Stephen Mickey is a clay artist who plays with fire and describes himself as one of the “crap shooters of ceramics” (read on to find out why). For ten years he was the lead instructor of ceramics at Mt. Hood Community College, then transitioned to be a full time studio potter in Brush Prairie, WA in 2012. We are pleased to show his and Yuki Nyhan’s work at KOBO Gallery (at Higo).
Briefly, how would you describe yourself and your work?
I’m a dad and grandpa, a husband, a studio potter, a gardener, and I love to walk and do yoga.
The pots I make are intended to be for daily use. I have been attracted to wood fired pots since my introduction to clay. Working with porcelain and fruit wood as fuel, my Soulgama kiln has given me a vocabulary of expression that is truly satisfying. Although the forms appear simple, the 100 hour firings and the fly ash sweeping through the kiln like a river of flame create a complex, one-of-a-kind surface that I find very appealing.
Your passion for ceramics came as a surprise. What’s your back story?
I was a pre-med student at the University of Minnesota and took an art class as an elective. I thought, “How hard can making pots be? I’ll try it.” Bam! First class, we went out to an old clay pit, built pots, dug kilns into the clay banks, then fired our first attempts with wood. Wow, pretty cool! The next week I saw my instructor David Stannard make a bowl and I said to myself “That’s it. That’s how I want to spend my life,” and I never looked back. It was like a religious experience.
You are known for pottery made in your anagama wood-fired kiln. Tell us what is distinct about this process and how it affects your work.
As a potter that uses wood as a fuel I must accept the fact that each firing is unique and that the possibity of repeating results is difficult at best. I often refer to us [artists who use wood instead of electricity, gas or propane to power their kilns] as the “crap shooters of ceramics” – I mean why would we try so hard to do the impossible. We love the gamble and the serendipity of the event.
Prolonged high temperatures [over 2300 degrees Fahrenheit!] help melt the fruit wood ash that accumulates in the kiln and create startling flashing effects [color changes]. There is a front side (facing the firebox) and a lee side (side away from the fire box) where the piece is kissed by the flame.
How do you and Yuki Nyhan know each other?
Yuki (above) and I became friends many years ago when I was leading the ceramics program at the Evanston Art Center. She was a super talented potter and found her way into her current work. We maintained our friendship when I moved to the west with my wife Golda and we love to have her come out and wood fire with us as well. She is a special person and a kind and gentle soul.