am in the process of finding a used RAM press, while scheming plans to finance it. I think my personality fits the process well. I love the designing of form and problem solving, but don't always relish repetitive production in the studio. I feel a sense of relief that I could reduce some wear and tear on my body, and I am excited about where the process might lead me in the future. Thank you for your interest!