When I heard that Naysan McIlhargey would have an exhibit this month at one of my favorite art venues, I decided it was time for a visit. His show at the Yellow Springs Brewery March 2-27 is called “The Botany of Beer.”
Naysan’s Miami Valley Pottery is located on the edge of Yellow Springs.
I entered the red door and found Naysan hard at work.
“As you can see, I’m producing handmade goods in high volume.”
“Why don’t you take a look around and then we can walk out and look at my wood kiln. As you look at my finished pieces you will see what firing in a wood kiln does to the finished work. The glazes are an earthy color and you can see rusty red and deep golden flashing formed by the ash particulates flying around the kiln.”
Before seeing the kiln I watched Naysan work on one final bowl.
“Being a potter, there are skills you have to learn by doing, and you have to learn them from someone who has done it before. Even now, as I’m working on a problem with my work, I heard the voices of my mentors.
“When I went to Earlham College, Professor Mike Thiedeman was an important mentor. He taught us not only technique but also the history of ceramics which has always included a focus on functionality.”
We walked outside to look at Naysan’s large wood fired kiln.
“After graduating from Earlham College, I apprenticed with Todd Piker at Cornwall Bridge Pottery in Connecticut. Todd himself had apprenticed with the world-renowned English potter Michael Cardew, who had revived the art of English slipware.”
“One of the things Todd taught me was that I would never be able to operate a successful pottery without the support of a community of people who believed in what I was doing. That’s why I returned to my hometown, Yellow Springs.”
“I fire this kiln about twice a year. There is room inside for between 1,000 and 4,000 pots. After the kiln is loaded, which takes me 2 weeks, my son and I add some wood and preheat the oven for a few days. Then as many as 30 people help me with the firing process over a weekend. They periodically add wood through these rectangular openings.”
I asked Naysan about the collaborations he had done with several local artists.
“You must go into the house and see the beautiful mural that Jennifer Rosengarten has painted. I made the tiles and made a wooden platform to hold them in position. Then Jennifer painted one of her amazing garden scenes. When the work was fired all kinds of things happened to Jennifer’s work. You can see areas where iron came to the surface, you can see the effects of salt and of ash in the kiln. I love the end result.”
This photo is just a small section of the mural, which is ten feet in length.
When we returned to the shop I asked Naysan about his upcoming show at the Yellow Springs Brewery.
“For the show – The Botany of Beer – I drew the ingredients of beer on the plates and platters that will be on display. These plates show hops. This is the first time I have used encapsulated stains, and I’m pleased with the results. These stains can handle the kiln temperatures (2400 F) without losing their vibrant colors, and they are non-toxic.”
As Naysan returned to work, I took one last photo before packing up my gear.