Since my first soda-firing last May, I have been inspired by the work of Ruthanne Tudball (even though I don’t currently soda fire). After spending time with her and watching her work for three days last week, Ruthanne has become an inspiration for me as a human being. She has become a top 10 master teapot maker (according to the Chinese government and I suspect, by many others) while raising two children, getting her MFA while being in the studio just three days a week, and overcoming the set back of a serious (and clearly painful) hand injury. Her dedication to her our craft, as both a maker and teacher, and her adaptability to what life throws her way is an inspiration.
If you have never seen Ruthanne make her work (or even heard about it), you won’t believe it from what I tell you. Before her first demo, all I knew was from the description on her website. “All of my work is thrown, manipulated, altered and assembled while freshly thrown on the wheel.” Boy does she mean it. She started and completed a teapot in 30 minutes. Wow. On more than one occasion during the workshop, I was blown away. Making the pot to fit the lid. Or throwing a cube. Or throwing a handle off the hump. Each demo was a treasure chest of wisdom and creativity. It will take me years to digest it all.
Many of her techniques were born of necessity, which is likely why her work is like no one else’s. Why would anyone assemble wet unless they only could get into the studio three days a week? This point really struck me because I only get to the studio three days a week. Doh. It just never occurred to me that it could be done.
Ruthanne spent two years in a home studio with no kiln. Again, out of necessity, she threw and reclaimed, threw and reclaimed. It was great seeing everyone cringe when she collapsed her first teapot or the ginger jar. For her, it was natural. And besides, if you want to see another teapot, she’ll throw another one in a jiffy. I suspect her studio situation led her to have a greater sense of play and experimentation than most artists. I now have a new perspective on how to use my own basement kiln-less studio on those days I can’t get to the Art League.
I can’t finish this piece without thanking Ken Shipley. Associate Professor at Austin Peay State University, Ken was generous enough to open Ruthanne’s workshop to the public so people like me could attend, free of charge. I am forever in his debt for this opportunity. I am also grateful for the opportunity to meet Ken and his wife Melody (an accomplished potter in her own right). Anyone who is considering a BFA in ceramics should definitely considered Austin Peay as an option, if for nothing else than the knowledge, skill and talent that Ken brings to the program.
Ken is a knowledgeable, gifted potter, as well as a top 10 teapot master, and a funny guy. I will remember my time at Austin Peay as much for his humor as for Ruthanne’s demonstrations.