Robert Harrison

WABA at the Clayarch Gimhae Museum of architectural ceramics

Posted on Friday, February 27th, 2015


I am a founding member of WABA, the World Association of Brick Artists. It’s a small unique group of international artists, founded less than a decade ago, but with a number of prominent exhibitions and catalogues to our credit. Artists include: Ulla Viotti (Sweden), Fritz Vehring (Germany), Gwen Heeney (Wales, UK), Jacques Kauffman (Switzerland / France) and myself.

Jacques Kauffman had been invited as a featured artist to create a large indoor installation in the incredible rotunda space on the main level of the Clayarch Gimhae Museum, along with a side gallery of smaller works. He in turn, suggested that WABA artists be invited to install works in the expansive galleries of the second floor of the museum.


This was my fourth or fifth visit to Korea and the second time working at the Clayarch Gimhae Museum of architectural ceramics. In 2009 I had been invited to create an outdoor piece as part of the Ceramic Architecture Now exhibition, and built Gimhae Arch, which is on permanent display.


The WABA artists were invited to Korea to work as a group on an exhibition at the museum and the museum offered to cover travel expenses, housing and food, materials for the exhibition, a studio to work in, an assistant for each artist, an artist fee and produce a wonderful catalogue.


Clayarch Gimhae is actually a complex of buildings, mostly exhibition spaces, but also includes a building that houses artist’s studios, ceramics facilities and living accommodations. The WABA exhibition at the Gimhae Clayarch Museum seemed a natural fit, as both the museum and WABA are dedicated to ceramics and architecture. Clayarch Gimhae Museum sent us all gallery dimensions in advance and asked us to propose a preliminary installation concept.

We all arrived in Gimhae (less than an hour from Busan, Korea’s second largest city) and spent the first day acquainting our selves with the gallery spaces. The next day, we were off to the Sanham C1 brick factory that had agreed to donate brick, the raw building material for the exhibition.

We were greeted at the brick factory by the father and son team who own and run the factory. It is located in an area with a rich variety of clays for brickmaking. After a fabulous lunch, which of course included a variety of Kim chi, we got a tour of the very efficient automated factory, which produces a wide variety of colors and shapes of brick.


My assistant Song laying out the cardboard

I made some adjustments to my preliminary concept after spending time in the gallery space. So much of what I create depends on the space I am given to work in, and the space always dictates the final result. I measured and taped out the footprint for the spiral stack and the serpentine line, and then covered that portion of the gallery floor with cardboard.


In my allotted studio space, I set about working with the galvanized steel fencing mesh, creating a 6’ tall spiraling stack form. I had enough mesh material left to try something new, and decided to fabricate 3 smaller spiral pods forms. The forms were then outlined with flexible copper tubing attached to the inner and outer folded seams. This first phase of the installation had taken about a week.


The pallets of brick I had requested arrived from the brick factory; 5,000 brick in 10 different shapes and colors. Over the course of the next week the undulating serpentine brick line evolved in the gallery, and the spiral stack along with the 3 spiral pod forms were filled with bricks.

filling the spiral pods with bricks and shards

The area surrounding the Clayarch Gimhae Museum has approximately 80 working independent potteries in the vicinity. I made an effort to visit a number of potters and seek out shard piles to include pieces of local celadon wares in my installation. I was also fortunate to find a resource of wonderful Onggi or Buchong shards, ubiquitous in Korea for fermenting Kim chi.

Onggi pottery sales yard

Additionally, as a way of physically connecting with the granitic geology of Korea, I procured a quantity of rounded river washed granite stones, which were also mixed into the serpentine line. The physical fabrication and installation of my piece titled: Elementary Brick, took nearly 3 weeks to complete. I explored some new directions in the installation and I am proud of the piece.


All 5 of the WABA installations are strong works, and with Jacques’ main exhibition it is a dynamic representation of WABA.

