A PROJECT IN LIEU OF THESIS PRESENTED TO
THE COLLEGE OF FINE ARTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENT FOR
THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF FINE ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Summary of Project Option in Lieu of Thesis
Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida
In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the
Degree of Master of Fine Arts
Chair: Linda Arbuckle
Sunday brunch is a time for extended families to come together to share both the
mundane and transcendent aspects of family history. As the table cloth is laid on the table, the
outside world pauses for the duration of the meal. Pottery is woven into the fabric of the family
meal, acting as a silent heirloom that holds the collective memory of the group. Gather Round is
both the catalyst for and remnant of these interactions.
Gather Round uses color, pattern, and form to create nostalgia. An early 20th century
color palette of denim, cream, and terra cotta links the viewer to memories of past family
gatherings. Floral patterns establish a regional aesthetic that relates to the casual nature of folk
art. Southern hospitality is upheld within forms that are generous in proportion and gracious in
Family dining evokes traditions of community and comfort. Gather Round embodies
personal times that provide a counterpoint to the work-centered individual-first society that we
Sunday brunch is a time for extended families to come together to share both the
mundane and transcendent aspects of family history. As the table cloth is laid on the table, the
outside world pauses for the duration of the meal. Pottery melds into the fabric of the family
meals as a silent heirloom that holds the collective memory of the group. Gather Round is both
the catalyst for and artifact of these interactions.
Dining and Dinner Ware as a Reflection of our Changing World
In For the Table Top Merle Evans and Lora Sass state, "Our styles reflect our culture, as
others reflected theirs. And yet some things remain unchanged: The act of eating is still vitally
important, and the tabletop, today as before, is at the center of our lives." (Evans, Sass 9) Food
cultures arise out of shared preferences that are spread across geographical areas and cultural
heritages. Foods can be categorized by nationality, country, region, and city. This specialization
of food identity provides a vehicle for people to connect. Growing up in the south, I was exposed
to food culture that was simultaneously traditional and modern in its creative expression. Staples
such as biscuits and gravy, grits, and barbeque have been appropriated into an infinite number of
local specialties. In her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver states, "A food
culture is not something that gets sold to people. It arises out of a place, a soil, a climate, a
history, a temperament, a collective sense of belonging." (Kingsolver, 47.45) As culinary
practices migrate from location to location, food presentation has coevolved to meet the demand.
Throughout history cultures have fed themselves through hunting, gathering and crop
cultivation. Current food cultivation techniques produce sufficient food for consumers who have
the money to pay for it. For most middle-class Americans the concern for having enough food
has morphed into a concern for variety in the foods we have available. Food is now a luxury that
supports subcultures based on culinary preferences. As these subcultures have solidified,
dinnerware has become a way for people to express their culinary preferences and status within
their culture. As Ines Heugal states in Laying the Elegant Table, "Dinnerware as we know them
today first appeared in the nineteenth century, with the rise of an upper middle class from the
new industrial milieus and the emergence of a bourgeoisie anxious to emulate the powerful."
The choice between the use of permanent tableware or mass-produced disposable
dinnerware reflects the value placed on food presentation. Disposable service ware can fulfill the
physical role of delivering food to the body, but does so with its own destruction in mind.
Permanence is not a concern for designers of plastic ware. The primary focus on utility is
reflected by the absence of pattern and the limited variety of designs. Permanent tableware
fulfills the function of food delivery, while conveying cultural content. The prospect of long-
term use encourages designers to increase variety through pattern, scale, color, and form. Buyers
choose within this variety to express their own personal identity and social status. Handmade
ceramic tableware gives the buyer the ultimate personal choice because all pieces are unique and
made to order.
With the majority of American households dependent on the income from two people
working sixty-hour weeks, time for cooking and communal eating has waned. Fast food, TV
dinners, and takeout have replaced home-cooked meals. The emphasis on saving time has seen
disposable dinnerware replacing ceramics. This marginalization reduces the time families spend
together during the day. Traditionally, the hours reserved for cooking and eating were a time for
family members to share their daily experiences. Gracious dinnerware focuses attention on the
process of gathering and suggests the coming together of people for dining. Gather Round calls
the viewer back to the table where the individual and the group can be nourished.
The pieces in Gather Round have been crafted to serve Sunday brunch. This weekend
meal is often the only regular time families schedule to eat together. This meal often happens
after the family has attended church. The connection between spiritual and physical nourishment
is an integral part of the southern cultural landscape. The decoration, color, and display of
Gather Round convey the hospitality, graciousness, and generosity that communal dining
represented in my family.
The Aesthetic of Material Transformation
James Chappell states "Earthenware has been the type of pottery most commonly made
down through history" (Chappell 20). Earthenware can be dug straight from the ground and be
ready for use with minimal processing. As a secondary clay body it has migrated from its parent
rock and collected in river beds, lakes, and low-lying areas. During this migration earthenware
picks up residual iron, carbonaceous matter, and other impurities. These physical qualities link
earthenware to the mundane aspects of life. This "dirty" clay was used to make roof tiles, pipes
and everyday pottery which lend the medium utilitarian associations. These undecorated
products were not valuable. When broken they were replaced with a minimum of expense and
As a material, porcelain is the antithesis of earthenware. Earthenware's dark coarse
texture is in stark contrast to porcelain's white smooth quality. Porcelain represents purity and
refinement, qualities that the aristocracy of Europe coveted. The association of porcelain, and its
white color, as being valuable is linked to its rarity in the natural world, the skills needed to
master the difficult working properties of the material, and its value as a trade commodity.
