Gary Jackson: Fire When Ready Pottery
A Chicago potter’s somewhat slanted view of clay & play
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!!!