David Pipkin, VD X

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Born and raised in Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plains, and….never a day is without red clay. I took my first ceramics class in Stillwater Oklahoma, the home of the OSU Aggies, while I was studying architecture and dodging Draft bullets. I was immediately hooked on the process of making pots; digging that often overlooked amazing red clay, processing it, my fingers learning to see and understand the differential pressures needed to mold and form objects, then comes the chemistry of the glazes, and finally the magic of smoke and fire. All aspects of making clay objects have always fit me like a glove.

After graduation I spent more time making pots or playing on sailboats, than working as an architect. Downturns in real estate always hit architects first, so when a downturn hit Oklahoma I was actually delighted to be laid off so I could focus on playing with clay. After spending the better part of a year being a fulltime potter, I to returned to architecture with an interesting job. Although making a living from pots is possible and the hard work was actually fun, I found I really did not like working alone and was happy to hang around the water fountain again. During the first 5 years out of school I had many exhibitions, won awards, and made the rounds of multiple craft fairs.

Fast forward 40 years, I have not regretted remaining in architecture as it has shown me the world. I have worked in Oklahoma, NY, LA then Taipei. I was always able to keep my hands in clay and look forward to spending more time with clay as I get older.

I consider myself a serious student of clay. Every place I have lived in has offered different types of clay with different work conditions. In Taiwan I was limited to electric kilns, which was not my first choice but I gradually learned to come to terms with it. Two years ago I decided I wanted to go back to gas-fired kilns and thanks to the help of a potter friend Jack Doherty, I managed to build a gas-fired ‘soda’ kiln on my roof. After 12 months of planning I built a 1 cubic meter beast of a kiln. I had built and fired many high temperature gas kilns but never a soda kiln.

Soda firing means taking the kiln up to a temperature of about 1200 C, then introducing bicarbonate of soda in liquid form, which interacts with the clay and slips in unexpected ways. The process is 10 times more difficult to control than normal gas firing. After my 5th firing, I now have a pretty good list of things not to do. Hopefully, after 5 more firings I will have a reasonable list of things to do. Firing a cubic meter soda kiln offers a physical challenge that I did not plan for. However it is all part of the learning process, and I expect to make pots until the day I die, if it doesn’t kill me first.

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