Nancy Bernardeau is a clay artist who specializes in creating one-of-a-kind decorative ceramic forms utilizing the raku process and other associated alternative firing techniques, such as horsehair and saggar firing. The Rickie Report has admired Nancy’s creations at Artisans On The Ave in Lake Worth. Caren Hackman shares an interview with Nancy, not only exploring her artistry, but explaining more about different firing techniques. Enjoy!
Nancy Bernardeau, Smokehouse Pottery
“The Magic Of Raku”
Glass Embedded Celadon Box by Nancy Bernardeau
Nancy Bernardeau tells The Rickie Report, ” I am constantly drawn to the magic of Raku firing! It is so dramatic to open up a kiln when it is glowing red hot at around 1832 degrees fahrenheit. Of course there is danger involved, making it even more exciting and adrenaline producing! So I gear up with my respirator, high temperature gloves, and clothing that completely covers and protects me from the intense heat. Raku firing gives me the “instant gratification” of seeing my results a lot more rapidly than waiting hours for a kiln to fire and then cool down. I’m directly involved in the firing and reduction process, as I place each piece in a container with combustibles, set it up in flames and put a tight cover on it so it smokes and smolders. This reduction or deprivation of oxygen is what creates the dramatic blacks and crackles, a signature of Raku pottery. The magic continues when the pot is taken out of the container and scrubbed clean under water. The beautiful colors then reveal themselves in sometimes unexpected ways”!
Caren Hackman shares, ” Nancy Bernardeau is a clay artist who specializes in creating one of a kind decorative ceramic forms utilizing the raku process and other associated alternative firing techniques, such as horsehair and saggar firing. It is always a pleasure to visit Nancy and see what new forms, materials and techniques she is incorporating into her work”.
Horse Hair Raku by Nancy Bernardeau
Understanding Raku Terminology:
Raku firing involves opening up a kiln when the pot is glowing red hot at around 100 degrees C (1832 F) and removing each piece with tongs and placing it into a reduction container with either newspaper or sawdust. The pot catches fire and a tight lid is placed onto container, creating smoke which blackens any of the unglazed areas. Thermal shock usually produces an overall crackle on the glazed areas.
Horse hair raku is removed from the kiln at a lower temperature and is not put into a covered bin. The decoration occurs when strands of horse hair are laid across the hot ware leaving a swirling linear smoke design on the surface.
Saggar firing is a type of smoke firing in which each unglazed pot is enclosed and fired in a lidded container. Combustible materials and minerals are added to the container and the piece gets fired, getting the colors from the burning off of these materials creating a soft marbled look on the surface. Polishing with wax adds sheen.
Nancy with her kiln
CH: Why do you do what you do?
Creating with clay offers me the opportunity to satisfy my tactile and visual needs. It also provides constant challenges with infinite learning experiences.
One of a kind Ceramic by Nancy Bernardeau
CH: How do you work?
I am not a prolific production potter, although I am in awe of people who are able to do that. I concentrate on creating a few unique pieces at a time. I “nurture” these pieces from conception through fabrication and decoration, finally releasing them to share. The development of each clay piece is like raising a child. I do what I can for it to reach its potential. A great deal of thought, love and care is involved.
CH: What’s your background?
I was an art major in college and was exposed to many different art forms. I dabbled in painting, printmaking, jewelry, ceramics and specifically photography. Upon finishing my studies, I worked in commercial photography, and then fashion styling. I then moved to Florida with my husband and eventually became an art teacher certified to teach grades K-12. Upon retiring, I felt compelled to rekindle my love for clay and to dedicate myself to exploring it as an art form.
CH: What’s integral to the work of an artist?
Discipline, desire, PATIENCE, and the curiosity and willingness to explore and experiment. Risk-taking is important and not being afraid to fail.
Jar with Jeweled Shoulder by Nancy Bernardeau
CH: What role does the artist have in society?
For me the role of the artist is to provoke emotion and stimulate the senses by making people stop, think, perhaps question and, as a result, see things with a new perspective.
CH: What has been a seminal experience?
Combined with getting my own pottery wheel and kiln, I took a couple of wonderful and inspiring Master workshops. The first one was with raku master Steven Branfman. It was a transformative and inspiring experience. I started to incorporate glass embedded into my work and started to really enjoy glazing as if it were an abstract painting. Working this way gives me the joy and freedom to work more spontaneously and instinctively. I also participated in a formative workshop with Linda and Charles Riggs, masters of saggar firing, and other techniques that I love, such as naked raku, and horsehair firing.
Horsehair Fired Vessel by Nancy Bernardeau
CH: How has your practice change over time
My biggest change was to concentrate on making an attractive form that can be used more decoratively, and also one of a kind, rather than concentrating on making many functional pieces with perfect craftsmanship.
CH: What art do you most identify with?
I love art that is vibrant and colorful, energetic and abstract. I enjoy different textures and I also appreciate art that is more monochromatic. I was always attracted to abstract landscape. My favorite artists are Picasso and Matisse.
CH: What work do you most enjoying doing?
I really enjoy making boxes that are embedded with glass. These pieces incorporate wheel throwing, hand-building, as well as the texture and color that the glass creates. The glass enables me to incorporate glaze around it, giving me an opportunity to add contrast and color. I usually finish these boxes off with an interesting wood handle found in nature. When searching for the perfect wood handle, one usually calls out to me because it has a “personality” or a soul. As much as I love color, I also enjoy, appreciate, and create more monochromatically. The monochrome pieces are created using naked raku, horse hair, and saggar fired techniques.
Nancy’s work can be seen at:
ARTISANS ON THE AVE
630 LAKE AVENUE LAKE WORTH, FL 33460
561-762-8162 or 561-582-3300
Gallery Hours: Open 7 days a week
Monday thru Saturday 11am – 9pm
Sunday 11am – 6pm
For more information about Caren Hackman:
Caren Hackman is a graphic designer and fine artist living in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. and author of a book about Graphic Design and Good Business practice: http://www.carenhackman.com/book/.
Be sure to check out Caren’s wonderful artwork – Caren is a talented artist in her own right! She is a founding member of the Artists of Palm Beach County.
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