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Michelle Erickson, Ceramics Resident: World Class Maker, July – September 2012.

Michelle Erickson, Ceramics Resident: World Class Maker, July – September 2012.

Michelle Erickson was Ceramics Resident: World Class Maker
July – September 2012.

Michelle Erickson is internationally recognized for her mastery of lost ceramic arts during the age of exploration and colonialism. Her contemporary work makes use of these arcane ceramic techniques to create historical narratives about political, social, and environmental issues – both past and present. Regardless of time frame, Erickson’s works are distinguished by insightful commentary on the universal character of the human spirit. Her highly sought creations are in the collections of major museums in America and England. Ms. Erickson lectures widely and her body of scholarship concerning the rediscovery of seventeenth and eighteenth century ceramics techniques has been documented in several volumes of the annual journal Ceramics In America along with other publications and videos.

During her artist in residence tenure, Ms. Erickson  composed three exciting videos about historical ceramics technology, produced by the V&A in conjunction with the Chipstone Foundation of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Michelle Erickson, Black & Blue Teapot, 2001. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London/Michelle Erickson

Michelle Erickson, Black & Blue Teapot, 2001© Victoria & Albert Museum, London/Michelle Erickson

My inspiration

My career-long fascination with ceramic history during the period of Western exploration, expansion, and dominion began with exposure to archeological ceramics in the ‘colonial triangle’ of Virginia. Sherds of British, European, Asian, and native American pottery unearthed in early colonial excavations represent a remarkable global convergence of cultures embodied in clay.

Endeavoring to rediscover the techniques once used by these potters during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries has spurred years of experimentation. In the course of this technological investigation, I also develop an awareness of the broader historical contexts surrounding these potting traditions.

My approach has always challenged traditional explanations and conceptions about pre-industrial ceramics and the methods used to create them. I have sought to find the original language of the artifact itself to make a tangible connection to the present. Physically recreating these lost processes reinforces the irreplaceable significance of the hand even in the technological landscape of the twenty-first century.

Research interests at the V&A

The underlying thought behind my artist residence was a working concept that I called ‘Potters Field’. This concept emphasizes the life cycles of form and function as they related to fashion and design – the backbones of world ceramic history – a body of knowledge that is also the history of us.

Clay is used in virtually all cultures in every conceivable manner from fulfilling our basic needs to demonstrating our highest aspiration – it is a truly democratic material. This unique inheritance of the ceramic medium in the twenty-first century records our most ancient past, and is simultaneously indispensable to technological advancements of space travel, weapons manufacture, ballistic armor and what is yet to be conceived by the human mind.

The opportunity to practice my art in the midst of 5000 years of clay traditions represented in the V&A’s collections was akin to getting the keys to the world’s ceramic candystore. I hoped that access to masterworks by artists such as Lucca Della Robbia, Bernard Palissy and John Dwight would lead me to hidden technological secrets used by the legendary elites of ceramic art.

I conducted all my work within the Museum’s making room as an ongoing exhibition, curating the studio gallery cases as my discovery and experimentation process evolved. In addition to using ceramics from the collection, I sought supporting resources such as documents, prints, natural history objects, and other artifacts that I typically reference in my private practice. This approach offered the public observer a glimpse into the curiosity that drives my artistic process.

Video: Michelle Erickson and London's indigenous clay

Video: How Was it Made? An Agate Teapot by Michelle Erickson

Video: How was it made? A Puzzle Jug by Michelle Erickson

Michelle Erickson in museum collections

The Chipstone Foundation
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Museum of Art & Design, NY
Seattle Art Museum
The Reeves Center Washington & Lee University
Virginia Museum of Fine Art
Carnegie Museum of Art
Yale University Gallery
Long Beach Museum of Art
Peabody Essex Museum
Potteries Museums Stoke on Trent
New York Historical Society
The Mint Museum - Craft + Design
Sonny and Gloria Kamm Collection
Pamela K. and William A. Royall Collection


Read about the Residency on Michelle's blog


Supported by the American Friends of the V&A through the generosity of the Chipstone Foundation, the Dudley and Constance Godfrey Foundation, Inc., James D. and Pamela J. Penny; and Kathy O. and F. G. Summitt, Williamsburg, VA.

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