Earlier Ceramics

Jan de Rooden

Through the ages the Netherlands were earthenware lands. I also started with earthenware.
In the first exhibition, in 1959, there were pots, bowls and hand shaped forms fired at 1170° C
in an electric kiln. The clay from a German pit was white-firing. Glazes were glossy, darkish in tone and
somewhat eastern in character.
Both Johnny and I loved the Chinese so-called temmoku and hare's fur bowls.
During our search for shades and nuances in a glaze we let ourselves be inspired by nature.
On walks in the Amsterdam Zoo we viewed with fascination the plumage and coats of animals.
I associated them with glazes that I would like to have emerge from the kiln.


"Pot" 1959, diam. 12 cm. (Private collection)

The accent of inspiration shifted somewhat when end 1958 in the Rijksmuseum we saw
the Westendorp Osieck Collection.We were amazed to see how beautiful clay was without a glaze
and how vigorous and expressive clay could become in the fire.
On leaving the exhibition we knew that we had to bring a similar stoniness and warmth into our work.
We started to look at nature as it were through clay eyes. On the Brittany shores tones and structures
of rock and sand became, in our imagination, the tone and structure of our future ceramics.
But where lay the key to obtain this?

At that moment I had forgotten how in his studio in Paris Jacques Lenoble, as early as 1956,
had handed me a pot saying: "This is the real thing, stoneware (du vrai grès) from Vietnam" .
I could have gone back to him to learn from him the secret that his father, Emile Lenoble,
touched by the vigor of Vietnamese ceramics, had pursued until he found it.
But instead, England it was.

In 1962 I received a bursary from the British Council to concentrate myself for a whole trimester
on stoneware at the Farnham School of Art in Surrey. There I arrived with a long list of questions
about fire clay and stoneware glazes, about kiln types, fuel and firing methods.
When I saw the school's professional equipment - clay preparation with slip-beds outside, the glazing
department with barrels full of raw materials and all the various kilns - I wanted nothing more than
to be at work there day and night. That this was often possible, too, was owed to the constant plight
of the teachers to attend meetings.
The teaching program had to be upgraded for the school to be accepted in the prestigious higher
educational system.

The craftsteacher Paul Barron had the gift to explain points concisely and clearly and to leave
the working out to you until new dilemma's announced themselves. He let me carry on combining
all kinds of materials and test firing them in a muffle kiln, a half muffle and in an open flame kiln.
As soon as he saw that I was able to, he entrusted me with the firing of the flame kiln, loaded with
students' work, during week-ends.
In this way I was busy from four, five o'clock in the morning until late in the night managing an obstinate
large kiln. The burners on both sides had to burn alternately for which a kind of rudder had to be shifted hourly.
The reduction process could be started and controlled by tuning the pull of the chimney and the forced air,
the measure of which I had to find out on the way.
I could not have wished for myself a better learning process than these firing explorations in the quiet
school building.
To shorten the long hours of kiln watching, I amused myself by modeling miniature beings and animals.


"The Four Sons of Aymon" 1962. (Priv. coll.)

The British Council approved that I used my bursary also for visits to London Museums and galleries
and for a tour along several potteries in the South of England.
In Primavera Gallery of driven Henry Rothschild I found works from London studio's.
These ceramists made their stoneware in electric kilns. The light palette of their work appealed to me
as well as the underlying clear concept. But for the moment the real fire of the flame kiln had a stronger
hold on me. Reduced pots seemed to me to be deeper and richer, just as the glazes and the latter
also felt pleasantly soft and smooth to the touch.

Pots of this nature came out of the two-chamber kiln of Dinah and Richard Batterham in Durweston,
Dorset. They had found each other in the Leach Pottery and not long ago had installed their own workshop
here with the down to earth plan to make pots and pots and more pots, unsigned but authentic.
Their wholesome pots had body, were alive and made with infectious enthusiasm.
My meeting with the two of them was extremely inspiring.

At Warminster station Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie awaited the arrival of my train. Deep in the sunken
roads of green Wiltshire she drove me to Kilmington Manor in her little low motorcar.
The beautiful, small manor house in grey stone and her Spartan workshop in the former abbey brewery were
a wonderful surprise.
In the middle of the stone hall sat, somewhat lost, her large wood kiln in which, with heavy pieces of fire-wood
she had fired her pots. She took me to the cupboard, where she kept all her favourite ones, bowls with deep
greenish-blue and moonstone coloured glazes.

Piece by piece these went through my hands, Beano, as her friends called her, commenting on each glaze.
Over the years she had developed these glazes with ashes from fruit tree pruning' s and ashes from all kinds of
trees on her property. Each one produced its distinct quality and colour.
When she brought me to the station to continue my journey to Devon and Cornwall, I, in my mind, travelled
back already to our own studio in keen expectation of the discoveries we were going to make.

