Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mark Hewitt Deconstructs Tradition

Collection of Marsha Courchane and Peter Zorn

“Regional pottery traditions are very rare. They are a little like wildflowers that only grow in certain soils and climates.” ~ Mark Hewitt

Born in Stoke-on-Trent, England in 1955, Mark Hewitt grew up in a ceramics tradition, his father and grandfather both being managers for Spode, makers of fine bone china. After studies at Bristol University, a friend gave Hewitt a copy of Bernard Leach’s A Potter’s Book (1940). Leach’s Ethical Pot philosophy, which emphasized a Japanese tradition of simplicity and function, inspired Hewitt to move away from the heavily decorated industrial ceramics of his youth to the simple, utilitarian forms of folk pottery. He received an apprenticeship to Michael Cardew, an English studio potter and student of Leach, who incorporated West African traditions and emphasized the use of local materials.

In 1983, Mark Hewitt moved to North Carolina, “mainly,” he says, “because of the clay and the wood.” It was here that he met Burlon Craig, a Catawba Valley folk potter. Working with a groundhog kiln and local clays, Craig produced stoneware forms with alkaline (wood ash) glazes. Another tradition was added to Mark Hewitt’s repertoire.

Collection of Carol and Mark Hewitt

Using both traditional and abstracted forms, Mark Hewitt creates stoneware vessels ranging from the functional mug to planters and grave markers of gargantuan size. Working mainly with local clays, he continues to fire his pots in traditional ways, working with both salt and alkaline glazes. For almost thirty years, Hewitt has been producing pottery in North Carolina that deconstructs the traditions of Europe, Asia, Africa and North Carolina, and creates a style uniquely his own. His Iced Tea Ceremony vessels show a playfulness in this adaptation, taking the tea ceremony of Japan and placing it firmly on the front porch of his Pittsboro, North Carolina home. In this exhibition, pots like Grandpa, Nunc Dimittis, and Pushing Up Daisy show another example of Hewitt’s adaptation of tradition, this time the nineteenth-century North Carolina tradition of affordable ceramic alternatives to carved headstones. The sheer scale of the markers is unique, and there are elements of style in each piece that Hewitt chooses at will from his knowledge of various traditions.

Nunc Dimittus
Collection of Marilyn Arthur

Pots are made out of clay

But the hollow space in them makes the essence of the pot

And the essence comes from an intangible something

In the spirit of the potter

Which he is able to blend

into all his knowledge of throwing, the glazing and the firing

So that every piece from his hand

is as much his own signature and his heartbeat

Only then will the pot be good, that is alive

And the more highly developed a potter is as a human being,

the better his pot

For there is no real beauty without character.

~ Lao Tzu

6th Century

Collection of Carol and Mark Hewitt
"Adapted from nineteenth-century North Carolina ceramic grave markers, my Markers are an homage to the quirky, abstract forms made by folk potters as inexpensive alternatives to carved headstones. Given license to express the void, these potters veered from their classical functional repertoire to produce objects of stark singularity. This series of Markers explores the formal and emotional complexity of these obscure and challenging objects, and while acknowledging the morbid, I offer them, rather, as affirmations of the pulse of life, and as vibrant reminders of the passage of time.” ~ Mark Hewitt

Mark Hewitt: Big-Hearted Pots opened at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art on January 13 with eighteen large vessels. Closes mid-April.