The museum was generous in setting up some tour days to visit temples and historic sites in the area. The temple sites and tomb mounds in and around Gyeongju were outstanding.


Additionally, I took the high-speed train to Seoul to spend some time with my Korean friends Hun Chung Lee (and his wife Hyunjoo) and Jiman Choi, both former Archie Bray Foundation residents. Outstanding sites included the Leeum Museum and the Dongdaemun City Center.


The official opening of the exhibition was February 27th and the exhibition will be open until mid-August 2015. The opening ceremony was attended by many, including the US and Swiss ambassadors, government officials, dignitaries and guests. Please visit if you are in Korea over the next 6 months; I guarantee it will be worth the effort.


Posted on Friday, January 23rd, 2015

(Objects from Helena, Montana Collections) Holter Art Museum, Helena, Montana

I am a practicing artist, with a focus on ceramic sculpture and large-scale installation works. I have lived in Helena since the early 1980’s and worked out of my Granitewood Studio, west of Helena for the past 25 years. I came to Helena to work at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts and like many before and after my time there as a Bray resident, call Helena, Montana home. My work has created opportunities to work and travel internationally. I take advantage of these opportunities to continue my on-going research into world history and pre-history, often focused specifically on ceramic history.

In the spring of 2013 I took such an opportunity to extend my research on world porcelain with a visit to Dresden and Meissen, Germany. Meissen is a world-famous manufacturer of porcelain figurines, and by many today, regarded as the finest porcelain manufacturer in the world. The city of Dresden is nearby and is one of the cultural treasures of Europe, full of museums and galleries. My intent was to visit the remarkable porcelain collection at the Zwinger Museum.


Arcanum coverIn preparation for the visit, I had read Janet Gleeson’s book The Arcanum; The Extraordinary True Story** (of German porcelain production in the 17th Century) which provided the necessary historical perspective. The preface to her book reads…

At the dawn of the Age of Reason, some of the finest minds in the eighteenth-century Europe were pursuing the alchemists dream: to discover the secret formula for transforming base metal into gold. Geniuses and charlatans, noblemen and fools, even monarchs competing for greater wealth found themselves joining the epic quest for…

The Zwinger Museum’s Porzellansammlung (porcelain collection) is described as:


The Dresden collection is the most exquisite, and also the largest, specialist ceramics collection in the world, not least on account of the outstanding holdings of early Meissen porcelain as well as oriental porcelain dating from the 17th and early 18th centuries. August the Strong (1670-1733) was passionate about porcelain. It is to his “maladie de porcelaine”, as he himself called his obsession with the “white gold”, that Dresden owes its unique collection. The most beautiful items from among the 20,000 objects that have been preserved are now on display in the delightful rooms inside the Zwinger, against the constant Baroque backdrop of the Zwinger courtyard. The spectrum of porcelain wares on show extends from specimens dating from the Ming Dynasty in China and abundant holdings from the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1662–1722) to Japanese Imari and Kakiemon wares from the early 17th and the 18th century. The development of Meissen porcelain from its invention in the year 1708 until the late 18th century is also illustrated by works of supreme craftsmanship.


I was overwhelmed by the visit to the museum, not only by the quality and quantity of the porcelain collection, but also by the exquisite installation of the collection and the baroque architecture of the museum. This was the kind of extraordinary museum experience that has the potential to affect the viewer and the potential to impact an individual’s creative work.

The experience lingered, and by the time I returned to Helena, I had already decided that I needed to get into the studio and create a response to the visit. I came to the realization that the best way for me to respond was to create a counter-point to the Zwinger Porzellansammlung (porcelain collection) installation.

For this project, I wanted to create a life size replica of one of the Zwinger installation arched niches, by building a recessed wooden arch form with interior shelves that would contain an homage to collecting porcelain in Helena, Montana. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of collected porcelain objects are installed into the frame, creating an intense optical experience for the viewer, full of color and shapes.