Developed in China from primary kaolin, silica and feldspar, the formula for porcelain was
unknown in the western world until the early 1700s. As trade increased along the Silk Road, the
western elite developed a craving for porcelain and the status it represented. The perceived value
of earthenware shifted as various cultures used earthenware to mimic Chinese porcelains. By
making the clay white they benefited from associations porcelain had in the culture. This is very
similar to the practice of gold plating less-precious metals to increase their value. Many
techniques involved covering earthenware, or other low-fire clays, with white slips and glazes.
The creation of slips, colorants, and decorating techniques took hundreds of years to develop.
Transforming earthenware into a porcelain-like commodity took copious amounts of time and
labor. The search for the right technique involved many countries along a varied cultural
spectrum. As various techniques were tried, the level of decoration and experimentation
increased. Major aesthetic breakthroughs happened in the wake of the attempt to make porcelain.
In the 17th century, English earthenware potters used white slip as a base for ornate
painting. Platters attributed to Thomas Toft are indicative of a Staffordshire tradition that valued
labor-intensive highly decorated slip painting. His drawings were direct, unrefined, and highly
stylized. When compared to representational oil painting of the time, they look naive. He would
be the equivalent of the modern folk artist. His intent was to translate the world around him into
easily accessible images for public consumption. For Toft this act of stylized embellishment
turned mundane earthenware into a valuable cultural object.
The work in Gather Round follows the tradition of material transformation by decorating
earthenware with floral patterns that reflect the cultural landscape of my home state of Virginia.
My approach to mark-making and pattern displays a folk stylization similar to Toft's work. Each
pattern is composed of simple layered brush marks. Individually, the motifs are rudimentary, but
when combined they are sophisticated in their complexity. By covering earthenware with
patterns, I elevate the material by changing its association from the mundane to the ornate. The
patterns commemorate values of graciousness and hospitality that are the cornerstones of
Southern cultural tradition. While using tableware in Gather Round, the participant is immersed
in nostalgia for Southern culture.
The Commemorative Action of Decoration
In Textile Designs Susan Meller and Joost Elffers state, "The point at which it became
possible to mass-produce floral printed fabric was also the point at which the farm and the
garden began to disappear from the main stream of people's lives." (Meller, Elffers 27) Floral
prints arose out of need to remember a physical landscape the individual no longer saw on a
daily basis. By wearing floral-printed clothing, the individual translates the landscape from
physical to psychological. The desire to decorate with floral patterns may be commemorative,
reflecting the importance of the landscape as a signifier of personal identity. Within this identity,
floral patterns may also signify the ephemeral beauty in life.
Dogwood, honeysuckle, and campanula carry associations with moderate climates in the
South. These flowers are immortalized through pattern making. The abundant growth of
honeysuckle and dogwood blooming in spring is captured in decorative form for the user to
experience all year round. This brings nature into the home for people who have become
disconnected from the beauty of its subtle changes. Reconnecting people to their landscape
reminds them of the changing cycles of life, while providing them with a sense of place.
Psychologically, this provides a sense of belonging that comes from participation in a cultural
Form, Surface, and Color Language
Pottery form can express physical and emotional fullness. Each piece is manipulated into
shapes with convex bulges that reference pillows and tufted furniture. This overfilled aesthetic is
a visual metaphor for comfort, joy, and abundance. This fullness is the foundation of my form
The surface of the forms is divided into two categories of decoration; symmetrical and
asymmetrical. The symmetrical decoration responds to structural alterations of the pot. Rims
and feet are manipulated into quadrants that are pushed out from the inside. Slip-trailed lines
define the structural decoration with patterns reminiscent of lattice work, masonry, and picket
fences. The symmetrical protrusions establish the overall contour of the pots while defining
vignettes that hold floral patterns. These asymmetrical floral patterns are used to create
decorative tension with the symmetrical alterations. The verdant floral patterns pass freely
through the slip-trailed boundaries. This contrast between the restraint of symmetry and the
excess of asymmetrical patterns creates movement that is visually interesting.
Color is the key signifier for a sense of time in my work. Modulated blues and shades of
cream reflect early 20th-century color sensibilities. The colors are rich but not intense in value or
hue. Color triads are established with two cool colors (sky blue, mazerine blue) and a split
complementary warm (yellow). Variations of white are also used to establish monochromatic
color schemes. These colors are not meant to reference a specific time but rather a generic past.
These nostalgic color choices create a sense of familiarity and tradition within the pieces.
The primary focus for Gather Round is an oval table with dinnerware and service pieces.
