Willemite Ceramics is named after the mineral Willemite, one of a variety of minerals that can crystallise in molten ceramic glazes. This occurs while the kiln is cooling, at about 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit in the kiln.
The ceramic objects on this site are all hand-made through various techniques: pieces are thrown on a pottery wheel, sculpted by hand, or cast by pouring a liquid porcelain slurry into handmade molds.
Crystalline glazes and dendritic slip techniques are used to create decorative formations, imitating the naturally occurring chemical reactions happening within the earth.
The pieces on this site are created by Evan Cornish-Keefe. Evan has been working with clay since 2009, and has a BFA from Alfred University, where he studied ceramic art. Since graduating in 2013, Evan has moved from New York to Asheville, North Carolina, where he is currently pursuing pottery as a career and lifestyle among many talented artists and craftspeople.
I enjoy turning a lump of mud into a useful, interesting, or beautiful ceramic object.
I usually start my process by sketching the form, and trying to imagine the finished product in as much detail as possible. Imagining the exact shape, size, function, color and surface. The more clarity I have, the more pleased I tend to be with the finished piece.
I like to think about clay on a microscopic level, to consider the geological activities occurring within the earth, and the chemical reactions that can be emulated in a kiln. I like to explore processes that help me gain a deeper understanding of the materials I use, their origins and properties.
Clay and glazes are composed primarily of rocks and minerals that have been crushed to a powder, either by millions of years within the earths crust, or by manmade mechanisms.
The mineral powders of specific types and ratios are mixed with water to form malleable clay, slip and glaze slurries. In the heat of the kiln these minerals will melt into a type of glass, in a process called vitrification. If the glaze is of a specific chemical composition, and is cooled slowly enough, minerals can begin to crystallise within the thin layer of glaze, in a process called devitrification. In this way I have produced a wide variety of unique glazes in an extensive array of colors, glazes that devitrify into a variety of crystal species.
I find the intricacy and organic nature of these glazes endlessly captivating. Although they only coat the surface, they allude to the action of magma and the transformation of the minerals which compose all ceramic objects.
Jim Mc Dowell, who calls himself “the Black Potter,” believes himself to be the only black potter who creates face jugs based on both his family traditions and his sacred ancestral tradition of using face jugs as grave markers. He’s been a studio potter for over 30 years and has been creating face jugs for nearly 25.
Born in Norfolk, Virginia, Jim is a great-great-great-great nephew of a woman named Evangeline, a village slave potter in Jamaica; a great-grandson of a tombstone maker from Gaffney, South Carolina; and a son of a self-taught artist, James T. McDowell, Sr., Jim came of age in Washington, D.C, during the struggles for Civil Rights. A severe hearing loss gave him trouble in school so he left to join the Job Corps and later began working in the coal mines of Kentucky. A Viet Nam Era-vet stationed in Ansbach, Germany. Jim began to pray during difficult times and deepened his spiritual relationship with God. He changed his thoughts about killing and when he told this to his commanding officers, they assigned him to operate the craft shop on base.
Jim wanted to use the pottery wheel and kiln he found there and teach others to do the same, but he had to learn it himself first. He heard about German potters in Nurenmberg and went there on leave to find them. He didn’t speak German and they didn’t speak English but he indicated he wanted to learn how to make potter. One potter bluntly handed him a broom. JIm swallowed his pride and swept the floor. Over time, they let him observe their work, clean up the shop, and load the wood fired kiln, which he especially loved. He visited a few times and took what he learned back to Ansbach, practicing on the wheel until he was good enough to give lessons.
After eight years in the military, Jim went back to the coal mines, but continued to make pots. With his first big paycheck he bought a wheel, an electric kiln, a thousand pounds of clay, and set up shop in his basement, eventually moving to a small studio. After 20 more years in the mines, this time in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the only location he could find that hired black men, he left mining for good to produce pottery full time.
While yet a miner, Jim believed God called him to ministry and began studying with the pastor of a small Black church near Johnstown. After study and two years of theological mentoring under his pastor, the National Baptist church ordained him. While he occasionally preaches as a guest speaker, Jim believes his ministry is primarily demonstrated through teaching and through his pottery.
As an older adult, Jim also earned an associate degree in art from Mt. Aloysius College, but it did not include pottery studies. In this area he is almost completely self-taught. For many yeas Jim was a juried artist in Pennsylvania through Southern Alleghenies Museum of the Arts, and through its residency programs taught pottery and the arts in public and private schools. He also conducted arts-in-healing programs at hospitals and health care facilities.
In addition to making pots, Jim has enjoyed sky diving, having nearly a hundred jumps to his credit, singing, and playing the guitar and trumpet. He is an avid reader and enjoys life to the fullest. He always saw himself as ready for a new adventure. And then he met Jan Fisher, a writer from New York City. The two of them lived and worked in Pittsburgh for several years, but in 2012 relocated to the Asheville area of Western North Carolina. Jan handles publicity and promotion of Jim's functional pottery and face jugs, extensive now that his work has been shown internationally and in museums, art galleries, shops, and shows from coast to coast.
Jim's motto quotes Daniel Rhodes, also a potter: “Earth, water, fire…these are the ingredients of pots and human beings alike, and each formula contains an element of chance. Do not seek perfection in pots or people, for your search will be unrewarded, and you will miss knowing many good pots and good people.”