Titled Re-CLAIMed: WHITE GOLD (Objects from Helena, Montana Collections) the art work is intended to create a visual blast for the viewer and provide a contemporary counter-point to the obsessive collecting of August the Strong, the 17th Century King of Poland and Elector of Saxony.


I have made use some of my own ceramics collection (acquired over many years and currently gathering dust) as well as some of my own sculptural porcelain pieces. I have included porcelain objects purchased from Helena’s Good Samaritan and Helena Industries thrift stores. For the past year and a half, I have been a ‘regular’ at these thrift stores, filling a basket of porcelain cast offs from local donations each visit. It has been amazing to find these treasures and jewels that Helenans’ have so carefully collected over the years and reflect of the depth of travel and the cultural interests of the Helena community. Porcelain vessels and figurines from around the world have multiplied in my studio, now art making materials, waiting to become art installations.


In handling these reclaimed materials, first by washing and drying them and then attempting to integrate them, a deep respect for both the maker/manufacturer and the buyer/collector developed. I chose to leave them as whole as possible, working within the allocated spaces of the shelves and the architectural volume of the arch. I consider these pieces 3-diamensional collages, and have been working in the collage format since I was a child, first by cutting out and gluing magazine images, and more recently by firing ceramic decals, china paint and gold luster onto porcelain plates.



I have been using repurposed, reclaimed and recycled objects in both my outdoor and indoor installation projects for many years. I rationalize the use of recycled materials in my sculptural works as a way to pay homage to and respect for a specific geographical location and community. The concept has become a hallmark of my work, and this installation is indeed a continuum of this process.


I am most grateful to the Myrna Loy Center’s Grant to Artists Program, which provided the funding to contract local wood workers/craftsmen A.L. Swanson and Kevin Herrin from All Wood Design to build these substantial three-dimensional wooden frame arches with internal shelves, along with purchasing some of the collected porcelain, paint and gold leaf supplies.

RH White Gold B&W portrait image

The Holter Art Museum generously offered to debut this work. Creating these new pieces has evolved my installation concepts and continues my ongoing commitment to sustainable art practices.

Honoring the WS Dickey Clay Mfg. Co. and the Mission Clay Products Co.

Posted on Saturday, November 1st, 2014

After my visit to the old WS Dickey clay pipe factory in Pittsburg, Kansas in March, 2014 (please see my web site news entry from April, 2014), I was commissioned to make a series of porcelain plates honoring the nearly 130 year history of clay pipe manufacturing, and to be given to specific long term employees of the factory.

*I have been collaging with visual images since I was very young. My decal, china paint and lustered surfaces began in the early 1970’s after seeing an exhibition of Howard Kottler plates while majoring in ceramics at undergraduate school.


I started with a request for copies of the architectural plans for the beehive kilns. I had ceramic decals made of selected kilns, and augmented them with decals of images of clay pipe products.


I begin the process by laying down a wash of china paint on the glazed porcelain surface of the plate. The plates are repetitively fired to cone 017. Then I begin laying down the largest decals, and fire the plates again. Smaller decals are then worked into each plate surface, carefully assessing the space on each plate and looking for opportunities to create visual stories on the glazed porcelain surfaces, both front and back. Finally, numerous tiny gold luster brush strokes are added that follow the flow of the black china paint wash. A single plate might be fired as many as 6 times before the final result is achieved.


My challenge is to work with the space of the plates, create unique and visually dynamic surfaces while still leaving the visual interpretation of the imagery up to the viewer. By all accounts, the recipients were very pleased with my efforts.

**Working with both repurposed and recycled porcelain plates is part of my ongoing studio activity. I continue to make and purchase ceramic decals, growing my inventory of imagery constantly. Commissions with specific imagery available upon request.

Joe Mazurek Memorial

Posted on Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

In 2012 I was approached about helping to create a memorial for Joe Mazurek, a valued member of the Helena community.


