Potter Kandy Gibson, creator of sought-after raku vessels, will open her Town of Grafton studio to the public this weekend
After dealing with education issues and helping guide young children as principal of Thorson Elementary School in Cedarburg, Kandy Gibson unwinds in the pottery studio attached to her Town of Grafton home, molding hunks of clay into pots, platters, bowls, mugs, pitchers and birdbaths.
“I call this my therapy. It gives me time to relax and reflect on the day,” Gibson said as her wet hands formed a clay pot on her pottery wheel.
The studio has a view of her beautiful gardens, which inspires many of her designs. In warm weather, she keeps the door open to allow her two dogs to come and go as they please and sets pieces outside to dry.
Gibson said clay has been her favorite art form since high school. She does raku, an ancient Japanese form of firing pottery, and traditional pottery.
“Once you touch the clay and start manipulating it, you either connect with it or you don’t,” Gibson said. “It became an extension of me, and I fell in love with the fluidness of it.
“I love sharing my art with other people.”
She will get that chance this weekend during the Cedarburg Artists Guild’s Covered Bridge Studio Tour that runs from Friday, Oct. 11, through Sunday, Oct. 13.
Gibson’s Gardenview Studio at 2020 Parkwood Ct. will be open from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Gibson and her daughter Chelsea Krogman of Belgium have been busy throwing and preparing pieces to be fired in an indoor kiln or outdoors in a raku kiln.
Raku firings, as well as wheel-throwing, carving and glazing demonstrations, will be held throughout the event. This is the duo’s sixth year on the tour.
Chelsea, a cellular molecular chemist for a chemical lab in Milwaukee, has been her mother’s apprentice for many years. While her mother makes the pots, Chelsea does much of the glazing, carving and hand-shaped pieces.
“People love the raku demonstrations,” Chelsea said. “We were selling pots while they were still smoking (in past years).”
In a traditional firing, pottery is put into a cold kiln and slowly heated to 2,000 degrees, which can take eight to 24 hours. The pieces are then slowly cooled which can take another day. The pieces are etched or decorated, glazed and fired a second time.
In raku, glazed or unglazed pottery is put into a hot kiln and heated to 2,000 degrees in 15 to 20 minutes. The hot pottery is carefully removed with tongs, then put into a metal garbage can filled with sawdust, leaves or other combustible materials. It is covered and allowed to smolder for 20 minutes.
The carbon atmosphere reacts with the glazes and clay, creating unique effects, including metallic and crackled glazed surfaces and black unglazed clay. A clay that is higher in sand and more porous is used for raku, Gibson said.
Iron chloride in the glaze makes the distinctive metallic finish, Chelsea said, adding each piece is a surprise.
“There’s a little bit of a spirit of surprise. You apply the glazes, but you don’t have control over the flashing of the fire,” she said.
Gibson’s husband Don, who’s dubbed Kiln Man, made the raku kiln from a garbage can and assists in the demonstrations.
This has been a busy year for the Gibsons. Chelsea got married last month to Karl Krogman.
For the wedding, she and her mother made 190 mugs in different sizes, shapes and colors to give to guests.
“If you’re good at something, you should share that with your family and loved ones,” Chelsea said. “I wanted to make sure everyone would get some pottery and enjoy it.”
Making the mugs was fun, Gibson said, and she hopes everyone uses them.
“I consider myself a functional potter,” Gibson said. “I want it to be affordable and I want it to be used.”
Gibson planned to be an art teacher when she got her degree from Ohio State University in 1979, but those jobs weren’t available, so she got a master’s degree in special education at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, and later earned a master’s in education administration from Marian University in Fond du Lac.
Gibson was with the Plymouth School District for 17 years as a special education teacher and an assistant principal.
Six years ago, she became principal of Thorson in Cedarburg.
For 20 years, Gibson and her husband, who was a teacher but is now a physician’s assistant at St. Joseph’s Hospital in West Bend, worked at a summer boys’ camp in Hayward, where Gibson taught pottery.
Chelsea grew up at the summer camps, first watching, then helping her mother and eventually teaching classes herself.
When Gibson retires, she and Chelsea would like to open a pottery studio where they can teach classes.
In the meantime, they enjoy working together in the studio and letting their imaginations soar.
Image Information: Kandy Gibson held a clay pot she turned while her daughter Chelsea Krogman held a platter she etched with leaves. Photo by Sam Arendt