Gary Jackson: Fire When Ready Pottery
A Chicago potter’s somewhat slanted view of clay & play
Categories: terra cotta, totem pole

My friend Claire works with a great group at a local Montessori School. Her students decided to build a totem pole for their auction project. Claire saw one of the totem poles my Summer Camp kids made a few years back… so she’s been using my blog as a reference for her totem pole project. I can’t wait to see the final results by the students at the Montessori School of Lake Forest, Adolescent Program. Their slab-built sections look great so far… even better when they’re glazed, fired and stacked!!!

Slab-built terra cotta sections… rolled into a hollow cylinder with a slab base. Each section will eventually be stacked into the finished totem pole.

To see more about my own totem pole adventures, click on the “totem pole” category in the column to the right.

Categories: garden, My Talented Friends, totem pole

With such a beautiful garden… it always seemed like the perfect place for one of my soda-fired totem poles. It has been neatly tucked into their garden for a few years now. I love seeing it every time I go down for a visit. Quite the honor to be “featured” in their award-winning garden!!!

As you go down the terraces, and turn a few corners, the path begins to reveal the totem pole.

Perched on the side of the slope, surrounded by ferns & hosts.

Categories: garden, totem pole

It may be freezing here in Chicago, but it’s never to soon
to start dreaming about Spring, gardens and totem poles!!!

Categories: art fair, family, totem pole

Last weekend at my Holiday Home Show, my cousin’s wife Anna brought their three kids all the way down from Minneapolis for a weekend visit, and a trip to my place! My cousin Kim came along with the Minnesota Foursome for some quality family time. Anna has been “threatening” to come for many years… and finally made it in to the city while her husband (my cousin Michael) was out-of-town for business. Thanks Anna for sharing your photos!

Bundled up outside my place like good Minnesotans… Christopher, Mitchell & Caroline.

Upstairs with cousin Kim…

They also loved my back porch and playing in my back courtyard area.
Not quite so pretty once all of the plants die-back for the Winter, huh?!

Which includes a “tilting” totem pole that needs to be straightened in the Spring…
and my Capt. America PEZ Dispenser sculpture that will be looking for a new home soon.

Categories: seasons, totem pole

After my weekend in southern Indiana, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the ivy in my back courtyard has started to change colors. But not a subtle gradation of colors. Instead, a smattering of deep red leaves mixed amongst the greens. A great backdrop for one of my handmade totem poles!

Categories: garden, nature, totem pole

When I got back from my morning ride, the sun was just starting to hit the garden. So I took a short breather to enjoy the Spring flowers popping up… as well as my stamped totem pole!

Categories: totem pole

My friends Pam & Pat are once again vacationing in Hawaii, as they do every year,
and went to the Hui No’eau Visual Arts Center. While they were there, they found
a wonderful totem pole on the grounds. Pam posted the photos – and I love them!!!

It reminds me of the totem poles my Summer Camps kids have made over the past
couple years! It looks like they’ve created their totem pole section-by-section as we do!
I especially love the face on the second one from the top… as well as the “handle”
sticking out the side for apparently no reason!!! Too cute…  thanks Pam!!!

Categories: inspiration, totem pole

By now you may have seen some of the totem poles my Summer Campers have made.
I’ve posted pictures here on the blog, and have received some great compliments.
Thank you all so much. But my latest excitement is seeing that my camp project has
inspired another teacher to do the same with her kids… way over on the “other side
of the Pond.” It’s pretty darn cool to see that my totem poles, and my little blog have
made it all the way to London AND inspired another group of kids to make their own
totem pole! Here’s an excerpt from the e-mail I received from Abby, the teacher.

Hello Gary,
We spoke a while back and you gave me a lot of good advice on how to go about
constructing a ceramic totem pole with my students in the UK. We finished the project
in July and I just back to the States a couple of weeks ago. 

They really enjoyed the project and when we dug the hole to put in the pipe we found
clay and got to experience where clay comes from first hand. It was a blast! I have
attached the finished product. The clay is outdoor clay and we painted it with themes
dealing with cultural exchange and environmental sustainability as a way of promoting
a healthier Earth in all respects. The clay also has recycled material on the surface and
is filled with gravel like you suggested. It was the hit of of our school. The school’s name
is Charters and it is in Sunningdale, England about 30 minutes outside of London.
Thank you for all of your help! I promised you pictures so they are attached. I look
forward to doing a similar project with my home school in Missouri.


Categories: totem pole

So people have asked… “Why totem poles?”
I don’t really know why. But I do know I like making them! I like the idea
of sharing my art on a larger scale – outside in the world for everyone to enjoy.

My first set of totem poles were made as a triptych installation piece
for the garden in front of my condo. I was working on turning the entire
parkway into a perennial garden… and what better way to spruce it up
than some artwork?! So I made three soda-fired totem poles and installed
them in the garden… such as it was with such small, fledgling plants.


