Kirk Mayhew - Workshop Manager

Mayhew has ten years of teaching experience in ceramics and holds an MFA from the University of Cincinnati (2000) and a BA from Coe College (1997).

His technical expertise is broad, including management and installation of ceramic public art projects, class instruction in handbuilding, wheel throwing, low to high fire claybody and glaze preparation, kiln loading and firing for both electric and natural gas equipment. His non-clay form building skills include carpentry, welding, moldmaking and foundry casting.

His most recent art instruction positions include Foundations teaching at the Art Academy of Cincinnati (2002 - present); Visual studies in 2D and 3D design at Northern Kentucky University (2000 - present); Coordinator of the Ceramics program at the University of Cincinnati (2001 - 2002) which required him to maintain all the responsibilities foa tenured professor for undergraduate and graduate level courses.

He has participated in artist group activities ranging from service as a representative of graduate students at UC to fulfilment of support positions for the National Council for the Education of Ceramic Arts. He has been exhibiting his own work regionally since 1998 and frequently collaborates with other artists for gallery instsallations.

Aside from his commitment to teaching and creation of his own studio work, he is interested in the discovery of other cultures and has travelled to Asia (China and Japan in 1999), Europe (Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg in 1995 and 1989) and Iceland (1989).

Anguished, he twiddled his thumbs

ArtSpike Magazine

Kirk Mayhew's Technical Notes - Synopsis of Preparation for Operation of an International Workshop

A group of international artists to collaborate for five weeks upon a highly technical ceramics public art project ...

Imagine seven master ceramic artists from three different continents with very little English knowledge, an experimental format with an extremely short deadline.

Expect physical stress and occasional diplomatic strain

Regardless of the extent of technical preparations, with such a gathering of so many points of view, it was sure that things were bound to change, many times over, sometimes in one day.

The importance of flexibility, the necessity and firmness

Making a foundation for something to be built.

Preparing a comfortable working studio with knowledgeable, polite and generous staff

The necessity of preparatory materials and eager helping hands, establishing an understanding of the project goals, problem solving through written plans, diagrams, speaking, sketching, demonstrating.

The importance of rapid bonding of minds of Cincinnati artists and seven strong culturally varied artists

Establishing and demonstrating trust, mutual respect - Circle of Clay exercise

Early on, instead of confusion and fear, humor and listening

Feed them lunch, dinner, stay together, celebrate often

Unification of separate mindsets, separate working styles, and separate imagery

Willingness to work together in a unified manner towards a common goal still allowing for invention

The importance of asking questions, listening and waiting for clarity.

Working together to understand needs and wishes.

Putting out fires - Never panic, just listen, repeat and think. Ask for more time when necessary. Be patient, expect patience.
(The anticipated barriers came down quickly.)

Without their continued willingness, this amazing intellectual and technical cooperation could have been impossible.

Clay Color and Fire Technical Report

Limits set by:

Continuous tests and a number of technical books that I returned to again and again. Use of the facilities and information that Roy Cartwright has made available to the UC ceramics department. Truly immeasurable support - thanks to this arsenal of information.

Regardless of the extent of technical preparations, with such a gathering of so many points of view, I could be sure that things were going to change. This made the day to day energized with promise and possibilities.

I would have liked to do more color tests prior to the artists arrivals.

The artists shared things that I did not know, which made it possible for me to meet their needs.

Anticipating certain conditions:

visiting clay professional, limited language skills, unknown level of experience in making tiles and mosaics, no knowledge of the Western way to do these things.

Enabling the artist to make their conceptual design, melding the art director's vision and systems with the artists ideas and wishes

With a smile I politely facilitated

It is as if I have been training for this my whole life, my materials, my studio work, long hours, politeness and respect.

Balancing the feeling of pushing the other vs. being pushed (being at the wheel or along for the ride) leading or following/chasing the project. Trying to stay one step ahead, trying to catch up.

Drawings-it soon became clear that these were detailed brainstorms. The Cincinnati staff's predictions were not always dead on. The importance of asking questions, listening and waiting for clarity. Working together to understand needs and wishes. .

