Who is Mike Schwartz
Michael Schwartz was born in Brooklyn and went to school in New York City from kindergarten through medical school. After an active psychiatric practice in Denver, Colorado for 27 years, he retired to Florence, Oregon in 1995, and took his first pottery lesson. “I didn’t know that I’d fall in love”, he says about pottery, “but now half my double garage has become my pottery studio”.
Mike's specialty is pit fired ceramics in which no glaze is used to color his work. Pit firing is an ancient process which predates the advent of the kiln. His colors come from the interaction of fire and smoke working on the salts and metals with which he's treated his pieces. As a retired psychiatrist, now turned potter, Mike’s motto has become, “May all your crackpots be made of clay only”!
Michael N. Schwartz
First, each piece is carefully thrown on the potter’s wheel. When leather hard, it is trimmed and burnished to a soft luster with a smooth stone.
After leather hard gives way to bone dry, the work is kiln fired to 1800F. The heat increases the clay’s strength but leaves it porous enough to accept color into its body. Some areas of the now cooled form are covered with copper or steel mesh and then the entire piece is dabbed with copper carbonate, etchant (A solution of ferric chloride in hydrochloric acid) and rock salts. Recently, another step has been added to the process…before entering the pit, each piece is wrapped in a triple layer of heavy duty aluminum foil. This holds the fumes close to the piece’s surface in a reduced oxygen atmosphere. The result is striking intensification of color.
The pot is then placed in a pit, buried in wood shavings and scrap wood, set ablaze and left to smolder overnight, as was (and still is) done by Indians in the American Southwest.
The next day is a cross between gift opening and archeology when I see what has come from the ground. The pots and bowls are washed, allowed to dry, then rubbed with wax to return the burnished surface’s satiny sheen.
What you see before you is due to the interaction of fire and smoke on salts and metals. No glaze has been used. Each piece is one of a kind…a work of art with its blacks, grays, greens, reds. This work is not meant to be eaten from and because of its porous nature will not hold water. Its purpose is to feed the eye and the spirit.
Galleries: Riversea Gallery(Astoria), Freed Gallery(Lincoln City), Touchstone Gallery(Yachats), River Gallery(Florence), Tsunami Gallery(Gardner).