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An open letter from sculptor and ceramist Paul Chaleff. Paul Chaleff is a pioneer of the revival of wood-fired ceramics in the US and one of the first to use wood-burning dragon kilns in the style of the anagama tradition. He is best known as an innovator of large-scale ceramic sculpture. His work can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Department of Architecture and Design, and in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Paul Chaleff and Haesook Kim. Photo by Eduardo Montes-Bradley

In early October I received a telephone call from my old friend, the ceramic artist Joy Brown from Kent, CT. She wanted me to meet Eduardo Montes-Bradley, the filmmaker who was documenting the firing of her monumental mural - One World. She asked if I could meet with Eduardo here in my studio to give him a little background on her work and journey.

In 1976, I was a guest at Shige Morioka’s clay studio in Wakayama, Japan and at that time, Joy was Morioka’s apprentice. We became friends and when Joy moved to the US, I invited her to be our guest in Pine Plains, NY. She lived with us for two years, helping in the studio, until she established her first American studio not too far from here. We have been close friends for all these years. To see her great success over these past forty-odd years has been a wonderful bonus in our lives.

Eduardo arrived the next day, and as is true to form with most of Joy’s acquaintances, Eduardo turned out to be a person of substance. His zeal for understanding the nuances of Joy’s work and the work of other ceramists was clear from the start. He had become enamored of the amazing process Joy employs - wood-firing large ceramic forms over many days in a huge anagama-style kiln. This technique takes immense amounts of work and materials to produce the soft earth-tones that Joy reaches for. Many friends of Joy come to her studio for over three weeks to help her prepare the wood and the kiln, to fire for 24 hours a day for ten days, and then to unload and sort the ceramic art. Joy has built a cadre of artists who gladly give of their time and labor to take part in this amazing journey of fire. Many of my former students who now work in chemistry labs, design studios, advertising agencies, and such, carve out a few days each year to help and enjoy this amazing experience.

Eduardo had been filming throughout the three weeks and had accumulated quite a trove of fantastic takes. Now that the firing was over, he was curious to put this experience into a broader perspective, not only to understand the history of the techniques used by ceramic artists like Joy but also, to comprehend the drive and feelings that propel contemporary ceramic artists to work with so much fervor and insecurity to produce this style of art. To make these takes into a film requires understanding and time. We had a great conversation. He returned the next week and spent a couple of days here with his wife and daughter. We were able to discuss the field of ceramic art in depth as well as his intersecting interest in ceramics and film. We even were able to trace my father’s hometown in early 1900’s Poland and his grandfather’s to within a couple of miles of each other. We not only traded life stories but films as well since I had a copy of a rare film on ceramics from Argentina made in the 1940’s and he had these great takes of Joy’s firing.

Over the past couple of months, Eduardo and I have become friends as his generosity and energy spill over to help all those around him including me.

I know Joy and Eduardo are now at the point of trying to raise funds to complete this project – the film takes are wonderful but, financial support is the hard part of being an artist. I trust that those of you who have met Joy or Eduardo, or love ceramics or film, will try to take a part, through donations or introductions, in making this come full circle - producing a film that is true to her amazing work and his collaboration as a filmmaker. This is a deserving endeavor that needs to be a part of our world.

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