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Welch

STO K E D

On staff at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts since 1990, Matthew Welch has coauthored several books and in 2001 wrote the awardwinning Body of Clay, Soul of Fire: Richard Bresnahan and the Saint John’s Pottery. A specialist in Japanese Zen painting, Welch spent four years at Kyoto University as a Fulbright scholar and received his Ph.D. in Asian art from the University of Kansas. As curator of Japanese and Korean art at the Institute, he has organized eleven exhibitions, including “First Fire,” which featured ceramics by Richard Bresnahan from the inaugural firing of Saint John’s Johanna kiln. In 2008, the museum made Welch its assistant director for curatorial affairs, and since 2003 he also has served on the editorial board for Saint John’s University Press. He lives in Minneapolis in a Japanese-style house with his wife and two children.

S T OK E D Five Artists of Fire and Clay

Five Artists of Fire and Clay

Three-and-a-half years later, he had acquired such formidable skills that his famous sensei, or teacher, Nakazato Takashi gave him the title of “master potter.” After returning to the United States, Bresnahan accepted an offer from Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, to be its first artistin-residence. In the summer of 1979, he set up his initial studio on campus and that fall built a climbing kiln: a Japanese-style woodfired noborigama. This book celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Saint John’s Pottery, another place of resounding excellence, where unique collaborations occur daily between experts and novices, teachers and apprentices, humans and nature. At the same time, the text documents “Stoked,” an exhibition featuring the work of several talented potters who studied with Richard Bresnahan and then became masters in their own right: Kevin Flicker, Stephen Earp, Samuel Johnson, and Anne Meyer.

Matthew Welch 29.95

“I am in a place of excellence, peace, and earthiness,” wrote the young American in his journal, “with an unbelievable knowledge of clay.” That place was a heavily wooded mountain valley on the island of Kyushu in southern Japan. The date was August 1975. And the 22-year-old with bright eyes and an easy smile was Richard Bresnahan, a smalltown boy from eastern North Dakota.

Lavishly illustrated with nearly 90 color photographs, “Stoked: Five Artists of Fire and Clay” explores a range of contemporary American ceramics: from the robust stonewares of Bresnahan, Flicker, and Johnson to the whimsical redwares of Earp and the elegant sculptures of Meyer. The essays reveal each individual’s search for identity and the cross-fertilization that inevitably occurs when creative people from diverse backgrounds are mindful not only of the past but of generations yet to come.


S TOK E D Five Artists of Fire and Clay

Matthew Welch

SAINT JOHN’S UNIVERSITY PRESS COLLEGEVILLE, MINNESOTA


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TO HONOR Brother Dietrich Reinhart and Sister Johanna Becker

All great art is the work of the whole living creature, body and soul, and chiefly the soul. —John Ruskin

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Contents Acknowledgments

9

Donors

11

Foreword

13

Richard Bresnahan

17

Kevin Flicker

37

Stephen Earp

51

Samuel Johnson

67

Anne Meyer

83

Education, Exhibitions, and Collections

97

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Donors Major sponsorship of the “Stoked” exhibition and catalogue has been provided by: The Estate of Ralph Gross, Saint John’s University Class of 1965 Sue Shepard and Don P. Helgeson Generous contributions also have been made by: Theresa A. and Vincent J. Baker Charitable Trust Colette and Richard Bresnahan Leigh Dillard and John Taylor Lynn and Daniel Fazendin Cara and Frederick Hostetler Phyllis and Gary Jorgensen Jane and Michael D. Kathman Julia and Frank Ladner Betty Nilles Lois and John Rogers Jane and John ( Jack) Schulzetenberg Dr. Jennifer Sorenson and Dr. Edward Sako in honor of Akiko Sako and in recognition of her support of the Saint John’s Pottery Regina and Stephen Wolfe The Saint John’s Pottery also is deeply grateful to the McGlynn Family Foundation for its ongoing support of the Studio Manager

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Foreword The verb “stoke” comes from the Dutch stoken and refers to the act of stirring a fire and feeding it fuel, either coal or wood. The term applies equally to a fire in a hearth, boiler, furnace, or kiln. During the 1960s, California surfers also used the word as an adjective to describe a state of intense enthusiasm, exhilaration, or excitement.