Mazurek-3 Joseph P. Mazurek (1948-2012)

This memorial area commemorates former Montana Attorney General Joe Mazurek, who inspired Department of Justice employees with his deeply held belief in the value of public service. Following 12 years in the Montana Senate, Joe served as attorney general from 1993 through 2000. He was widely recognized for his ability to work with others to find common ground on difficult issues, for his longtime support of public employees, and for his devotion to his family, community, and state. Joe routinely ended conversations with Department of Justice employees with the phrase memorialized here: “Be happy in your work.”

The memorial committee asked me to consider a mural that eternalized Joe Mazurek’s words and enhanced the outdoor garden space that was created to honor him. I had worked with Quarry Tile Company of Spokane, Washington previously on a number of successful tile projects and decided to sub-contract the tile work to them.

QTCo. is perhaps the only tile manufacturing company in the country that uses a water-jet saw to cut ceramic tile and then re-fires the tile to soften the cut glazed edges. This process produces a professional and refined complex cut tile surface.

The tiles are mounted to an aluminum backing, which in turn is attached to the brick wall behind it. The choice of colors, reflect the water feature present in the warmer months and bring a bright spot of color to the memorial during the winter months. It was an honor to be asked to contribute to the memorial.


Golner Residence, Helena, Montana

Posted on Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

Sculptural Fence, Spiral Stack and Entry Lanterns – 2012 -2014

Midge and Jerry Golner have been good friends for many years. Collectors and supporters of the Archie Bray Foundation, based in Phoenix, they came to Helena for the Bray’s 50th in 2001, and enjoyed the summer community so much that they decided to acquire a house in town. Over the course of a number of years they renovated both the interior and exterior of the house, including planting beautiful annual plant and flowerbeds.

In 2011, Midge asked me to think about reworking the standard chain link fence in the front of the house. It took a while, but together we hatched a plan to rework the old fence by incorporating small column-like posts filled with reclaimed Bray brick and ceramic shards. The call went out to the community for donations of potters’ shards, and they generously responded. During the summer of 2012 the project took shape, beginning with removal of the old chain link fence.

I enhanced the linear aspect of the fence sections between the posts with sinuous lines of reclaimed aluminum tubing. The old gate was stripped to its frame and reworked with aluminum tubing accents.

Midge asked about a sculptural piece for the back yard garden, so I designed and built a human-scale stack piece, echoing the fence in the front yard and highlighted with an extruded clay pipe chimney form, produced at the old Bray brick factory.

Golners 10a

Then in 2013, Midge inquired about the possibility of some sort of lights to compliment the fence and finish the front entry to the house. I had made some large hanging spiraling chandeliers for an installation at the Holter Art Museum a few years’ back and thought I would rescale the idea down to lantern size to fit the entryway. The result finished off the entire residence and at night the lanterns glow brightly with a bluish hue from the LED bulbs. Thank-you Midge and Jerry for being part of the Helena community and turning the exterior of your residence into a real show-stopper!

A ‘Quick Trip to China’ part 2

Posted on Monday, June 9th, 2014

Beyond G(l)aze bannerThe second part of the ‘quick trip to China’ took place once we had returned to Shanghai from Jingdezhen. Ryan (Mitchell) had heard about an important contemporary exhibition in Suzhou (originally founded over 2500 years ago, and known for its canals and gardens) an hour by high-speed train from Shanghai. We dedicated day four to this trip and by mid-morning were at the Suzhou Jinji Lake Art Museum to see the Beyond G(l)aze exhibition. I was very impressed with the architecture of the Culture and Expo Centre, reminding me of the texture of the famous Olympic Birdsnest building in Beijing.



'birdsnest' detail

Suzhou Culture and Expo Center









Organized by the Suzhou Jinji Lake Art Museum and the KODE / Art Museums of Bergan (Norway) we were fortunate to meet Wu Yan the exhibition department specialist there. The exhibition is an installation by 8 Norwegian and 8 Chinese artists. Greeting us at the entry way to the exhibition was an installation of Torbjorn Kvasbo, long time friend and IAC colleague.  Bold, bright and substantial, Stacks (2009-2012) is impressive in scale and scope and the exhibition title certainly reverberated though this piece.

