Glazed art of fire

Craig McMillin of Mudflap Pottery has perfected a crystalline glazing method that gives new life to his work.
Potter Craig McMillin with his three children and a selection of his work

“I was first introduced to clay at 16 years of age, in high school, and I was hooked from the very start,” says Craig McMillin, proprietor of Mudflap Pottery and self-described master potter/amateur jack-of-all-trades.

“I don’t remember the first pot I sold from school, but I do remember the first craft show we did. It was very exciting, and we sold a whole lot of pots and got some money from it, so it was off to the races. Eighteen years later, so much is different, but the basics are still the same: Create something as beautiful as possible on that given day, and trust that there will be someone out there that can see the care and love that I try
to put in every pot.”

McMillin, best known for using the technically difficult crystalline glazing method on his ceramics, has been potting for 25 years. “The closest I have come to having a ‘real job’ was working for another potter from the ages of 20 to 22,” he jokes.

Self-educated but with time spent at university, McMillin says: “I am a product of all my experience. The last pot is my greatest teacher that was taught by all the pots before it.”

Continuing that theme, he says it takes him “25 years, plus a couple of hours, give or take,” to complete a piece. He then adds, more realistically, “From start to finish, [it] can be anywhere from one week to a month.”

He says he is currently working with a white clay body. “The whiteness of it allows the glaze colors to come through as clear as possible,” he explains. “What I’m doing as a potter, a slinger of clay, is creating a canvas.”

The crystalline glazing process by which McMillin achieves beautiful finishes on his pots is indeed complex.

“I … fire my pieces to 2,350 degrees in electric and gas kilns,” he says. “The crystalline glaze that I use is high in zinc oxide, and, with a very controlled firing process, I achieve growth of crystals on the surface of the glaze.”

The process of creating the special glaze begins with the mixing of three elements: frit, zinc and silica. Once those are combined to a powdery mix, McMillin separates batches for individual dyeing. Colors are achieved through the addition of small amounts, only 0.5 to 6 percent of the total mixture, of chemicals such as cobalt, copper and iron oxide.

In the kiln, the glaze crystals begin as specks and then grow once the temperature in the kiln drops from 2,350 to about 2,000 degrees. The crystals then begin to attract the color elements –– the cobalt or copper flecks –– and the emerging pattern will grow as long as the kiln stays at
2,000 degrees.

 “I’ve only been doing the crystalline glazing for about three years,” he says, explaining that he tired of the “same old glazes” and wanted something different. “With stoneware glazes, the effects I could get were limited,” he says, noting the fantastic effects and depth of color achieved with crystalline glazing.

With this new glazing technique, McMillin says, “I no longer felt like I had to overwork a piece of pottery in its form to make a statement.”

McMillin says even the best potter can only make an educated guess as to how a piece will turn out. “It’s a process of abstract thinking,” he says. “The thing about pottery is you have to learn from your mistakes.”

In addition to keeping busy with his pottery, McMillin and his wife, Anna, have three children: Maggie, 13; Alya, 8; and Seamus, 6. “Anna,” he says, “is my partner in life and my partner in business.” Along with helping run the pottery business, Anna also home-schools the children.

“Maggie is currently my studio assistant when her schedule allows,” he says. “Alya loves to make her own art and sells at the local shows. Seamus we all just try to keep out of trouble.”

McMillin’s creations can be seen at RHINO Gallery in Canal Place, Julie Neill Designs on Magazine Street, and Interiors & Extras on Metairie Road.

Categories: Masters of their Craft, Theatre + Art