T

his Stoked, which is both a book and an exhibition, tells the story of five remarkable artists who share a common passion for fire and clay and an association with Saint John’s University in central Minnesota. And while almost thirty years separate the oldest from the youngest, each potter has a profound sense of self and a formidable aesthetic identity.

Without exception, their works directly reflect their education and values and encapsulate their enduring commitment to their craft and artistic philosophies. And each maker is “stoked” in the best sense of the word—excited about life and the simple act of using the earth and fire to produce objects of great mystery and strength. This publication also commemorates the 30th anniversary of the Saint John’s Pottery. Established in 1979 by Richard Bresnahan soon after his return from Japan, it has become an integral part of Saint John’s Abbey and University, which was founded more than 150 years ago. In its unwavering emphasis on self-sufficiency, the pottery has always adhered to three recurring commitments of Saint Benedict’s Rule: those of humility, stability, and frugality. And by using salvaged materials and industrial waste products, gray water for washing clay and ash, and

deadfall for firing, the studio continues to be a model of environmentalism and responsible stewardship. At the same time, the Saint John’s Pottery has become a dynamic meeting place where scores of aspiring potters and well-established artists come to learn, to experiment, and to exchange ideas and techniques. With its welcoming hearth and simmering kettle, it also is a beacon and a refuge for art lovers of all kinds, who can vicariously share in the excitement of creation and the dramatic firings of the Johanna kiln. First and foremost, the five artists discussed here all have an enthusiasm for clay, which has sustained them on a life-long journey that has not always been easy. In fact, none of them began with the intention of becoming a potter. And as an apprentice, each had to persevere under the strict tutelage of a more senior artist and master. In the mid-1970s, Richard Bresnahan apprenticed in Japan near the port city of Karatsu with Nakazato Takashi. In keeping with tradition, Bresnahan had to earn the privilege of being taught by first performing menial tasks around the studio. Only after proving his deference, work ethic, and unquestioning respect for Takashi did he receive training on the wheel. One by one, the teacher meted out ceramic shapes, which

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Bresnahan had to replicate exactly before he could go on to the next, more difficult form. This methodical approach required complete devotion on the apprentice’s part as well as a total sublimation of ego and personal impulses. It was this learning system that Bresnahan instituted at the Saint John’s Pottery in the late 1970s. Kevin Flicker, Stephen Earp, Samuel Johnson, and Anne Meyer all apprenticed with him, and each recalls the long hours, arduous training, and inevitable loneliness that resulted from concentrating solely on pottery making. And yet, all of them confirm that the experience was pivotal to their own professional development and maturation. For the skill and dexterity they acquired eventually led to an intuitive understanding of clay’s potential. And with that insight, each ultimately produced objects of sublime spontaneity and naturalness. Boundless curiosity and an ineffable need to share their findings also characterize the people featured in this book. Bresnahan’s endless fascination with his craft prompts him to try new glaze formulas, surface treatments, ceramic forms, and object placements in the kiln. Every firing carries grave import for him because it brings months of labor to fruition and the outcome of numerous experiments. Moreover, educational inquisitiveness leads him to museums, galleries, and conferences. The discussions after these occasions usually occur with apprentices and other artists. But an excited Bresnahan holding up a recently fired bowl and pointing at its surface has greeted many visitors to the studio as well. Eyes wide with childlike wonder, he exclaims with palpable euphoria, “Look at this. Just look at this!”

