Please visit my new site:
The featured image above shows (from left to right) Sheryl Leigh-Davault, Ian Hall, and Dexter Woods in front of the Reitz Ranch studio.
First of all, I have rewritten my whole website (see the message and link above). This was an intensive three-day job and I am still tweaking it. Please visit the new site – this site will probably go away.
I have been doing ceramic work for eight years now with an intense dedication that arises from a deep love and respect for the medium. My curiosity has been the impetus for an intense exploration of the diversity and expressiveness of the ceramic medium. My artistic exploration continues with joining the Reitz Ranch (see below)
I grew up in New York City (Manhattan in particular) and everything you could imagine was easily accessible by public transportation. I now live in a rural area of Arizona. The Sedona “population” (people who consider Sedona their home) hovers at slightly over 10,000. The number of people in Sedona at any given time is at least twice that. As a popular tourist destination and as a result of its extraordinary natural beauty Sedona has developed a cosmopolitan air. Within a half hour’s drive, there are various communities of similar size or smaller. An hour drive will get you to Flagstaff (population over 100,000), and a two-hour drive in the other direction will get you to Phoenix. My point is that there are fewer opportunities for ceramic exploration in my area than there are in larger cities.
Much of my time in ceramics has been spent studying at various small community colleges and other small educational facilities. This gave me access to well-equipped studios. In addition to a fascination with, various different firing techniques, I developed a love for cone 10 reduction firing which would not be possible at my tiny home studio. As a result, I travel to other studios to do much of my work.
These studios provide close contact with many members of the local ceramic community as well as education, reduction firing and a good supply of materials. However, with one notable exception, the teachers focus their attention on new learners. Colleges being under strict Federal and state supervision seem very regulated and controlled. In general, the ceramic artwork in these environments seems somewhat homogenous – driven by emulation and teacher guidance. I have never felt comfortable working “within the box”. I am the “rebel” explorer.
Don Reitz was one of the eminent ceramic artists and teachers of the last 100 years. He pioneered a style that radically changed the course of modern ceramic art. He spent the last 16 years of his life developing Reitz Ranch in Clarkdale, Arizona. He built a number of wood-fired kilns and people from all over the country come to the ranch to be able to fire their work in them. Don envisioned the ranch as a place to incorporate his insatiable energy to both create his art and to extend his teaching. The ranch is permeated with Don’s energy and by a vision that although incomplete remains much alive.
Reitz Ranch is remote and in need of a lot of TLC. In the past, a five-plus mile drive down a rough dirt road provided a challenge when visiting the ranch. Just in the last year, the road has been paved although the last quarter mile of road to the ranch is a reminder of the past.
Sheryl Leigh-Davault had started a ceramic studio in Phoenix but she was inspired by a larger vision. She and her husband, Ted Davault, purchased the Reitz Ranch with the idea of restoring its vigor and creative vision as well as honoring the legacy of Don Reitz.
After Don’s passing in 2014, the ranch sat idle for a few years – this inattention made a big undertaking even bigger. On top of this, the ran had been developed in a somewhat haphazard manner. The Davaults were (and are) faced with the daunting task of restoring the ranch as well as bringing their creative energy to that which was started by one of the great masters and pioneers of modern ceramics. Additionally, the remoteness of the ranch provides its own challenges.
Sheryl not only brings creative vision but seemingly boundless energy to the ranch. She is our studio “mother”. Her nurturing and vision make the challenge of creating a successful ceramic center seem possible. This is a huge undertaking. She has been assisted by many people from all over. Dexter Woods worked with Sheryl in Phoenix and brings his cheerful and focused energy to this undertaking. He recently completed his BFA in ceramics and brings this energy as well as a readily available smile to help run the studio. His dedication supports him in commuting from Phoenix – I am sure this commute is a burden for him and his wife. A number of artists who assisted Don Reitz at the ranch during his life have become part of this endeavor. Sheryl pointed out my omission of “Squeek”, her corgi, who along with a variety of other dogs provide barks and tail wagging.
The ranch is attracting a variety of artists who are looking to use the studio space and the fabulous kilns that Don Reitz built. Some of these artists are new to ceramics, some have decades of experience, and of course, there is everything in between. Classes and individualized instruction at an affordable price have started and the number of people purchasing studio usage is steadily increasing. I drive about 45 minutes each way to get to the ranch. One of our members drives 90 minutes each way to use the studio. Wood firings will bring artists from all over the country.
The atmosphere is relaxed (a welcome relief from the controlling environment of the college studios). A surprising variety of styles and interests are represented by the studio members. Studio members bring a high level of dedication and a diversity of skills. Each member brings their own distinct style and interests. We inspire each other while pursuing our own directions. I would call this a very healthy environment for artistic development!
Part of the ranch’s vision is to have workshops offered by eminent and highly skilled ceramic artists. A three-day workshop by John Britt was recently offered. Two more workshops are coming up. They feature well-known and highly accomplished artists.
Working in the atmosphere of the legacy of Don Reitz is an incredible opportunity. The ranch is in the process of establishing its direction and is in a strong growth mode. If you live in the area and desire to be involved in ceramic art, the ranch should be very high on your list (whatever your skill level).
Sheryl gifted me a pottery wheel head that was attached to a rusty wheel sitting in a horse pasture. With the help of a friend and with a lot of pounding I was able to remove the head. A machine shop was able to modify the head to fit my 50+-year-old motorized Randall kick wheel. Parts are no longer available for this wheel and I am pleased to finally have this project complete! In addition, I get to work on a wheel head baptized by Don Reitz.
Visit the ranch online.
What I Have Been Doing
The local open studio tour this past spring was a success with good sales and traffic.
My experience has been that college ceramic classes typically do a massive end of the semester push to get everything fired. Glaze test tiles are fired at the end of the semester and thus are of no assistance. The fact that we fire on a regular basis at the ranch is highly conducive to learning the glazes and exploring glaze combinations. I have been doing exactly this and find it exciting.
I have also been exploring surface decoration through the use of thick slip, stains, and underglazes. Free from the constraints of the college environment, I have been giving my imagination free rein.
Please enjoy the photo gallery below which shows a sampling of my latest work. Click on any image for a full view – now you can use the arrow keys to navigate through the gallery. These pieces were all reduction fired to cone 10.Gallery not found.