Sometimes potters take you on mystical journeys, and Steve Ryan is one such potter. “I thought I would be a painter in college,” Ryan remembers, “but then I took ceramics. It’s the feel of it all. That’s what really attracts me. I get elbow deep. My fingers tell me what I can do with it.”
Known for his 18-inch spheres, he uses a slab technique, forming each half into a mold, then joining it for the glazing step. My dry glaze technique, Ryan explains, “It is almost like sandpaper.” He creates his unique glazes using barium carbonate which resists melting. The glaze time, temperature, and especially the thickness of the glaze determines texture and color. Like a maestro orchestrating a symphony of color, he can create thin and thick patterns using a spray bottle. He watches the kiln like a midwife as the color and texture change. He explains, “I like purple in little dots. But sometimes it comes out of the kiln in big blots. So I put it back in and get the little dots.”
Ryan looks for vibrancy and texture. For him, a piece works when, “The glaze colors are brilliant. They really pop. They are almost iridescent.” He explains, “Shiny glazes take away from form. But building up dry glaze levels allows colors to emerge differently.”
He compares his glazes to a potter’s version of an Impressionist’s pointillism.
Even his functional pieces take on an art form. Ryan explains, “I make jars but I like to think they are more like sculptures.” In the potter’s adage that form follows function, Ryan adds, “I like the mystery of putting Japanese symbols on top. It invites the question: What is this for?”
Since 1978, Steve has honed his skills. He couples functional pieces: drinking vessels, cups, jars, bowls, with purely sculptural and wall pieces which often have a Japanese zen-like quality. Today, he spends as much time as he can in his studio. He also teaches at the Quincy Art Center, and upon request, hosts pottery parties where anyone can experience the mystical wonder of clay on a potter’s wheel.