Materials clay slip oxides/mason stains
Three types commercially bagged clay standard and Columbus Clay Company local houses (and only pleasure working with in the past)
So we would not have to worry about mixing, preparation, and proper aging
(one of the discussions that I would have like to have had with Marjorie)

Standard # 112 Brown with speckle
Standard # 153 Cream stoneware
Columbus # 124 Speckle Tan clay

All mason stains 10% of slip
Rhodes basic slip damp formula ^6-11
EPK Kaolin 25
Ball Clay OM 4 25
Custer Feldspar 20
Flint Silica 20
Zircopax 5
Borax 5

Basic palette with in-house oxides and mason stains additions when requested by the artists were only an order away. I know that I over ordered all of those materials concerned that once it was used by one of the artists that all might want to use that same material for a part of their piece.

(The materials listed as 2-5/100 should read as percentage such as 2-5% of slip recipe)

Cobalt Carbonate 2-5/100
Yellow iron Oxide! 4/100
Copper carb 3/100
Rutile 6/100

All the most basic proportions have come from textbooks that have always been part of a ceramics studio - Rhodes, Peterson, Zakin

Fast, safe drying of the tiles
One of the systems from Chicago worked rather well for most of the healthy sturdy tiles. If it had been up to me, the parts would have stayed longer in their plastic wrapping perhaps using the newspaper tenting when the tiles had dried to their inflexibility

The relative thinness(1/8") of Eva's tiles warranted stricter attention for covering during the uncovered duties of carving and numbering. There was some warpage during drying and many tiles had to be snapped in half to be glued into position.

All oxidation gas vs electric - repeatable accuracy
Very Slow and careful.
Surprised by Philippe's habits of going into the kiln leather hard and coming out fine. Only a few sentences were
exchanged between Philippe and I about firing and in loading the kiln. He was more concerned about shelf placement than I was which caused us to have to unload an almost 3/4 loaded kiln. But the shelves have remained flat for both of our diligences.

I have to thank Ikuhiko for being very patient with my well-wishing slow procedures.
Our discussions of ramping temperatures astounded me. He pops his kilns at temperatures that sent shivers up my spine. Naturally well made pottery work can withstand much more abuse than sculptural forms and those constructed by beginners. I am a most paranoid firer… although I seem to have been confused by lack of sleep what I saw in the peep hole during Eva's second set of tiles. The cones great, the ramp pretty damn close to on schedule - great ! the reduction!???? What part of milky had I
forgotten to pay attention to? At the end of the firing the ease that had settled in between my ears was a little unsettling… On track, I thought, but it's going too easy, isn't it? Nah, I thought, you're just getting the handle of it all.

Studio space, special situations, easels, shelving -

To make something that we had not expected was not a complete shocker. It was to our benefit that for the first week we had plenty of translators to get around first technical.concerns Thank goodness for Jan, Benedicte, Beth, Betty, Sasha, Miki!

Fact finding and technical meetings and their outcome -

We spelled out what we thought was possible and most beneficial, and then the artists asked questions.

There was never a outcry against our suggestions only occasional quiet personal rebellion, where sometimes they did it their way despite our plan. Most of the time they asked my permission and wondered if what they were thinking was feasibile - Many times theirs was the way to go.

I only balked when there was an absolute limit involved.

Sometimes I would need to direct assistants who wanted to change plans.

Application/handling -

The way the clay was applied was completely natural to me but with some elements of foreign confidence, perhaps just master-level knowledge. The ability to watch the concentration upon each artist's face was a pleasure. However a luxury that I did not take often.since there was so much to do. I would rather have been caught working than watching!

Once it was established that we were attempting to leave the clay alone as much as possible, the use of the slab roller with boards multiple layers of canvas and proper measuring became the norm of usage the apprentices and assistants helped enormously, helping each artist prepare and assemble all of their sheets of clay. For all of the precautions the clay was definitely handled in a much rougher manner than we had anticipated. Some wedging and grogging by Philippe, Steven and He, and lots of attaching to surfaces for high relief…I prefer to be more cautious, but many of the artists carried their slabs just in their hands without any support from boards.

The one person I regret having not watched was Vladimir. From my position in the workshop his easel was always facing away from me.