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This potent inquiry can be found in Kevin Flicker, too, and prompts him to take his students’ questions to heart and ponder them long after classes have finished. He conducts experiments, contacts other potters, and reads voraciously, both to provide answers and to satisfy his own intellectual appetite. In turn, Flicker’s quiet industriousness inspires others and pulls them into his creative orbit. So much so, in fact, that he received a Distinguished Teaching Award in 2001 from the University of Minnesota at Morris, where he has taught since 1987. His students Samuel Johnson and Anne Meyer both say his hardworking example was crucial to their decisions to continue in the field. Stephen Earp’s innate curiosity led him to study in England and later to participate in an archaeological dig in western Africa. Social activism then took him to Nicaragua. Finally, his own search for identity prompted him to investigate the ceramic traditions in his own “backyard” of New England. Earp’s commitment to American redware continues to this day, some fifteen years after he first saw examples of the rustic vessels made by immigrants and their descendants in Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. In addition to re-creating or transforming prototypes he discovers, Earp shares his findings—and enthusiasm—on his Web site. After apprenticing with Richard Bresnahan for threeand-a-half years, Samuel Johnson left Saint John’s in 1999. Confident in the knowledge and skill he had gained there—and secure in his belief that handmade, wood-fired ceramics were vastly superior aesthetically and morally—he was taken aback in Denmark where he encountered an entirely different mind-set.


But his intellectual flexibility and receptivity have resulted in an aesthetic response to this duality of opinion, and Johnson’s current work reflects elements of both approaches. Since 2005, he has taught at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University. As part of his curriculum, he offers a class called “Art, Aesthetics, and Culture,” which exposes his students to themes and issues that transcend centuries and cultural boundaries. Anne Meyer’s intense respect for her mentors Kevin Flicker, Richard Bresnahan, and Nancy Randall has prompted her to immortalize them in stoneware portraits. Such sculptures, in fact, represent a new direction for her. After years of perfecting her skill on the wheel, Meyer has begun to translate her lifelong interest in drawing into three dimensions, producing unique and breathtaking figures in unglazed clay.

Richard Bresnahan, Kevin Flicker, Stephen Earp, Samuel Johnson, and Anne Meyer—all have the technical skill, aesthetic integrity, and creative vision to justify a separate solo exhibition. Each is a superb artist individually and has been included here because of a connection to Bresnahan himself and the Saint John’s Pottery. On any given night during the fall firing of the Johanna kiln, Richard Bresnahan opens a portal in his enormous kiln to check the color and speed of the red-orange heat inside. After all these years, his pulse still quickens at the sight of the fiery torrent, for it carries the promise of transforming mere clay into something far more enduring and prized. Likewise, that something of his own artistry and expertise live on in those who have passed through his studio astonishes him and remains a constant source of exhilaration and great pride.

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Colette and Richard Bresnahan


Richard Bresnahan

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ichard Bresnahan directs a pottery studio on the campus of Saint John’s, a Benedictine abbey and university in the woodlands of central Minnesota. Originally from Casselton, North Dakota, where his father ran a grain-elevator company and his mother raised a family of six, Bresnahan (b. 1953) is unapologetic about his rural Midwestern roots.

At the same time, he harbors a fierce admiration for the frugality and inventiveness of hardworking farmers— folks who repair things when they break, fell trees and mill lumber, stockpile machine parts for reuse, card and spin wool, raise chickens, and grow and can their own food. “Every day I witnessed the rigors of an agrarian lifestyle,” he says, “and saw the interconnectedness of all things and the need to improvise and make do with what was at hand.”

That same creativity and self-sufficiency course through Bresnahan’s blood as well. In 1979, confident in his training and thrilled about the space (an old garage and an abandoned root cellar) the university had allocated to him in “Joe” Hall, he set about building a pottery studio and a wood-burning kiln. Now, thirty years later, much has changed: The original studio and kiln have been replaced by updated structures, his three children have grown up, new relationships have been forged, and dear friends have been lost to sickness and age. But Bresnahan’s buoyant optimism and sense of purpose remain undiminished. And the inspiration he derives from his natural surroundings—furrowed fields, windswept prairies, vast skies, and the very earth itself—continues to inform his work.

