Seed pods and clouds can be this artist’s inspirations

  • Jeff Zamek, ceramics consulting services, in his studio at his home in Southampton. Gazette Staff/Carol Lollis

For The Recorder
Thursday, August 10, 2017

Jeff Zamek has been working with ceramics since the day in 1967 when he first walked into a pottery studio. And, Zamek has combined a business background with his study of ceramics at Alfred University in New York to become a consultant, writer and teacher in the field. He develops clay body and glaze formulas for U.S. ceramics supply companies, and works with individual potters and companies on issues, such as kilns, raw materials and ceramic toxicology.

Making ceramics is also a matter of moving steadily forward, he says.

“For me, making pottery is like following a fragile string of ideas — some days I can pick up the string, on other days, I lose the string, and many times the string breaks and I have to follow a new path.”

Steve Pfarrer: Talk about the work you’re currently doing. What does it involve, and what are you trying to achieve?

Jeff Zamek: As a longtime ceramics consultant, I have to understand my clients’ needs and supply the correct solutions to their ceramics problems; it’s very challenging work. But I also find time to make functional pottery in my studio almost every day, which is a constant source of satisfaction.

S.P.:What do you draw inspiration from? Do you ever have any “Eureka!” moments?

J.Z.: Inspiration can come from many natural sources, such as seed pods or cloud formations. Unfortunately, I have never had a “Eureka” moment, which seems to happen only in books or films. Simply stated, work leads to other work. Waiting around for lightning to strike is wasting time.

Since I make functional pottery that has to work — cup handles should feel comfortable, lids fit, and spouts pour without dripping — the functionality of the pots dictates a structure you are working within. However, it is much like jazz in that you can improvise on many levels within that format.

S.P.: How do you know when your work is finished?

J.Z.: The work is never finished. Out of 100 pots, possibly one stands out, which could mean it has a singular glaze effect or design feature that I find exceptional. More often, it is an undefined element that I cannot put into thought or words, but on some level I recognize.

S.P.: Have you ever had a “mistake” — a project that seemed to be going south — turn into a wonderful discovery instead?

J.Z.: You can learn more from mistakes than “perfect” pots. In fact, if my students are satisfied with their work, they are not progressing. Making pottery is labor intensive, often disappointing and not recognized as an art form in this country. But if you can put all that aside, follow your vision.

S.P.: Name some artists you admire or who have influenced your work. What about their art appeals to you?

J.Z.: Ceramics is a small field, which makes it easier to study with the best people. At Alfred University, I studied under Val Cushing, Daniel Rhodes and Robert Turner. While these names might not be known to the general public, each imparted a unique example of how to pursue my own vision. As Henry Adams said, “A fine teacher attains a kind of immortality, because it is impossible to know when, or if, their influence stops.”

For more information on Jeff Zamek’s books, pottery, teaching and consulting business, visit:
jeffzamek.com. He will lead a ceramics workshop at Snow Farm in Williamsburg on Oct. 1.