Shelley Schreiber at her wheel, 2008.My first exposure to clay was making a slab teepee at the local Jewish Community Center when I was very young. Then in sixth grade, I made a small wheel-thrown vase that was mostly thrown by my teacher. During my last year of high school (in the late seventies), I took a hand-building class in which one of our assignments was to make Chimú- and Nazca-style pots. I started learning the wheel and practiced throwing on my own after school—my ceramics teacher, Mark Zamantakis, gave me an assignment to make twenty bowls in a year, and I couldn’t do it. My first solo firing using a small electric kiln was a disaster; all the pots had cratered and bubbled glazes. At the time, I didn’t know of course that my precious bowls were underfired. Much to my mother’s chagrin, I took all the fired pieces straight from the kiln and threw them against the brick wall of our house. She was more traumatized than I was over by the event and brought up the subject repeatedly for many years. I still have a habit of taking the hammer to pieces I don’t like, but now I wait a few days before I decide to “edit” the results of my firings.

My time spent with Mark that last year of high school turned out to be the beginning of a lifelong friendship with him. After graduating, I bought my first wheel and visited Mark during his lunch hour. In the back of his classroom, he had a small kiln room where he would sit on a stool, near the window, and watch the students doing crazy things on the school grounds. We had a lot of good conversations there.

Before I knew him, he had built a three-chamber noborigama in the mountains of Colorado and he fired it in the summer with the help of former students, friends, and colleagues. I participated in these firings many times, and I was always assigned the overnight shift to help keep the “guys” from overstoking the kiln. Unbelievably, I didn’t get to stoke the kiln until I’d been participating in the firings for more than twenty years, and then only after a studio mate advocated on my behalf.

From that time in high school until Mark died this year, we drank tea together in his kitchen many, many times. He was more of a mentor to me, guiding me through various life experiences, than a teacher of technical aspects of ceramics, though he was always willing to help with that part of learning. His influence on me stylistically—based on his love for beautiful, pristine glazes and forms—still shines through in my work to this day.


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