Tools -
Most folks brought what they needed and found or invented what we could not buy at the ceramic supply shop. A massing of tools at the start helped a great deal - the most clunky items: rulers, rolling pins, spray bottle

Planning for the grout joints and spacing through natural shrinkage of clays -
Accounting for shrinkage we made a number of calculations. As a tech team we did not have time or space to make a full size mock up.. Did not anticipate/could not predict the handling/ change in the material for each of the seven artists to make all predictions.

Wanted to match the matte natural aesthetic of existing pavilion building materials colors. Did not have time prior to the artists' arrivals to experiment with greater firing range to account for variables.

Slip/clay on clay would be a better finish than glaze on clay, due to the outdoor installation and risk of spawling. But it was not possible to predict the outcome of 7 different kinds of handling, not to mention the participation of a dozen-plus assistants!

What might have happened differently:

  1. I would have gone beyond using the 'standard' amounts of oxides or mason stains. Pursuing even more specific percentages could have uniformed the palette even more precisely, but more importantly created a unique array of colors for this particular project. Perhaps I would have assigned each artist a test/ practice fun piece that would have been fired early on in order to directly connect their handling of these materials to what they are used to in their own studios. Steve and Ikuhiko were the only ones not to do tests…
  2. It's hard to say how East and West cultures differ in working habits. I believe that since we use the same materials an understanding exists. As far as these individuals go I made the following generalized observations - Did any of our visiting artists research how current commercial tiles installation is done? How does this process differ in their homeland?
  3. My whole job description - Just make sure things are done to the best of your ability. To be willing to assist the artists while they were here. Be the right hand man of Jan and each international visitor. The Super Apprentice "I will do what you need happily because I know that it is getting you closer to your goal - on time and with quality in form and handling. I hoped to infuse some easing vibes which would keep the others relaxed. ["Sure, no problem" would be a catchphrase. When everything else can be a struggle, the working relationship should be the opposite: easygoing yet firm, appreciative and supportive.. I held fast to this directive even when putting on a happy face became hard work. Nothing gets done as well if there is stress or disagreement surrounding an activity. A similar concern is applied even if anticipation of the stress or agitation/disagreement is possible. (How do feel when you imagine a wide big dark thundercloud at the horizon as you pack your picnic lunch?) Start out nice (first impression) keep being nice and end it nicely. How do you want to live, what do you want to remember of those weeks?
  4. CCF started out as an assignment to the interested artists. An assignment has criteria, and timelines. The criteria could be easily divided into two categories Aesthetic; where the architect Jim Fearing, CPB, Jan set the visual rules and Tech; where Kirk assisted and, Suzanne and Roy suggested certain directives. I knew that Jan and I could see the project as a whole, but it became necessary to communicate this vision thoroughly to all those involved. Once the participants had a chance to understand the strengths of the group and the time involved, we began at full throttle. A daily routine fell into place, where everyone understood that it was up to all of us for this project to succeed. We were all in the grip of time and The Project became master. You could feel it in the studio, especially towards the end, Progress had to be made and the schedule and seemingly few hours in the day reigned supreme.
  5. Individual color drawings, preferred type of clay - Studio setup Apprentice and assistant training Introducing each person and their accomplishments- who's who Personal design methodology - redrawn and rethought Steve, Phillipe, - copied from forethought Eva ,Vladimir, Ikuhiko, He, Marjorie- overall form predrawn,on the spot finishing Work space and Process - A variation of thought for use of materials Firing (thank goodness for Gerald's perceptive scheduling for the last week-and- a- half of crunch time!) Rearranging,and assembling on mesh Gluing of tiles onto mesh Labeling and cutting to crate for transport Repetition of above steps for Cincinnati Hearth design
  6. According to the color drawings and design descriptions, the types of clay and slip seemed straightforward and easy to share among the artists. 58 slip tests gave enough range for most of the 7 artists to use in their own designs. Most of these variations were used by Marjorie to fill in her spectrum of color gradation. From the drawings and color preferences, it seemed clear that the artists wanted to start with a neutral material. Naturally it was important that we still provide some options. Once presented with three types of clay - Cream, Brown (Speckle), and Speckle Tan clay, the clay with the most personality Speckle Tan clay became quite popular.
