Artist Joyce Michaud has been making ceramic art for more than 40 years - ever since she was a student at Lycoming College in the early '70s, when the campus "art building" wasn't really what you'd expect.
"Art classes were held in the old house at the corner of Washington and [College Place]," Michaud said. "The gallery was in what had been the living room, the printmaking studios were in the bedrooms on the second floor [and] drawing and painting studios were in the attic."
Michaud's focus, at the time, was in painting and printmaking, but she was introduced to ceramics at Lyco - in class with Max Ameigh - and eventually went to graduate school for ceramic arts at George Washington University.
Michaud shapes clay into many different forms, including classical vases, bowls, stoneware platters and pinch pots, which are long-necked bottles formed by pinching porcelain clay. She said that she doesn't use any glazes for the pinch pots and that in order to achieve the colors she wants, she fires them in wood-fired kilns.
"Pinch pots are set in the kiln either upright or on a shell covered tripod stand to allow the ash to flow about the pot," Michaud said. "The shell allows the pot to release from the tripod and leaves a beautiful shell fossil on the surface of the fired pot. The colors are a gift of the flame."
Her process for the platters is a bit different.
"[The platters are] thrown and trimmed stoneware brushed with porcelain slip, while the slip is still very wet, finger swipes through the slip to expose layers of the clay," she said.
Michaud likes working with porcelain clay despite the problems that may arise.
"Porcelain is one of the most difficult clays to work with, but for all of the loss, the mastery of creating with porcelain results in the most beautiful forms and surfaces," she said. "The subtle nuances give the detail that takes the work to the highest level."
"Nuances" is a key word here and one that the artist likes so much she has decided to use it as a title for her upcoming exhibit in Snowden Gallery at Lycoming College.
" 'Nuances' speaks to the subtle changes in form, color and texture in each surface, each piece and each series," she said. "The form is thrown and changed by the heat and velocity of the flame at the height of the final firing. The ash of the wood fire and the glaze of the soda fire is carried by the flame and deposited on the surfaces of the forms. No two are ever the same even if fired side by side. Each firing has it own voice, tells its own story."
The show will open today with a reception from 4 to 5:30 p.m. at the college and will feature one piece in particular that Michaud is excited about.
"There is a tiny lustrous blue pinch pot gem made out of Royal Copenhagen porcelain during my residency at the Guldagergaard International Ceramic Research Center in Skaelskor, Denmark," she said. "The precious Danish clay, and the unique Danish hard woods with which it was fired and the incredible kiln built by Scottish potter Robert Sanderson, all came together to create this precious jewel. A selection of the Danish work is shown in the images advertising the exhibition."
Michaud teaches at Hood College in Frederick, Md., which she said is a school and a city very similar to Lyco and Williamsport.
"I moved to Frederick to find housing for myself and four children in a price range I could afford," Michaud said. "The very day I signed a contract to buy my first home in Frederick, I received an evening call from the chair of the art department at Hood College asking me to come in for an interview. I was hired to build a ceramic arts program at this small university similar to Lycoming, Hood College. I felt I had arrived home."
When Michaud was hired at the college, it only offered one class in ceramics a year, but since then, the program has grown immensely.
"We now have an undergraduate concentration in clay, a graduate certificate and an MFA in ceramic arts," Michaud said. "Hood has been a school that offered the potential to build a thriving program if you are willing to put in the work."
At the moment, Michaud is working on a new series of bowls "with wide-carved rims and textured stoneware bases."
"I am building a small gas fired reduction kiln and a soda kiln that can also be fired with wood," she said. "The new larger soda kiln will fire my new larger porcelain vessels."
She said that people should come out to her show at Lyco "to see a great show! And hopefully to be inspired to move forward a step at a time with their own creative process."
Five of Michaud's pinch pot pieces are in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum's Renwick Gallery.
For more information about Joyce Michaud, visit www.joycemichaudgallery.com.