Once back home I hurried to tackle our electric kilns. At floor height I drilled holes through which during
the latter part of the firing gaspokers could burn coal gas. I connected both kilns to the chimney by means of
a movable stovepipe with damper. With these adjustments the kilns were most probably ready for reduction
firing and a re-oxidation at the end to create this warm toasted clay surface.

Johnny and I made the necessary tests, but almost before we knew it the kiln produced green and
grey celadons, moonstone coloured and pale blue glazes and temmokus ranging from warm brown to
velvety black. Indeed they all had that typical reduction quality, they were soft and smooth to the touch.
We collected wood ash from our big studio stove, rinsed it and made matt ash-clay glazes using recipes
that Beano in the thirties had developed for Bernard Leach.
On the unglazed stony surface of our pieces appeared the long wished for warm hues, reflecting the fire.
The adventure of our quest for reduced stoneware out of our electric kilns ended herewith.

As would happen to me more often, after I had mastered something, my enthusiasm for the typical
oriental glazes waned, now that I had found them.
In fact they suited less the direction my work would follow.
Clay became more and more a medium in which I could express my thoughts and my feelings.
The stoneware though that we had developed, would remain my favourite material.


"Curved rectangular vase" 1964, H. 25.7, B. 26.7, D. 12.3 cm.
Reduction firing in electrical kiln.
Euro 1350.-


"Clear porcelain bowl" 1964, H. 5.2 cm. Diam, 9.8 cm. Reduction firing in electric kiln.
Euro 450. -


"Bowl" 1964, Diam. 14.8 cm.
€ 600.-


"Rectangular pot" 1964, H. x B. 20.9 x 20.9 cm. . Reduction in electric kiln.
Euro 800. -


Block on foot "Lowlands" 1964, W. 20.5 cm. (Private coll.)

  It took some courage to tilt a vertical pot, a container really.
I got a sculpture as an unsought reward.


"Composition" 1965, W. 26.5 cm.
(Coll. Hetjens Museum, Düsseldorf, Germany)


"Rectangular Pot" 1965, H. 24.5 cm. (Private coll.)


"Stêle 1965" 1965, H. 46 cm. (Coll.Gemeentemuseum, the Hague)

Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam Catalogusnr.388, nr. 107.
"Nieuwe Vormen van Keramiek"


"Composition in Black and White" 1967, H. 31 cm. from the theme "Black and White". (Private coll.)


My memories of Scandinavia are often interwoven with moments of alienation.
Soon after our arrival in Denmark - autumn 1957 - the first Sputnik was launched.
At that moment I realized that from this moment on we would be observed by eyes
from space and life on our planet could never be the same again

In 1966 when working at Gustavsberg, Sweden, I came upon the theme"Black and White".
The first start hereof was caused by science-fiction like impressions
during a visit to Bisschopsgarden, a new satellite town of Stockholm
featuring long concrete apartment buildings that followed the curve of the road.
From an endless row of windows, lit up by the cold light of the setting sun, one was opened
and a soft warm-blooded being leaned out.

In Stockholm's theater I experienced almost simultaneously Harry Martinson's opera
as a hallucinating experience in space.


"Composition in Black and White" 1968, H. approx. 46 cm, theme: "Black and White"

Tensions between black and white in America
and riots as in Newark, New Jersey
were the motive for this composition.

In the collection of the late Prof. Dr. Hubert. A. Arnold, UC Davis
Hubert Arnold donated his collection to the "Crocker Art Museum" Sacramento, Cal..


"Composition of two forms" 1968, diam. 29 cm. (Coll.Gemeentemuseum, the Hague)


"Hard and Soft" 1970 / 1975, H. 41 cm. Start of the theme "Hard and Soft"
(Coll. Museum für Angewandte Kunst "MAK", Gera, Germany)

Originally this piece had the same stony surface and the same sharp edges as the "Hard and Soft" piece below.
In 1975 returning from seven months Asia, I found this appearance too harsh and aggressive.
I rounded the edges by grinding them, glazed the piece generously, and fired it once more.
To day – November 2007 – I wished I had both versions…


"Hard and Soft" 1971, H. 48 cm. from the theme: "Hard and soft"
Coll. Chunichi Shimbun, Japan.

Exhibited: The 2nd Chunichi International Exhibition of Ceramic Arts
Oriental Nakamura, Nagoya, Japan - Catal. pag. 24.


" Hard and Soft" 1971, H. appr. 25 cm. from the theme: "Hard and soft" (Private coll.).


