Ceramic artist Frank McGuirk | PostIndependent.com
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Ceramic artist Frank McGuirk

Frank McGuirk and Fumiko Nagai
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Carbondale ceramic artist Frank McGuirk took a winding road to working as a full-time potter. The western Colorado native was introduced to the art form in college but took a break for a few decades to focus on his career as a psychologist.

Now in retirement, McGuirk is making work again and dedicating his time to the local clay community, particularly through the Carbondale Clay Center and the Anderson Ranch Arts Center.

McGuirk is one of two artists featured in an exhibit opening tonight at the Clay Center called “Fumiko and Frank: Food Drink Flower.” The opening is from 6-8 p.m.



Post Independent: When were you first introduced to ceramics, and what were your initial feelings about the art form? Have your feelings changed at all over time?

Frank McGuirk: As a college undergrad, I was losing interest in the science and philosophy courses I was taking and decided if I were to stay in school at all, I would need to find something to feel good about. So I signed up for a piano class and a beginning ceramics class. The piano study lasted one term, but the ceramics caught my attention like nothing else.



I was fully naive about ceramics before this course, but the whole appeal of creating from clay, making glazes, seeing the transformation of a malleable earth transformed by firing into simple usable forms … wow!

PI: What was your path after that first ceramics course?

FM: I took the entire undergraduate curriculum in ceramic art over the next couple of years and also finished my B.S. in psychology — in fact, with enough late success in psychology to get admitted and to earn a Ph.D. as a social psychologist. Without the clay to hold me in school, I don’t know what my career path might have been. Even while in graduate school I found myself hanging around the campus clay community. Some friends made in the late 1970s clay days are still very close to me … not so much for people in my grad program.

PI: Why did you decide to take a break from ceramics, and what made you later decide to come back to it?

FM: Well, once I got the doctor deal done, I felt compelled to work in that career. I did enjoy that and was pretty successful there for 30 years. My fascination with clay was evidenced by the hauling around of my 300-pound Randall wheel for all the moves we made over the decades. I had bought that wheel before going to graduate school and found occasional opportunities to set up a small basement or garage studio and make a few pots. The wheel was always a physical representation of my intention to one day return in earnest to ceramics. Many years went by, and I finally reached a point I could retire early. The ”new” commitment to pottery was up next. I still have that wheel and use it almost every day. I love it!

PI: How would you describe the aesthetic of your work?

FM: I like to think craftsmanship is at the core of a potter’s aesthetic expression. That is, well-made pots are required as elemental to where one goes with further aesthetic considerations. I am continually trying to achieve better and more evident craftsmanship. Based on that, I am always searching for my aesthetic expression. Some teachers talk about having a “voice” in one’s work. I have kind of translated that, for me, to mean my pots are recognizably made by me. Most potters I admire have a very strong voice. I am getting closer to this, but I think this is hard won and may take a whole career to achieve. There seem to be many ceramic artists who try to “fake” this by just making work that looks unique or different. A lot of that work will not stand the test of time, in my humble opinion.

Over the past few years I have had the privilege to work with several excellent makers and teachers. Among those teachers have been some Japanese potters who have influenced me greatly (Takashi Nakazato, Ken Matsuzaki and others). Although it is impossible for me to be a Japanese potter, I think I have absorbed my version of an Asian aesthetic and I am pleased with the direction my work has taken in that regard.

PI: How did you get involved with the Anderson Ranch and the Carbondale Clay Center?

FM: Within a few months of moving to the Carbondale area, I drove down the south end of Main Street and was surprised to see the sign of the Carbondale Clay Center. I got connected the very same day — classes, firing, etc. It was a blessing and a perfect match for getting my dormant potter self awake again.

Once I begin meeting the amazing potter “family” connected to the Clay Center, I was hearing Anderson Ranch mentioned frequently. I had never heard of the ranch and was told it was a world-class arts center in Snowmass. Initially, I thought that was certain hyperbole. Well, I came to learn firsthand that Anderson Ranch is, indeed, a world-class art organization. The Ranch has transformed my life. Doug Casebeer, the head of the ceramics program there, has become a mentor and good friend. Through the ranch I have met so many great people from around the world — some of the most highly regarded clay artists alive today. I have now studied with almost 20 teachers there, and many of them have been significant influences on my clay work and, more importantly, have become friends.

PI: Tell me about your January exhibit at the Clay Center.

FM: We are hoping for a big turnout at the Jan. 6 exhibition opening of “Fumiko and Frank: Food Drink Flower,” which will feature new works by myself as well as Japanese artist Fumiko Nagai. We are hoping this show is an extra special one. The cultural dynamic of Japanese influence blended with Colorado’s own style should be evident, and this is a perfect time for locals to add some unique functional work to their homes and offices. Additionally, we expect Takashi Nakazato to attend the opening. His worldwide status as a great potter makes us all proud to host him in Carbondale.


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