Defining the Game

I fell in love with clay at an early age. My borderline obsession with ceramics took hold during a two-week hand-building course in sixth grade. In high school, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to develop my throwing skills to the point where I could make any form I wanted. As my senior year approached, I explored colleges and spent my weekends touring schools. Most weekends were the same: hours spent listening to presentations about financial aid, student housing, and the complexities of earning a degree. But my visit to the University of North Carolina was different. After visiting a ceramics gallery in Chapel Hill, I made a split-second decision to skip the presentations and go visit potters in the area, including Joseph Sands, Phil Morgan, Mark Hewitt, Ben Owen, and Jugtown Pottery, the historic pottery founded in 1921. Most influential was the tour Hewitt gave me of his pottery. His anagama was on a scale I hadn’t seen before—I could stand up in that kiln! At that point, I decided to pursue a career in ceramics, and I haven’t looked back since.

Ray Brown. Low Pitcher, 2018. Soda-fired stoneware, flashing slip, black underglaze, glaze. 2019 NJSE Merit Award. Photo by SP.  Ray Brown. Cookie Jar, 2019. Coiled and wheel-thrown; Cone 11 soda-fired, reduction. 38 x 36 in. Photograph by artist.

Though North Carolina was influential, for various reasons I decided to attend the University of Mississippi. I was confident of my abilities as a thrower, and I was comfortable making utilitarian tableware and crockery, but I soon realized that the aesthetics of my previous mentors were driving my work. I was on autopilot. Switching it off, I faced the challenge of creating self-driven, honest work. My work was too referential; my pots looked too similar to those of many well-known contemporary ceramic artists. My love of the material blinded me and stifled my ability to create deeply personal work. I needed to develop the foundations of my ideas, then see them through to completion.