The table is approximately six feet long and four feet wide. It is six inches higher than a normal
dinner table and without chairs to encourage the gallery viewer to handle the work. The ability to
touch the work humanizes the viewing experience. The pottery is presented on top of place mats
and table cloths. These fabric elements personalize the place setting on the table, establishing a
domestic context that is approachable and familiar to the viewer. This familiarity breaks down
the emotional distance often present in a gallery setting. The nostalgia for tradition present in my
work is enhanced when gallery viewers make connections to their own past.
The table is complemented by a wall shelf that is six feet long and two feet wide. This
handmade wooden shelf displays service ware used to present food for the table. Its oval form
references traditional buffet sideboards that hold the service pieces ready without crowding the
table. Two ovoid wall shelves display dessert and coffee services. These provide individual
displays that segregate the work into meal course service pieces, while still connecting to the
The walls are painted to delineate the boundaries of my exhibition space. Curtains are
hung over the windows to mediate light and signify domestic space. The colors of the walls,
table, shelves, and curtains are a neutral tan that complements the pottery without distracting
from it. These display elements hint toward the domestic while upholding traditions of gallery
presentation. The display increases approachability, encouraging the viewer to interact with
Gather Round on a personal level.
Gather Round is a collection of functional pottery that reflects the hospitality and
generosity of my cultural heritage. The pots serve to share the nostalgia of traditional family
meals with the viewer. Gather Round uses color, pattern, and form to create nostalgia. The
dogwood, campanula, and honeysuckle patterns establish a regional aesthetic that relates to the
casual nature of folk art. The color palette links the viewer to the early 20th century when
communal meals were the core of familial relationships. Gather Round evokes traditions of
community, while embodying personal times that are a counterpoint to our work-centered
Figure 1. Full gallery view
Dinnerware Four dinner plates, four juice glasses with pitcher, four iced tea glasses with
pitcher, butter dish, salt and pepper shakers, condiment tray, flower brick, colander with plate
Service ware Two oval platters, square platter, five pointed platter, two vases
After Dinnerware Cake plate with glass dome, coffee pot, four mugs with saucers
Chappell, James. The Complete Book of Clay and Glazes: A Comprehensive Guide to FT ,il I,,,,.
Mixing, Applying and Firing Clay Bodies and Glazes. Revised Edition. New York, NY: Watson-
Guptill, 1991. 20.
Evans, Meryle and Lora Sass. For the Table Top. New York, NY: American Craft Museum, 1980. 9.
Heugel, Ines. Laying the Elegant Table: China, Faience, Porcelain, Majolica, Glassware, Flatware,
Tureens, Platters, Trays, Centerpieces, Teasets.. New York, NY: Rizzoli, 2006. 23.
Kingsolver, Barbara, Camille Kingsolver, and Stephen L. Hopp. Animal. Vegetable. Miracle: A Year of
Food Life. MP3. New York, NY: Harper Audio. 1997.
Meller, Susan, and Joost Elffers. Textile Designs Two Hundred Years of European and American Patterns
Organized by Motif, Style, Color, Layout, and Period. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, 1991.
Appendix A: Technical
Gather Round is a collection of functional pottery made using wheel-thrown and hand-
built techniques. Foam and cloth molds are used to create the heavily geometric forms. The
softly rounded forms are thrown on the wheel and altered. The pots are surfaced with layers of
trailed and brushed slips. Various objects are drawn across the slips to create Sgraffito lines that
expose the bare earthenware clay. The pots are then dunked in transparent or semi-opaque glazes
to create services for functional use. The pots are fired to 03 in a computer controlled oxidation
Linda Arbuckle Earthenware Clay
Red Art 45
Gold Art 10
Foundry Hill Creme 14
XX Saggar 16
Cedar Heights Fire Clay 8
325 Mesh Silica 6
Barium Carbonate 0.5
Zaeder Matt Revised
OM4 Ball Clay
Pete's White Low fire Slip Revised
OM4 Ball Clay 35
Calcined Kaolin 5
Nepheline Syenite 10
Color Additions: add equal parts Frit 3124 to Colorant
Green: Sage Grey 6 Dark Teal 0.75
Brown: Deep Brown 8
Light Blue: Sky Blue 10
Deep Blue: Mazerine 3 Wedgewood 5
White: Zircopax 6.5
Tan: Zircopax 6.5 Red Iron Oxide 0.75
Alfred Clear Gloss
Nepheline Syenite 25
Gerstley Borate 25
Frit 3195 30
Appendix B: Visual
A. Dogwood (Comus foemina) B. Bell Flower (Campanula) C. Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)
Figure B-2 Figure B-3
Iznik Ceramic Tile- Rustem Pasha Mosque, Slipware Charger- Thomas Toft
Istanbul Turkey 1561 Staffordshire England 1670
Roller Print- French Unnamed pattern 1914
Benjamin Gerald Carter received his Bachelor of Fine Arts from Appalachian State University in
ceramics and painting. Upon graduating in 2003, Benjamin was an artist in residence at the Canton Clay
Works, Canton, CT, Odyssey Center for Ceramic Art, Asheville, NC, and Anderson Ranch Arts Center,
Snowmass, CO. Benjamin received his Master of Fine Arts from the College of Fine Arts of the
University of Florida in the spring of 2010.