Richard Bresnahan – Body of Clay Soul of Fire

Richard Bresnahan book

Richard Bresnahan.  O.k. wow.  I had never heard of him until I stumbled upon a book in the SF library about him and his life as a potter.  When I picked up the book I briefly scanned the photos of pots as I usually do to decide if it was something I wanted to bother with and saw tons of amazing pots that appeared to be wood fired.  I left immediately with an armload of books including this one called Body of Clay Soul of Fire by Matthew Welch.
In the 70’s, Richard Bresnahan apprenticed with Nakazato Takashi in Japan on the island of Kyushu.  There he learned to make pots on a Karatsu-style kick wheel, build kilns and fire them, and how to use local materials.  He now has a pottery at St John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota where he fires a huge wood kiln.  He uses local clay and local materials for his glazes and has found ways to take what others are throwing away and turn it into something beautiful.  This book touched a chord with me and my desire to study with a master potter, fire with wood, and use ash glazes is even stronger now.
Just looking at the photos of all these pots is inspiring.  Reading the book is even more so.  There is a video I found as well. The Richard Bresnahan story is full of lessons for life.  He boldly went after what he wanted and the community of friends, teachers, neighbors, and family all supported him.  His passion is undeniable and people come from all over the place when it’s time to fire that big kiln.
Read this book and be inspired.  I’m reading it now for the 3rd time.

Why C# you ask?

C Sharp seal on my pot

C# seal impressed on soft clay before it's fired

This photo is a close up of the ” C# ” I stamp into all my pots.  This one happens to be on a drinking cup.

Why C#?  (pronounced C Sharp) My first name is Cameron so that’s the C.  My last name is Sharp and in written music the ” # ” symbol means sharp. Whatever note has this symbol is played a half step up.  I’m a musician and C# has been a nickname for a while among friends and other potters.  I love to write songs and for some reason often write in the key of C#, which sonically is the same as D flat.  I play guitar and love tuning it in Drop D, or what me and my band mates used to call drop D and a half, which simply means that we tuned our instruments down a half step on all the strings and then when we switch to drop D it ends up being D flat.  Or C#.  So the strings are tuned from the lowest to the highest as D flat, A flat, D flat, G flat, B flat, E flat.

Along with some other tools, I made my stamp before I ever threw a pot.  I knew I wanted one and did not like the look of names just scratched into clay.  I had some Makore hardwood scraps from a cd corner cabinet I had made years before and thought it might be longer lasting than if I made a seal out of clay.   Having been a woodworker for many years my medium at that time was wood, and even though I had not done much carving, I thought I would give it a go.  I made 2 or 3 and this one turned out the best.

Making them from clay is great because you can make them quickly and keep making them as they wear out.  The clay is much easier to carve than wood.  Simon Leach has some great videos on making seals you can check out on YouTube.  I haven’t made any seals in clay yet but I would like to make some that say the name of my town or the country I live in or even the year.  If for no other reason it would help me remember what was made when and where and help me follow my progress.  We are casually considering new places to live and I would like to mark the pots made here differently than the ones that will be made in the new place.

I like the way my stamp came out so much I was thinking of ways to recreate it in clay.  I could use the wooden seal to make a mark in some soft porcelain clay, let it harden, even bisque fire it, and then use that as a mold to make another stamp.  It would pick up the image in reverse and might just work.  I’ll try it and write another post about it in the future.

Thanks for stopping by.