being a potter in an urban area has its challenges. every so often, i envy my friends who are ceramic artists in far flung, beautiful places like the mountains of North Carolina or the plains of Montana and Nebraska. i love the beauty of where they live and most of all, the abundance of space. but i grew up in rural Pennsylvania, so by age 18 i had had enough of the country life. i have lived in Philly for almost 12 years and i think i am a permanent condition in this fair city. besides, i would miss the vibrant urban environment and the amazing community of makers that Philadelphia has to offer.
when i was looking to buy a house a year and a half ago, i told my realtor that my number one need was a work space. because Philly’s housing stock in almost entirely rowhomes, i knew my studio would be in the basement. so i needed a large, open, airy, high ceilinged basement, which was a challenge, especially in older homes. my house is almost a hundred years old, but it has an ideal basement. so this has been my studio home since then.
when i started making pots under Stanley Chester & Albert about two and a half years ago, i had almost 15 years working as a ceramic artist under my belt, including a BFA and an MFA in ceramic sculpture. i started SC&A with a very simple premise: to produce well made vessels that would be accessible to a diverse audience and appeal to a population of people who normally didn’t buy handmade pots. with that in mind, i decided to stick to simple forms like bowls and cups – things that could be used in a variety of ways and be at home in any domestic environment.
i’ve always been in love with vintage imagery, pop culture and snark, and the unexpected ways they can be combined. as for putting them on pots, it all started about seven years ago when i was still in grad school. i made a vase for a friend’s birthday: on one side was a dead flower, and the other said “BITCH PLS”. no one around me really got why it was funny, but i thought it was hilarious at the time (and still do). ceramics sometimes has a tendency to be overly formal and serious, so i love to disrupt that expectation.
most everything i make starts on the potters’ wheel, thrown by yours truly. i favor simple, elemental forms. everything is thrown generously and has a solid weight and heft to it. i want these pieces to stand up to daily use in your home, not put on a shelf only to be admired.
after the pots are trimmed and dried, they are bisque fired to 1860 degrees, and then glazed and fired again to 2232 degrees. almost everything i make is dipped in a clear glaze to allow the clay body (which is a really delicious speckled while stoneware) to shine through. i try to keep glazing very simple, mostly because i really hate glazing, but also because i’m more interested in using the vessel as a blank canvas for the images i apply.
i was introduced to the waterslide decal process by my colleague and friend, Sharon Bartmann. i immediately saw the possibility of decals and ended up running with it like mad. i source my images from copyright free and vintage websites and books, in particular the Dover series of illustration books, which compiles a huge variety of images in one place. after scanning or downloading, i play with the images in Photoshop a bit, adjusting contrast, brightness, proportion and orientation. because of the way the printer works, high contrast images without a lot of shades of gray work best.
once i have the image the way i want it in Photoshop, i print it out using a special printer and special decal paper. from there, i cut out the image, put it in water, and then affix the cellophane image to the vessel. it’s fired once more to permanently bond the image to the glaze. although the images are printed with black ink, once they are fired they turn a lovely reddish brown sepia color. with that aesthetic in mind, i gravitated toward imagery from the Victorian and Edwardian eras. i love anatomy and so skulls, hearts, bones and brains frequently find their way onto my work.
looking forward to the first Craft Bazaar at Asbury Park. come find me, i will be sure to have some Fucking Coffee in my hand.
Bethany Rusen is the creative force behind Stanley Chester & Albert. when she is not making pots, she is the Ceramics Technician at Main Line Art Center in Haverford, PA. she teaches kids, teens and adults at MLAC and Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington. she likes to go through other people’s trash, is obsessed with Richard Nixon and is dogmom to her two greyhounds, Calvin and Pearl. follow SC&A on Instagram (@stanleychesteralbert) and for more info, check out stanleychesteralbert.com
Photo credit: Bethany Rusen and Ananda Connolly