Landscape Platter with Meander Pattern, 2008 Saint John’s Pottery, Johanna kiln, Tanegashima chamber Stoneware with white slip and fumed seashells 4½ inches (high) x 22 inches (diameter) The Japanese have always revered nature, and like them, Richard Bresnahan often draws inspiration from his natural surroundings. For this large platter, he also recognized the prevalence of technology in our modern world. Influenced by aerial photographs and global positioning devices, he made the landscape here by first pressing a thin strip of cloth onto the surface of the clay and then applying slip. After it dried, he gently lifted the cloth away to reveal a pattern that suggests a winding river seen from high above.

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Kevin and Judy Flicker


Kevin Flicker

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n 1885, Kevin Flicker’s German great-grandfather read Father Francis Pierz’s earlier broadsides with a mixture of disbelief and hope. Pierz, a Roman Catholic priest who immigrated to America in 1835, had been asked by Bishop Joseph Crétin to find Catholics willing to settle the “Minnesota Territory.” Under federal law, homesteaders could lay claim to unoccupied tracts of property, and Pierz’s descriptions of free land and rich soil enticed many Europeans to make the arduous journey from Slovenia to the Midwest.

“Even in hardscrabble times,” Flicker says with a chuckle, “my family eked out a living, sometimes straying from the straight and narrow to put food on the table. During Prohibition, some of them even operated illegal stills and manufactured bootleg whiskey from their corn and rye crops.” In fact, Flicker was surprised (and secretly pleased) to learn his grandfather had a hidden room in his hayloft to conceal his contraband and that other relatives proved equally resourceful in outwitting the local authorities.

Flicker’s great-grandfather was one of those hardy individuals who set up a farm in central Minnesota, near a town called Pierz in honor of the beloved priest. As a fourth-generation Minnesotan, Kevin Flicker (b. 1952) is rightfully proud of his agrarian heritage. His forebears were hardworking practical people who tilled their fields, built sturdy houses, and crafted hardwood furniture. Upstanding and faithful parishioners of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church (ministered by Pierz himself in the early 1870s), they formed a close and supportive rural community.

Despite these escapades, the family’s patriotism and sense of duty never wavered. During World War II, Flicker’s father joined the U.S. Army and fought to reclaim the Aleutian Islands southwest of Alaska from the Japanese. After the war, he returned home, married, and took a job as a plumber’s assistant in nearby St. Cloud. But by the early 1950s, the prospect of better employment prompted him to move to Rochester, Minnesota, with his wife and small children.

Oval Platter with Concentric Circles, 2008 University of Minnesota at Morris, wood-fired anagama Slab-built porcelain with Stearns County kaolin 1¾ x 16½ x 12½ inches In the stormy atmosphere of a wood-fired kiln, fly ash settles onto pottery and liquefies in the heat, forming glassy beads of natural glaze. Anticipating this, Flicker pressed concentric circles with his finger into a slab of clay placed in a bowlshaped plaster mold. The spectacular ripples that resulted evoke raindrops on a still pool of water.

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Stephen and Cindy Earp

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Stephen Earp

I

’ve always been interested in art,” Stephen Earp states matter-of-factly. “My parents would buy me art supplies and my brother, science kits. We were both happy as could be.” As a young boy in Iowa, Earp (b. 1960) took his first pottery class at the Des Moines Art Center, known for its collections of modern and contemporary American and European art. “I can still remember my first project,” he says with a smile. “I made a squirrel out of clay!”

was a student there. His academic advisor, the potter Chuck Hines, had graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design and had a passion for wood-fired ceramics and Japanese aesthetics. “Chuck was a very open professor,” Earp recalls, “and let us try just about anything. But he also was very serious about kiln building and wood firing and shared his thinking about kiln dynamics with us.”