" Soft with beaker" 1971, H.. appr. 40 cm. from the theme: "Hard and soft" (Private coll.).


" Soft box" 1970, H. 29.3 cm. from the theme: "Hard and soft". (Private coll.).


"Pressure" 1970, W. 21.5 cm. from the theme: "Hard and soft". (Coll.Gemeentemuseum, the Hague)

  The pressure and tension I registered in society,
made me translate these into clay.


"Square-round pot" 1973, H. 29.5 cm. (Private coll.)

Building these particular pots gave great satisfaction.
And so welcome they were, that with their proceeds I could
afford to make my less popular themes.


Jan in his basement studio Kloveniersburgwal 133, in Amsterdam,1973
working at a commission by architect Jelle Abma .


  Pot "Phase III" 1973, H. 48.5 cm. from the theme: "Phase". (Coll. Gemeentemuseum, the Hague)

The theme " Phase" questions the reliability of things.


"Phase IX" 1973, H. 70.3 cm. from the theme: "Phase".
The theme " Phase" questions the reliability of things.
Euro 2400. -


Composition "Sphere - Beam" 1974, W. 45 cm. from the theme: "Vulnerable planet".
(Coll. Gemeentemuseum, the Hague)


In the early 1970s, my conscience was hit hard by the sudden awareness that we human beings,
by their ambition for self fulfillment, limit life on this planet, and disturb vital functions of our one and only world.
I was then working on the theme "Growth" and making spheres through whose surfaces a small thing sprouted.
This represented the promise of new life, but also the law of nature that something full grown and perfect,
must make room for the next stage, the germ of which has been present from the very beginning.
The theme "Growth" was based on childhood memories of walks through the woods,
and the of moments of excitement, when I discovered on the ground smooth, glossy brown chestnuts.
I polished and treasured them, forgot them, and then rediscovered them after winter,
my amazement mingled with fright.
Gone were gloss and smoothness. The now wrinkled skin had turned black and out came a tiny pale green stem.

Instead of giving in to natural forces from within as in "Growth", in the theme "Vulnerable planet"
the spheres had been exposed to brute attack from outside.


" Potcomposition" 1977, H. 60 cm.
(€ 3000.-)


"Square platter - Courtship Dance" 1977, H. 5.2 cm. W. 30 cm.
Euro 800-


"Horizontal pot" 1976, W. 41.5 cm. ( Private coll.)


"Bowl" 1978, diam. 28 cm. (Coll. Gemeentemuseum the Hague)

After Gertrude Stein:
A bowl is a bowl is a bowl.



"Porcelain bowl" 1981. diam. 16.7 cm.
(€ 500.-)


"Umber platter" 1979, H. 7.2 cm. Diam. 26.2 cm. Salt glazed stoneware.
Euro 800.-


"Bowl" 1978, Diam. 27 cm. Salt glazed porcelain. (Private coll.)


"Monument for a lonely bowl" 1978, W. 27.5 cm.; from the theme: "Monuments for a bowl" .
(€ 1400.-)

When overlooked, dust hides the beauty of a useful bowl.
Would a bowl escape neglect, I wondered,
when placed in a different context.


"Monument for a bowl - on screen -" 1978, W. 27.5 cm.; from the theme: "Monuments for a bowl"
(€ 1350.-)


"Monument for a lonely bowl - near a clouded city - " 1978, W. 27.5 cm.; from the theme: "Monuments for a bowl"
(€ 1350.-)


"Saltglazed pot" 1979, Diam. 22 cm.
(€ 900.-)


In the summer of 1975 the American Haystack Mountain School of Arts, Deer Isle, Maine, invited me as guest teacher.
To my pleasure I found a salt kiln on the school grounds.
Salt glazed ceramics had fascinated me from early on, and now I could experience the real salting-process.
I conducted the - often nightly - adventure by intuition. The results were so exciting, that after my return home,
I built in the summer of 1976 my own salt-kiln in the Frisian village of Morra.
When in the autumn of 1979 saltglazed pots emerged from the firing with a quality
of the sixteenth-century bellarmines, I had acquitted myself of the task I had set myself.
For sure the kiln was able to seduce me to throwing more pots, but I was ready for another challenge.
The salt technique that works so wonderfully on round and curved shapes, alas is less suitable for
angular and composite forms, my very vocabulary.
Actually , at that moment, I was on my way to ceramics with a clearer palette, more attuned to Dutch light.

To be able to concentrate fully on my ideas for a longer period of time, I decided to apply for a "Studio grant".
It did not have to be a full bursary, but an allowance to keep my studio going would be sufficient.
One third of the regular stipend could do that.
My application was accepted and met for three successive years.