The totem poles survived for several years – which was of course one of my
major concerns. How long would they last? Would they survive the “elements”
who walk the city streets? And they did… for awhile. About five years.
Then for some reason, a rash of vandalism began… with the totems being
bent over occasionally. Never smashed or stolen… just bent over?!  Luckily,
the steel pole that runs up the center of the stack kept them together & intact…
and I could just bend them back up. However, after a few times, the ceramic base
segments began to pinch, crack & shatter, as did a few of the lower side pieces.
So I glued… I taped… I became embarrassed by the state they were in.
I decided to move the remaining pieces to “safer” ground.

So one of them went into our condo courtyard-backyard!
Not quite the same with a totem pole in a pot?! But enough plants surrounding…
and no one can even see the pot!!!


Another one of the totem poles went to my friend Rosene & Gerry in Peoria.
They are in fact my very first art fair friends. They were the ones across the aisle
at my very first art fair where I had NO IDEA of what I was doing. They were
very supportive, helpful & encouraging… and we’ve been friends ever since.
They have since”retired” from the art fair circuit… and have taken up “full-time”
gardening in their incredible tiered garden down by Peoria. They now do plant
sales every year… and have been very generous with their plants. Giving me
a LOT of the plants that have filled out my gardening efforts!!! So I get plants…
and they get a totem pole!


The next project was a new totem pole for a group gallery show I was doing.
It was my first glazed totem pole… and my first show using cone 6 glazes!
The look turned out great… but after the show, it needed a home?!
So it ended up with a great home in my parent’s garden!!!


Next, I did a collaborative gallery show at Lillstreet Art Center. It was called
“Collective Conversations in Clay” where we had to collaborate and “trade”
pieces with your partner to finish in our own styles. So I had to finish Emily’s
dinnerware set… and she had to finish one of my totem poles! This green totem
found it’s home in my front yard garden… it’s a little thicker… a little sturdier…
and a little less “out in the open” for the passing ne’er-do-wells. The shorter,
“soda-fired-Emily Murphy-finished” totem pole has traveled up to her new place
in Minnesota… waiting to find it’s “home” up there as she sets up her new studio.


The latest “totem” in the series?… you guessed it, my kid’s Summer Camp project.
They loved making it… they loved installing it… they loved showing it off to their
parents & friends. They loved leaving an artistic “legacy” of their time at Lillstreet.
It was great fun for all of us – and quite an endeavor for myself and my assistant
Brian to tackle with the kids during my last week at Summer Camp!

So where will the next totem pole show up?… who knows?
But I think I can promise that there will indeed be one… somewhere… sometime…

Categories: lillstreet, summer camp, textures, totem pole

Again, I’m referring to the afternoon class of this week as “Part Two…”
and as my final camp for the summer – we had to go out with a bang!!

So Brian, my favorite camp assistant, and I decided to take on a rather large project…
no small projects here… we’re stepping it up and the kids are excited too!
We gave them the choice of normal clay projects… or one large collaborative piece
that would be on display at Lillstreet Art Center for years to come! They quickly chose
the collaborative piece. So we started production… of a terra cotta, textured totem pole!

So on Monday, all of the kids made their own cylinder segment for the totem.
Each of them threw their slabs (in impresssive 28″ long for the circumference of each
segment) and then pressed in their textures & patterns. Each slab was then turned
into a cylinder and attached to another slab base. Brian made a base and I made
the topper – to fulfill & finish off our class’ collaborative effort.


On Tuesday, our campers painted their sections with underglaze and clear glaze!
One step closer to our final “collaboration”…



I loaded our pieces into the kiln on Tuesday night… a little sooner than ideal.
As some of the pieces were still a little “damp”… we had a few kiln “issues.”
Especially Brian’s base that totally self-imploded!!! So who needs a base any way?!


Since the other pieces “survived” the firing, we still had plenty to work with.
But before then, we filled our week with other projects such as abstract painting
and some “tramp art” mosaics with bottle caps & glass beads!

When Friday rolled around, it was time to assemble the totem pole.
Our original plan was to assemble it outside in the garden corner of Lillstreet.
But with some of our “structural” flaws, the rainy day, the muddy ground…
and our desire to keep the totem pole intact longer than the first group of
ne’er-do-wells who decide to ruin it. So we anchored a central post in a large
flower pot filled with gravel and cement. Each cylinder was them placed over
the post and filled with gravel to “secure” it and keep it from shifting on the pole.
Piece by piece… segment by segment… the totem got taller & taller & taller.


By the end of the day, we had a complete totem pole – as well as a groovy cool
“billboard” banner that helped hype the event!!! And the kids were thrilled…



And I was thrilled that it all came together. Glad the the kids were please.
Glad that they were all excited to be leaving a little bit of their legacy behind at Lillstreet.
It was great to hear their giggles… and to see the look of awe as they totem grew taller!
And I was exicited that it all came together… and that the totem pole is still standing!!!