After high school, Earp accepted an invitation to stay with friends in western Colorado. Besides hiking and skiing in the mountains, he operated a small printing shop in Gunnison, making bumper stickers and transferring photographic stencils onto cotton T-shirts. He quickly realized, however, that he lacked the technical expertise and know-how to use serigraphy more creatively.

While Earp did produce a body of ceramics at the university, he did not consider it unusual or particularly good. “My work at the time,” he says with a chuckle, “was an odd mix of Bernard Leech and Peter Voulkos. I twisted and slashed my pots, trying to combine Leech’s functionality with Voulkos’s sculptural qualities, and hoped it would all somehow coalesce in the firing.”

Determined to learn more, he applied to the University of Iowa (UI) in Iowa City, and by the fall of 1981, he

Jug, 2007 Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, electric kiln Glazed earthenware with porcelaneous slip 8¾ inches (high) x 6 inches (diameter) From the beginning, American potters created jugs because such containers were a basic necessity in every household. The simple leaf decoration found here comes from early examples made in northern New England. To give his jug an antique appearance, Earp glazed and fired it several times, which imbued its surface with fine crazing and subtle color variations.

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Samuel Johnson and Anne Buckvold with their young daughter

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Samuel Johnson

I

n far western Minnesota in the small city of Breckenridge, the Bois de Sioux and Otter Tail converge and form the great Red River, which flows northward into Canada and eventually empties into Lake Winnipeg. Traversed by French fur traders and Sioux and Chippewa hunters, the rich land surrounding Breckenridge also became home to German and Norwegian immigrants. Once there, they staked out the fertile valley and grew fields of wheat, corn, sugar beets, and barley for as far as the eye could see. In this lush rolling terrain, the young Samuel Johnson (b. 1973) came of age. His father, a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, taught auto-body repair in nearby Wahpeton at the North Dakota State College of Science. And his mother, a registered nurse, worked closer to home at Saint Francis Medical Center. Together, they provided Johnson and his two brothers with a stable and loving home.

Like many other boys in the rural farming community, Johnson played ice hockey during the winter and skateboarded with his pack of friends during the summer. But in the evenings and on weekends, he often kept his father company, trekking along the river and checking their traps for muskrats, foxes, minks, and beaver. In this physical outdoor arena, art was seldom discussed. The public schools focused on the basics, preparing their charges for practical lives and working in local industries. And while they did offer a few studio classes, Johnson had little interest in them. Instead, he preferred literature and poetry. As part of a church program to heighten awareness of urban poverty and social injustice, Johnson spent the summer of 1991 in Philadelphia. As a camp counselor, he worked with children from a public housing project. For the rural Midwesterner who knew only peace and prosperity, it was an unsettling but eye-opening education.

Salad Bowl, 2007 University of Minnesota at Morris, wood-fired anagama Stoneware 3¼ inches (high) x 9 inches (diameter) While forming a vessel on the wheel, the potter’s hands gently press granules of sand into the soft clay, which leaves the surface smooth and consistent. By cutting facets into his pieces with a wire, Johnson counters this effect by exposing embedded particles of sand and small stones. During the firing, these imperfections “bloom” on the surface, giving his wares their subdued beauty.

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Anne Meyer (center) with her mother (Jackie) and sister (Christy Schwartz)

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Anne Meyer

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nne Meyer (b. 1982) first met Richard Bresnahan in October 2003. She had gone to Saint John’s University with a few of her classmates and Kevin Flicker, her ceramics instructor, to take part in the fall firing. The massive Johanna kiln impressed her, as did the throngs of people who had come from near and far to stoke it. But Bresnahan himself surprised her most of all. “I grew up about five miles from Saint John’s,” she recalls, “and before I sat in on a lecture he gave at Morris, I had never heard of him.” Meyer’s parents owned a 69-acre hobby farm on the outskirts of St. Joseph. Her father worked as an accountant for an industrial valve manufacturer and her mother as a librarian for the local public school. They rented out most of their tillable land, but kept chickens, livestock, and a big vegetable garden to help feed their large family.

