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MANN Handmade

Sep 29, 2014

IMG_0243While doing background research for “Masterpieces and Ballrooms,” we delved into the world of Xiem Clay Center, deeper and deeper, until we found ceramist Sharon Mann. She was kind enough to answer some questions:

HP: Since you’ve been creating, have you always been working with clay or did you arrive here after drawing, painting, photography, or some other art form? What keeps you here, working in clay?

SM: I came to clay later in life. I’ve been making pots for about 15 years, which is a short time for a potter my age. I grew up in a very artistic household but we didn’t know it! I learned to cook, sew, crochet, knit, quilt etc., as just a part of what southern girls learn from their mothers and grandmothers—but I knew I liked to make things more than the other girls did. In my late 30’s, I started taking art classes at community adult schools, mostly painting and drawing, but I was horrible at it. I ended up working in clay quite by accident, diverted to a ceramics class when the painting class was full.

In clay, unlike painting, I found a medium where my technical skills improved greatly with practice. And even my earliest, ugliest pieces were usable—unlike the stack of bad paintings I had accumulated.

The functional, tactile nature of my clay work is what keeps me in. I make work that people can use. I get substantive feedback and structural edits from my buyers. And then I can make more work that is higher functioning than the work before. In the process, my skills get higher and higher.

 

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HP: Is all your clay work functional? If so, is there a particular reason for that? “Fine art” sculpture versus ceramics, or do you create both?

SM: All of the work I market is functional; all high-fired dinnerware for everyday use. My designs are simple and clean because that’s what people like to eat out of. I’m intimidated by the process of creating fine art, as I lack art training. But, I’m learning through workshops and one-on-one conversations with artists about the artistic process. So, I do have some non-functional art pieces I have made very recently, but they’re at home under wraps! I hope to develop the confidence to put my non-functional work out there in the next few years.

HP: Handbuilding versus wheel? Do you do both or prefer one over the other?

SM: I’m a wheel-thrower primarily. I love the physical challenge of making pots on the wheel. It requires thousands of hours of skill building to become expert and I love the proficiency aspect of it. I’m in awe of some of the potters I know and their ability to throw perfectly formed and balanced work—that is what I am striving for. I do make some hand-built pots, mostly small bowls and spoons.

 

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HP: Are their building techniques or glazes that you favor? Have your preferences changed over the years and if so, how, why?

SM: Over the years my work has become more and more about form rather than surface. Looking at my earliest pots, I was more eager to discover interesting glaze combinations and make designs on the surfaces—I think many potters go through that. One day I asked my daughter what she thought about a glaze design I was very proud of on a pot that was really poorly constructed. She picked it up, and frowned about how heavy and unbalanced it was and said, “You really need to work on your throwing.” That stuck.

I’ve evolved into a potter that is more concerned with the end user and how he or she will receive my pots into their lives. It needs to be the right shape for the food, the right scale for the place setting, the right weight to not break or chip. And the design needs to take this person’s eating experience to a higher level, higher than what they would experience by buying mass-produced dinnerware.

 

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My slogan is “Everyday dishes for extraordinary people,” and I am trying to live up to the expectations of someone at a very high taste level. My customers range from renowned designers to people who have no interest in the arts; wealthy to not-so-wealthy But what they have in common is their taste for the extraordinary.

Another basic goal of mine is to make work that people with average incomes can afford. I remember years ago going to an art fair. I was a young single mom with a toddler in tow, probably looking kinda broke. I approached an incredible painting and asked the artist how much it cost. He very snootily replied, “You can’t afford it.” As insulted as I was, I realized that I probably couldn’t indeed afford it, but I was confused as to why artists make stuff that most people can’t afford. Now I understand why some art has to be high priced, but when I started making pots for sale, affordability became an important aspect of my work.

HP: Favorite part of the creating process…

SM: I love it all, from buying the clay, to forming the pot, to trimming and finishing, through glazing. But the very best part for me is delivering my work to someone who wants it. After all these years I continue to be humbled and amazed that someone would actually desire to put my work into their life. My biggest thrill is to visit a friend or relative and see a piece of MANN handmade in the sink (not on the shelf) being used and utilized as a real functional and necessary item.

HP: Least favorite part of the creating process…

SM: I can’t think of anything in the creative process I don’t like. I just wish there were more hours in a day to make things.

 

 

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HP: What is your favorite time of day and, if you don’t have commitments, how do you spend it?

SM: My favorite time of day is dusk; not only do I love to watch the sun go down, but its dinnertime! If I don’t have any commitments, at dusk you’ll find me strolling into a local casual restaurant, or at home cooking up something delicious.

HP: Favorite vice…

SM: My favorite vice is dessert. I love eating sugary foods but I just can’t do it very often for all the reasons one shouldn’t eat sugary foods very often. But if you’re looking to make me very happy being very bad, slip me a glaze donut. Krispy Kreme.

HP: Least favorite chore…

SM: I really hate ironing. So much that I physically loathe my iron. I’m looking forward to retirement from my day job and getting that piece of equipment out of my life permanently. I plan to be the most wrinkled old lady in Altadena!

 

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HP: You’re an Altadena resident? A lifer? Or did you transfer in? (Tongue in cheek.) Three reasons you are happy you live in Altadena.

SM: I moved to Altadena in 2008. I love that its affordable but close-in to all the culture and vibrancy Los Angeles has to offer. Even though its an urban environment, I live in a 1920’s storybook cottage on a tree-lined street with neighbors who all know each other. I have a front porch facing the mountains and a two enormous Valencia orange trees out back that produce the sweetest, juiciest fruit! There is a small family-owned grocery store (Bo’s Altadena Market) around the corner. I haven’t bought a computer because I love walking to Altadena Library and using theirs. And my studio, Xiem Clay Center, is just a couple of minutes away. How hard is that?

HP: It’s a beautiful day, completely free of “shoulds”. Where to you go out to eat, or go for a walk, or go for entertainment or solitude or inspiration. What’s a dream day off?

SM: First of all, I would sleep until noon. Then, I would start the day with a waffle and coffee at the counter at Russell’s on Fair Oaks, while I do the crossword puzzle in USA Today. For inspiration, I’d head to the Norton Simon sculpture garden. Later in the afternoon, take a slow lap around the Rose Bowl and listen to the radio on my headphones (I’m really into new music). I’d meet my daughter, Jasmine, at Green Street Restaurant and we’d have a leisurely dinner on their patio. End the day at the studio, making pots and hanging out with my potter friends. That’s a perfect day for me.

 

Find Sharon Mann’s pottery at MANN Handmade.

Mann will be hosting a cocktail reception at her home studio on October 24th, 6-9 p.m., called Holiday Table Top. It will feature her pottery, textiles for a holiday table by Denise Young of Mt. Washington, and baked goods to take home or to order for the holidays by Buttah Boys Bakery of South Pasadena. Interested parties should email MannHandmade@gmail.com.

Mann will be showing and selling at the Xiem Clay Center Fall Show on November 14th-15th and at the Enchanted  Handmade Art Fair, Center for the Arts Eagle Rock on December 7th.

 

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All photos courtesy of MANN Handmade.




2 Responses for “MANN Handmade”

  1. Great article! her home sounds enchanting, and her work is lovely

  2. Sharon Mann has certainly practiced and her ceramic work is stunning.

    Like what she says about her work, “It needs to be the right shape for the food, the right scale for the place setting, the right weight to not break or chip. And the design needs to take this person’s eating experience to a higher level, higher than what they would experience by buying mass-produced dinnerware.”

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