A mix of pieces finished in a celadon glaze or enhanced by glaze trailing.
Pottery of all forms mark Lynda Katz’s garden like sculptural punctuation. Under a canopy of towering pines, organic shapes exclaim themselves on the path to her studio, summarizing a life devoted to the art of ceramics. Some vessels hold plants, while others are purely aesthetic, adorning the base of each massive tree.
I was at Katz’s woodland farm, in Independence, La., that she and her husband, Harold, purchased in 1973. In exchange for a whole slew of Katz’s pots, architect and friend Michael Holly helped them design and build their home and studio, where we spent a morning that became equal parts tour, interview and art history lesson.
Examples of Lynda Katz’s work finished in a celadon glaze.
Years ago, Katz just happened to be getting her M.F.A in ceramics at Florida State University and taking her very first horseback riding lessons at the same time. Katz likens the two disciplines to this day, saying, “Dressage [riding] is so much like making art and pottery. There is a skill set that you have to learn first. Once you learn basic forms, then you can be creative.” When not on horseback, Katz can either be found at Southeastern Louisiana University teaching “Survey of World Art,” or sitting at her pottery wheel, where she throws 700 pieces each year and sells them wholesale from North Carolina to Alaska. Katz makes everything—vases, casseroles, teapots, mugs and bowls, and as her catalogue says: “Each piece is intended to be used as well as contemplated.”
Katz works exclusively with porcelain, a ceramic material that was named for its similarity to the cowrie shell, termed “porcella,” in Old Italian. Porcelain, like stoneware, is vitreous, durable and must be fired at a very high temperature––2,350 degrees, to be exact. Porcelain is unique in that it is always white––and when very thin or narrow it becomes translucent after firing. “It is also,” Katz says, brandishing a lump of clay, “supposed to ring like a bell when struck.”
Lynda Katz at her kiln.
Porcelain first appeared in 618 AD, during the Tang Dynasty, a golden age of ancient China, and while beautiful, it can also be a challenge, requiring skill and years of practice, due to its low plasticity. Centering the raw material on her pottery wheel, Katz adds wryly, “Some people have described it like throwing cream cheese.” Having originally worked with earthenware, she advanced to stoneware in graduate school, and it was not until she met collector Dr. Robert E. Barron, whose ancient Chinese pottery has been on exhibit at the New Orleans Museum of Art, that she turned to porcelain. She vividly remembers the 800-year-old summer tea bowl he put in her hands. “The carving and combed decoration was very subtle due to the pale bluish celadon glaze. These pieces were so perfect, and yet had subtle imperfections that spoke of the hand and spirit of the maker—something I strive for in my own work,” she says. For Katz, it was a moment of truth. She never wanted to work with anything else again.
Asian arts directly influence the one of a kind pottery that Katz hand carves with a trimming tool. These pieces are often embellished with a delicate leaf pattern, and finished with a celadon glaze, an invention of the Song dynasty (960-1279 AD). Iron oxide is celadon’s principle colorant, and its beautifully subtle pigment is achieved by the creation of a “reduction” atmosphere in a kiln. As Katz explains, “Iron oxide is actually rust and therefore reddish in color. The green or bluish color of the celadon glaze is created when, at high temperatures, the atmosphere in the kiln lacks sufficient oxygen for complete combustion,” thereby reducing it towards its metallic state, resulting in a lovely green or blue rather than red, brown or yellow. This process requires exacting control over a kiln, and even a gust of air can affect the delicate temperature balance needed. She has had windy days that result in half of her pot ending up green and the other half going yellow. As she stacks fired mugs, Katz says serenely, “You do your very best, but in the end you have to give it up to the fire. That is the Zen of the process.”
Walking out of the pottery studio, Katz gestures around her with a smile, “Asian ceramics are my primary influence, but I look at everything. What could be a peony for a Chinese person, is a camellia here.” And in a process called glaze trailing, she does literally that. She draws the herons from her pond, or the cats that paw at her studio door, and of course, her horse, Chewie, who appears on a countless number of porcelain pieces. Although right now, Chewie is also waiting patiently at the gate, hoping her owner will finish up on her potter’s wheel for the day, and come over to the pasture with a carrot.
Lynda Katz’s work is available at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art gift shop, or for other locations e-mail her at HLKATZ@i-55.com.