TK installation

TK install3









TK install detailSince first seeing Torbjorn’s work I am always impressed with the energy and vitality found within the pieces, be they handbuilt and wood fired or extruded and glazed. Upon walking into the next gallery spaces one get’s a sense of the vision for the exhibition. Primarily large scale installation works, all 16 artists are well considered.

Ryan documenting










Lu Pinchang

Liu Jianhua










Works by Lu Pinchang, Liu Jianhua, Corinna Thornton and Huang Huanyi stood out for me.

Corrina Thornton

Hunag Huanyi











Ryan is planning to do some additional writing on the exhibition. If I should find myself in Suzhou again, I plan on exploring more of the historic aspect of the city. That was our fourth day in China; the next day we flew home to Montana, USA.

Ryan at Suzhou gate

Suzhou Jinji Lake








Quick trip to China May 22-28, 2014

Posted on Monday, June 2nd, 2014

At the end of April I was invited by Ryan Mitchell to participate in a ground breaking ceremony in Jingdezhen, China scheduled for May 24th, 2014. Ryan has been asked to oversee the design of a new international ceramics studio in Jingdezhen. The project has a much larger scope, rebuilding a part of the city of Jingdezhen that had severe flooding a while back. Steps have been taken to prevent future flooding and the Greenland Group (one of China’s largest real estate / development companies) is the planning the new development.

Greenland Jingdezhen development model


I was asked to come along as a representative member of the IAC (International Academy of Ceramics) and Past President of both NCECA and the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts. Needless to say the time frame was challenging, with the necessity for a Chinese visa and arranging airline tickets and hotel accommodation.


Jingdezhen Greenland ceremony entry



We departed Montana on May 22nd and arrived into Shanghai late on May 23rd. We flew to Jingdezhen early on May 24th, and were met at the airport by our Greenland hosts and student interpreters.Jingdezhen student interpreters

RH and EK at Pottery Wkshp

Once we had our ‘feet on the ground’ got out into town to visit some familiar spots (this marked my 3rd visit to Jingdezhen). We found Pottery Workshop Deputy Director and friend Eric Kao at the coffee shop, along with Canadian friends and colleagues Trudy Golley from Red Deer, Alberta and Grace Nickel from my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba.You just never know who you will bump into when traveling internationally!!






Jingdezhen old kiln site entry 2

The next morning, May 25th the ‘ground breaking’ ceremony was complete with drummers, speeches, attending dignitaries and confetti shooting cannons! After the ceremony the guests were invited to have lunch and attend a ‘conversation’ about the new development concept at the old Jingdezhen pottery kiln historic site.




Jingdezhen old kiln site 3









The historic site is truly inspiring with ceramic artists making and decorating traditional Jingdezhen blue and white wares.

Jingdezhen old kiln site 5










I had an opportunity to spend the following morning searching for specific over glaze decals at the plethora of decal shops in Jindezhen. That was followed with a wonderful lunch at the famous Mao’s restaurant with my student interpreter Lin and our Greenland employee host.

Jingdezhen lunch at mao's 2

Jingdezhen lunch at Mao's









In my eyes, a great deal has changed in China since my last visit six years ago in 2008. More cars and infrastructure, more Western style hotels and restaurants, more modern conveniences and everyone seemed wired to a cell phone and computer.

I was pleased to see porcelain pots and sculpture still being wheeled through the Jingdezhen streets, but I saw far fewer carts being transported in this tried and true historic fashion.jingdezhen street Budda

Jingdezhen street pots









My Jingdezhen chicken cup




We ended the short (less than) 3 day visit to Jingdezhen with a stop at some ceramic shops. We found some recently produced replica ‘Chinese Chicken Cups’ that we bought for a few dollars each. The original recently sold for a record $36 Million USD at auction! Crazy!