For Meyer and her six siblings, it was an idyllic place to be raised; they had plenty of countryside to explore, and the animals were endlessly amusing. Still, maintaining the property required hard work, and everyone had to pitch in. “I hated the farm as a teenager,” Meyer admits. “I had to grow up and move away before I really appreciated it.” Even as a young girl, Meyer had a passion for drawing and painting. Wherever she went, she took a sketchbook and happily filled page after page. Her parents encouraged her but tempered their praise with practical advice. They cautioned her about the difficulties of making a living as an artist, the pitfalls of overconfidence, and the daunting competition she would face regardless of what she chose to do.

Woman in Shell, 2009 University of Minnesota at Morris, anagama kiln Stoneware with Marshall clay slip-based glaze 8¼ x 14¾ x 21½ inches Although Meyer does not intend her figures of women to be physical self-portraits, they often reflect her private struggles and concerns. She encased this pensive young female in a turtle’s carapace to symbolize her own hesitancy about embracing adulthood. For Meyer, the shell represents the safety and familiarity of her adolescent world. While the act of hiding suggests timidity, the girl’s steady gaze conveys her awakening power and self-assurance.

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S T OK E D Five Artists of Fire and Clay !!!

Edited by Sandra L. Lipshultz Designed by MartinRoss Design Photographed by Brian Zehowski Printed and Bound by the John Roberts Company On 100 lb. Opus Matte paper Typeset in Optima and Garamond


Welch

STO K E D

On staff at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts since 1990, Matthew Welch has coauthored several books and in 2001 wrote the awardwinning Body of Clay, Soul of Fire: Richard Bresnahan and the Saint John’s Pottery. A specialist in Japanese Zen painting, Welch spent four years at Kyoto University as a Fulbright scholar and received his Ph.D. in Asian art from the University of Kansas. As curator of Japanese and Korean art at the Institute, he has organized eleven exhibitions, including “First Fire,” which featured ceramics by Richard Bresnahan from the inaugural firing of Saint John’s Johanna kiln. In 2008, the museum made Welch its assistant director for curatorial affairs, and since 2003 he also has served on the editorial board for Saint John’s University Press. He lives in Minneapolis in a Japanese-style house with his wife and two children.

S T OK E D Five Artists of Fire and Clay

Five Artists of Fire and Clay

Three-and-a-half years later, he had acquired such formidable skills that his famous sensei, or teacher, Nakazato Takashi gave him the title of “master potter.” After returning to the United States, Bresnahan accepted an offer from Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, to be its first artistin-residence. In the summer of 1979, he set up his initial studio on campus and that fall built a climbing kiln: a Japanese-style woodfired noborigama. This book celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Saint John’s Pottery, another place of resounding excellence, where unique collaborations occur daily between experts and novices, teachers and apprentices, humans and nature. At the same time, the text documents “Stoked,” an exhibition featuring the work of several talented potters who studied with Richard Bresnahan and then became masters in their own right: Kevin Flicker, Stephen Earp, Samuel Johnson, and Anne Meyer.

Matthew Welch 29.95

“I am in a place of excellence, peace, and earthiness,” wrote the young American in his journal, “with an unbelievable knowledge of clay.” That place was a heavily wooded mountain valley on the island of Kyushu in southern Japan. The date was August 1975. And the 22-year-old with bright eyes and an easy smile was Richard Bresnahan, a smalltown boy from eastern North Dakota.

Lavishly illustrated with nearly 90 color photographs, “Stoked: Five Artists of Fire and Clay” explores a range of contemporary American ceramics: from the robust stonewares of Bresnahan, Flicker, and Johnson to the whimsical redwares of Earp and the elegant sculptures of Meyer. The essays reveal each individual’s search for identity and the cross-fertilization that inevitably occurs when creative people from diverse backgrounds are mindful not only of the past but of generations yet to come.


Stoked: Five Artists of Fire and Clay