In these three years I tried, with simple means such as structure and colour,
to suggest movement inside a clay wall and to bring about interaction between different parts of a form.
Gradually a series of themes presented itself in which the idol shape, dance and mating played a role,
but also elements meeting and clashing.

The end of this subsidized term (1980-1983) came - against my expectations - as a relief.
Accounting for ones achievements and anticipating achievements I found difficult.
It interfered with my relation to my work.

Still, I had gone these three years a path that without a grant I would not have taken that easily,
a path, moreover, that I would follow for several years to come.


" Composition with black and blue accent" 1980, H. 25.7 cm.
(€ 900.-)


"Dancing idol " 1980, W. 28.5 cm. (Coll. Gemeentemuseum, the Hague)


The Cycladic idol - a fertility-enhancing object -
has enchanted me from the moment I discovered it.
Its form resembles the pot form and both share a carrying, protective quality.
Since 1960 I signed my work with a engraved idol added to my signature.
Since 1963 I sign my work with just this idol-seal.


"Composition" 1980, W. 28.7 cm.
(€ 1700.-)


"Reaching blue" 1981, H. 33.5 cm. from the theme:"Being".
(Coll. Grassimuseum, Leipzig, G.)


"Reach in blue" 1981, W. 44 cm. (Private coll.)


"Moving black", 1981, W. 26 cm. (Coll Gemeentemuseum, the Hague)


"Movement" 1981, H. 47.4 cm.
(€ 1450.-)


"Moving black IV" 1981, W. 43.2 cm.
(€ 1800.-)


"Moving black IV" 1981, W. 43.2 cm.
(€ 1800.-)


"Burst" 1981, H. 32.5 cm. (Coll. Gemeentemuseum, the Hague)


"Event" 1981, W. 39.5 cm. (Coll. Gemeentemuseum, the Hague)


"Cyclus I" 1982, W. 47 cm. from the theme:"Cyclus".
(Two parts)
(Coll. Grassimuseum, Leipzig, G.)


In 1981 Johnny and I went on our first long journey through India.
I had no idea how much the architecture of the Hoysala tempels
in Belur and Halebib would touch me,
and what deep an experience setting foot in the temple complex
of South Indian Thanjavur would be.
The immense temple square is surrounded by a wall with numerous niches.
Inside them house the "Yoni-Lingam" compositions.
These hyper-sensual Hindu sculptures, relate to fertility rituals,
and to procreation.
Back in my studio they inspired me to the theme "Cyclus".


"Cyclus VII" 1982, H. 56.6 cm. from the theme "Cyclus".
(2 parts). (€ 3000.-)


"Past future" 1983, W. 34 cm. from the theme: "Being". (Coll. Grassimuseum, Leipzig, G.)

.... and from the womb of the earth ...


"Being" 1984, W. 14 cm.; from the theme "Being" .
(€ 400.-)


"Encounter" 1984, H. 32.5 cm.; from the theme "Mind and matter".
(Coll. Gemeentemuseum, the Hague)


"Insight III" 1984, L. 22 cm. from the theme: "Insight"
(€ 900.-)


"Road ends" 1984, L. 53 cm. (Coll. Gemeentemuseum, the Hague)

... roads come - roads go ...


"Impression 3" 1984, H. 36.5 cm. from the theme: "Impressions"
(Coll. Hetjens Museum, Düsseldorf, Germany).


"Formation IV" 1984, W.20.5 cm.; from the theme: "Formation".
(€ 975.-)


"Formation IV" 1984, the other side.


"Earth III" 1985, W. 49 cm. from the theme "Earth".
(€ 1350.-)

The surface of our planet reads like a diary of forces that stirred, shaped and left imprints.


" Earth VII 1985, W. 67.2 cm. from the theme "Earth".
(Coll. Gemeentemuseum, the Hague)


"Idol composition" 1990, W. 29.7 cm. (Private coll.)

This is a well travelled piece.
It was on show in 1992 in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam,
in the exhibition "Imitatie / Inspiratie" "Japanese influence on Dutch art from 1650 to the present".
and before in 1991 in the Suntory Museum of Art in Tokyo in the exhibition:
"Imitation & Inspiration". "Japanese Influence on Dutch Art".
It is included in both catalogues.


Pot "Symbol" 1993, W. 40 cm. from the theme "Symbols"
(2 parts) (€ 1950.-)

The signs, objects and forms chosen as symbols by humans over time must be countless.
Early characters and classical tools are a favorite source of symbols for me.


"Symbol" 1993, H. 67.3 cm. from the theme "Symbols"
(2 parts) (€ 2750.-)