We left Jingdezhen feeling like this portion of the ‘Quick China trip’ was a success.


Jingdezhen chicken cup









Stay tuned for my next post on part 2 of our ‘Quick China trip’ with a great visit to Suzhou and a great exhibition of contemporary Norwegian and Chinese ceramics.



Site visit to Mission Clay Products pipe plant, Pittsburg, Kansas

Posted on Sunday, April 13th, 2014

A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to visit a 130 year old clay pipe factory in Pittsburg, Kansas (2 hours due south of Kansas City by car). Over the past few years I had been talking with Bryan Vansell, whose family owns and operates Mission Clay Products headquartered in Corona, California. He described the inventory at the Pittsburg, Kansas clay pipe plant and invited me to visit. I was able to co-ordinate a visit with Bryan post NCECA Milwaukee.

WS Dickey plaque

WS Dickey B&W







The plant operated for most of it’s life as the WS Dickey Clay Manufacturing Company, and had a 100 acre footprint with 30+ beehive kilns during it’s heyday (Mission Clay Products acquired the plant a number of years ago). This is the same factory that Jun Kaneko worked from 2005-2008 to build, dry and fire numerous dangos and heads in the beehive kilns; visit:

Beehive kiln yard

Bee hive kilns








As we toured the property and stopped to photograph the variety and extent of finished product on site, a sense of awe began to set in. This plant was about 4 times the size of the Archie Bray Foundation property and had nearly 5 times the number of beehive kilns. Acres and acres of finished pipe product awaits delivery or creative use.

MCP pipe product

MCP skinny pipe








The largest pipe were incredibly impressive, up to 4′ diameter and 10′ high, weighing up to 1.5 tons each! The variety of smaller pipe were also amazing with short and long lengths and various bits and pieces manufactured to connect any combination of pipes. It was that feeling of being a ‘kid in a candy store’ again! Beautiful fired colors and surfaces, some of the older product shiny with a salted finish, and some that had acquired a patina with age.


Brian V with MCP large pipe

RWH 42" pipe









Unfired 10' pipes

Needless to say, I left Pittsburg, Kansas with my creative juices ‘fired up’! I spent the next few days processing the experience and making notes and small drawings of ideas for large-scale work. The potential for the acres of fired clay product at this clay pipe plant seems limitless. Time will tell what might come of the possibilities!

WS Dickey motto sign



















NCECA 2014 Milwaukee

Posted on Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

NCECA logoHey everyone: Just back from an extended trip to the 48th annual NCECA conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was a great trip, with the week in Milwaukee filled with activity. I was able to get up to Kohler, Wisonsin (about an hour north of Milwaukee by car) and visit the Kohler factory Arts Industry program as well as the John Michel Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan. It has been 25 years since I worked in the arts industry program there and it was great to see the program running as strong as ever. As there was still snow on the ground, Susan Barnett, Arts Industry Project Specialist shared some images of Cullumned Spiral that were taken last fall. The 25 year old piece looks great and thanks go to Ruth Kohler for planting 5 cedars behind the piece to frame it beautifully.

Cullumned Spiral, Kohler Arboretum

Cullumned Sprial 1989, Kohler, Wisconsin

Sustainable Ceramics CoverMy time at the conference in Milwaukee was focused on helping to promote my new book Sustainable Ceramics at the Ceramics Monthly booth in the exhibitors area. The book seems to be doing well with good sales world wide. My goal is to get a copy into every ceramics studio and school library. I signed numerous copies during the conference.

For those who have already purchased a copy online, I have produced an adhesive book plate that I would be happy to sign and send to you to insert into the book; just contact me by e-mail and send me your mailing address.  Again, thanks for all your support.

For those interested in purchasing a copy of Sustainable Ceramics please visit:

In the next news post I’ll publish my post NCECA trip.