Artist statement: ’ When I was a young man, I decided I would prefer to have some sort of pastoral life. Working in my home pottery studio, “my island of calm, amidst the insanity of Long Island,” has afforded me some of the serenity I was seeking.’ — Russell Pulick
By Irene Ruddock
Russell Pulick has been creating fine stoneware pottery for 45 years. He has been an instructor and studio manager at the Art League of Long Island for the past 18 years. Along with fellow potters, Russell recently celebrated the opening of a new clay studio and gallery in St. James called The Brick Clay Studio & Gallery where he is the studio manager and technical advisor. His beautiful pottery can now be found on four continents.
How did you become interested in pottery?
I took computer programming in college. I also took a pottery class and I was hooked! I wound up getting in trouble for arriving late to my programming classes and all covered in clay!
What are the properties of clay that you like?
I love the plasticity of clay. It is this quality that can make it so much fun to work with. You can take clay anywhere, as long as you do it carefully. You are limited only by your imagination.
Starting from the initial idea, can you walk us through the process of creating a piece?
The clay is first wedged (kneaded) to remove all air pockets. The next step, for a wheel “thrown” piece, is centering the clay. This is one of the most difficult and important steps. If the clay is not centered, a symmetrical vessel cannot be created. The clay is then shaped by hand, with the aid of a few specialty tools. Each piece needs additional work, such as trimming, adding handles or covers, or texturing. The pottery must then be completely dried, bisque fired, glazed and then glaze fired. I use brown, speckled stoneware clay and fire to 2232 degrees in an electric kiln.
What is your method for glazing?
I make all the glazes myself, using recipes I have compiled by combining various minerals, chemicals and water. Different chemicals create specific colors and textures. Most pieces are dipped into a vat of glaze.
How do you decide on the design for each piece?
In general, I do not do surface decoration, so I try to make graceful, voluptuous shapes that are pleasing to the eye. Then I add a simple, beautiful glaze on the surface. This becomes my sole decoration on the piece.
What qualities make a great ceramic piece?
For me, a graceful, elegant form makes a great piece.
What do you regard as more important — an esthetically pleasing piece or one that has practical function?
While all my pottery is functional, I still consider the aesthetic value to be most important, but of course form follows function.
Is there a favorite type of piece that you like to design?
I love making containers. I also love wood so it just seemed to make sense to incorporate the two. So for the last dozen years or so, I have been making wood covers for my clay vessels.
What or who has influenced you in your artistry?
I have been influenced by Chinese and Japanese pottery. I admired the work of Shoji Hamada, known as a national treasure in Japan. I also admired the English potter Bernard Leach. When I started to do pottery 45 years ago, there was no internet and the local libraries had only a few books. The books are where I learned about Hamada and Leach. I fell in love with their simple and elegant work.
I see that you participate in many craft shows. What are some upcoming shows where one can purchase your work?
I will be exhibiting at the Montauk Historical Society on July 15 and 16 and Aug. 12 and 13. On Sept. 2 and 3, I will be at the Montauk Lions Club and on Aug. 25 I will be at the Art and Craft Fair in Shelter Island. Lastly, on Sept. 24, my pottery will be shown at the West Islip Country Fair. A list of future shows are on my website, www.pulickpottery.com where pottery can be purchased directly.
Where can someone take classes with you?
I teach at the Art League of Long Island in Dix Hills. Classes are open to beginners as well as those more experienced with clay. We have a wonderful group of students and everyone has a great time as they learn how to make pottery. You may sign up for my classes at www.artleagueli.org.
Is there one piece of advice that you could give your students and others interested in pursuing pottery as an art form?
I want them to know that anyone can learn pottery; it requires only patience and tenacity. I call it stick-to-ittiveness!
What else would you like readers to know about you?
Besides teaching, I also repair kilns and perform basic preventive maintenance for dozens of schools, universities and private clients.
Tell us about your latest adventure.
I am very excited to be a part of the new studio and gallery, The Brick Clay Studio & Gallery, 2 Flowerfield, Suites 57 and 60, St. James. It is a wonderful place for learning, creating and selling ceramics. Please check out our website at www.thebrickstudio.org. Setting up this new studio has been a wonderful adventure and all are welcome to stop by to see what we are all about!