  7. Eva, Philippe,,and He - Speckle Tan clay great surprise Vlad, Steven, Ikuhiko - Brown (speckle) little surprise Marjorie - Cream no surprise Actual fulfillment of what we expected to see from design drawings: He - less use of color, generally monochromatic, relying on relief carving and light changes to view the pattern. Steve - clay technique and colors superior to his design drawing Ikuhiko and Eva - very similar to their design drawings Philippe, Marjorie- better clay and color results than show on the drawings Vladimir - exactly what we'd expected. It is surprising that Philippe and He wanted to add grog to their chosen clay. Philippe and He both did a number of tests and experiments which gave more assurance of how the clays, slip and added materials would behave. Philippe worked quickly and steadily to move those samples along, where Professor He worked more slowly through his experimental pieces For the Cincinnati hearth design, the public used clays fired to cone 4 to match the block colors of the pavilion wall: Buff Standard Terra Cotta
  8. Only Marjorie needed an abundance of slip choices. Most of the other artists just chose from the created samples. Even in my estimations I thought that we would have used up quite a bit of the special ordered oxides and mason stains, but we made only a small dent in what we ordered.
  9. These ceramic artists and authors continue to be of great help to me in dealing with ceramic troubleshooting and throughout CCF: Daniel Rhodes Robin Hopper "Clay and Glazes for the Potter." Susan Peterson "The Craft and Art of Clay." Richard Zakin "Mastering the Craft."
  10. I was impressed and in awe of the strict regiment that we were told about the Chicago Millennium Project. Allowing the least movement of the slabs off the horizontal, well orchestrated use of plastic newspaper and cotton and the final grooving and rotation of the constructed tiles. For these one-time-only works I would have proceeded even more slowly if this method had not been so well documented and personally explained.
  11. Ikuhiko's weekly work schedule at his production studio in Japan is definitely based on a well-trodden path. Making and moving those larger ornate pots through the kilns at rather quick speeds, these small pieces of clay would probably be considered very controllable user friendly. The trick might be in the even thickness, faster drying but not too thin to curl. Even admit their large puzzle structure, within his mural, Ikuhiko's average unit size were probably smaller than pieces of scrap that fall off his wheelhead during a good throwing session.
  12. There was probably much more going on in Eva's tiles than their smallness would predict. Their 1" width allowed for better wrapping around the smaller interior columns, however the tiles that changed drastically in thickness (1/8" - 1/4") and the extra length of her tiles (1'" x 3", passing our double square limit) pushed the no-warp safety envelope. Extra shrinkage occurred in only one direction (the width) making it harder to match them up after the drying and firing. Nevertheless, a majority of these tiles survived gracefully. I believe if extra care had been taken during the numbering process, keeping any tiles that were not being carved or written upon completely covered with plastic, this could have been minimized. By the time they were finally turned over, due to their thinness, they had already dried significantly, and the curling 'damage' had already been done. Unfortunately, we realized that this was happening in the middle of later half of the. I should expressed my concern with her handling, emphasizing how the thinness should be protected. I guess I thought she had it under control, forgetting that her primary medium has been glass. Interestingly enough most of the problems happened with the negative "NO" tiles and happily less concerns with the affirming "YES" tiles… coincidence?
  13. It is important to place kiln posts (furniture) directly on top of one another to direct pressure vertically and not horizontally. While loading his work, Philippe was careful enough to place an extra post in the center of the split that the half hexagon shaped shelves make when loaded at the same level. (The hexagon matches the interior shape of the kiln body.) An excellent decision to support the higher up shelves, which after a number of cone six firings -if left unsupported- could start to slump. However, I understood his stacking method almost at the end of the loading. I had neglected to place a post underneath the very bottom shelves. Instead of just pulling out the shelves, I explained my concern and apologized to Philippe for the extra work which had to be done. To both of our chagrins it took longer to understand each other than to reload the kiln! For that sort of diligence all through the firings the studio shelves have remained flat… also with a number of rotations and re-kiln washing (Thank you, Corbin!)

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