In the interests of full disclosure, I must confess that I have a collection of Gregory Kuharic’s wonderful pots – which I see as half farmstand squash and half intergalactic life form. We knew each other through a mutual friend. Via a postcard, he invited me to the first show of this body of work, which he held in his Manhattan apartment. One look at the picture on the invitation told me that I wanted one of his pots. No: I NEEDED one.
Their luscious and earthy glazes made me want to touch them. Their warts and thorns and crevasses and curly stems attract and repel at the same time. The fact that each vessel had a perfectly fitted and patterned lid made me smile: Greg the potter was showing off a little. How could I NOT need one of them?
And one led to 12. There is nothing more compelling than a collection. And I enjoyed getting to know Greg better. His impressive resume as an expert in decorative arts, combined with his skills as a ceramicist, make him a rare artisan. He brings a physical understanding of how things are made to his assessment of important objets d’art. His vast vocabulary of detail and knowledge of art history inform his work.
Greg submitted, after months of haranguing, to an email interview for HAND/EYE Online. Thank you Greg!
Keith Recker: Can you recount your career path from student to potter to decorative arts expert and back to potter?
Greg Kuharic: At this point in time, it seems a long journey, but as I think about it, it has been a very logical one. Having always been interested in making/creating things from my childhood on, my interest in the arts goes way back to my earliest childhood. I entered college with the intention of studying architecture and very quickly gravitated to the art department. I realized that I wanted to be more hands-on with materials, and to have control over the outcome.
At the same time, I happened to meet some local potters, a phenomenon at the time, who were in need of an apprentice. Part of that apprenticeship included a small apartment. It was a prescient opportunity, and I took advantage of it. It shifted my entire career, because I had some very strong professional role models that enriched my educational studies. One part informed the other, and I felt as if I was very lucky to be able to focus in this area. I ended up with a degree in both sculpture and ceramics, with most of the work being done in clay.
The great thing about the pottery apprenticeship is that I not only learned the skills and processes necessary to make the work, but also how to turn that work into a viable living. The experience was invaluable. I ended up working there for almost seven years, a traditional period of time for an apprenticeship. I then left to start my own studio, which successfully lasted for over ten years of producing vast quantities of hand-made functional pottery, selling through shops and galleries, art fairs and my own showroom. It was exhausting and fun and challenging and went through various cycles. At the end, I knew that I needed to make some changes. The physicality of the work, along with a developing bad back forced me to re-think my future.
Always interested in the business of art and in need of a change, I applied and was accepted by the American Arts Course at Sotheby's in New York. Making the move to Manhattan from the rural Midwest was life changing. The opportunity to take this sabbatical from potting after sixteen years of total immersion was very scary. It would ultimately lead to a position in the 19th- and 20th-century Decorative Arts Department at Sotheby's. Utilizing my hands-on understanding of materials, knowledge of art history and design, along with my business skills, turned out to be a perfect fit. I happily continued in that capacity for fifteen years, learning about objects and values, traveling extensively, meeting collectors and clients around the world, and basically enjoying being part of a large international arts organization. It expanded my formerly modest independent existence exponentially.
KR: After some years free from potting actively, you re-immersed at Haystack. Tell about those first summers of re-immersion.
GK: I really had a ten-year hiatus from making pots. When I stopped, I was very burned out on many levels. I needed that break, but after a decade, I really felt as if something was missing and that I needed to make things again. In the meantime, I had spent years handling some of the world's most beautiful objects, extraordinary rarities, not like in a museum, but in my hands -- and of course just not in my department either.
The access that is offered in working at a place like Sotheby's involves new discoveries daily, or a new exhibition to view, or the excitement of an expert in another department who wants to share their latest discovery. It could be exhilarating, but handling and seeing all of this great material is not the same as creating your own work. But the point is that being in contact with all of these works of art began to inform me in unexpected ways.
Lucky to have long periods of vacation time, I took three weeks in the summer and decided to return to Haystack where I had spent most of a summer after my college graduation. I worried that it might not be a good fit, being older and out of practice. But having patterned myself for so many years at the wheel and in the studio, everything came back automatically! It was as if I had never left making pots. The latent reservoir of experience came back, very much informed by the intervening years of exposure to the art historical world of objects. I worked almost non-stop for three weeks and was incredibly happy to be back in the studio. I continued to return to Haystack for five summers in total, and credit that time with getting me back in touch with the community of potters and other artists in various media. It is an extraordinary place.
KR: Recount something about your first sale of Strange Harvest work? How did people
GK: I had my first little salon at my apartment in 2001. This was the last summer that I attended Haystack. It was after 9/11, and I had accumulated a lot of work from the last five years. Much of the work was gourd-form vessels that I thought were cohesive and formed a nice body of work, though they were still evolving. People in New York seemed very down and I just decided to have a little open house to show my work. I sent out the invitations to my friends and clients, and while I was warned that no one should attempt to sell their own artwork in New York, that was not really the intent. The intent was to have a party and show the work. I did put prices on the work, just as a courtesy. About two hundred people showed up. Some out of curiosity, some to drink and eat, some on their way to more important events, but most were very receptive and much to my surprise, by the end of the evening, quite unprepared, I had sold a great number of the pieces. Needless-to-say, I was very encouraged by the experience.
KR: When did you realize you were happy (or happier?) with your hands in clay? And when and why did you decide to focus more on it?
GK: I am not necessarily happier with my hands in the clay, but now find that there needs to be a certain balance in my life and that the activity needs to be there to satisfy that part of my creative soul. I am still approaching the clay on a part-time basis now that I am no longer working at Sotheby's.
I like to sequester myself for periods of time to concentrate on a new body of work and to evolve the forms and surfaces. I find that I need to balance out these intense periods of work with my other occupations of continuing as an independent art consultant, advisor and appraiser of both decorative and fine arts. Having moved from the city back to my Midwestern hometown, I now have a regular studio space that I can utilize whenever I have the time and feel the need. It is all just part of crafting a life that encompasses lots of different activities that I enjoy.
KR: How is it going now? What's new with the work?
GK: I am working on a new body of work for a show this spring in New York. For several years now, a friend of mine, Liz O'Brien, has been representing my work. This evolved as a result of the shows that I had at my apartment. She attended one of them and called me several days later asking if she could show my work in her gallery. I had never really considered having regular gallery representation, since my production was so sporadic. But I was so flattered that I could not refuse, as Liz is a wonderful dealer of 20th-century design, has great style, and is a delight to work with. Together with my website, this is the only way I have of selling my work.
The new work will be in porcelain and that's about all I can say at this time. It is a continuation of my previous work, but I find, as in music, it is all about a theme and variations. One of the things from handling the works of so many great designers of the 20th-century that I have learned is that you have to keep doing the same thing consistently and for a very long time. I have so many variations that I still want to explore, that will keep me potting well into the future.
For more information about Gregory Kuharic’s work, see www.gregkuharic.com.
Greg Kuharic: potter, ex-potter, and potter once again