For an artist to finally say, “This is my signature, this is me, this is my work and this is my style,” often takes a lifelong journey. Porcelain artist Rick Bisgyer has been influenced for decades by the confluence of sailing and clay only to discover his “signature” work through a dream.
Onboard a 16’ sloop sitting in his fathers’ lap as a bundle of kapok-filled life jacket at the age of 3, he began to learn to steer with a tiller. Through his youth he raced small dinghies and keel boats on the Chesapeake Bay.
At the same time, he was enamored by the curvaceous forms, tactile nature and subtle glazes of the American studio craft movement pottery that his family began collecting in the 1960s. “I was totally mesmerized when I first saw a potter pull up a pot from a mound of clay on a potters’ wheel,” says Rick. In the early 1970s, and not really old enough, he talked his way into a wheel-throwing class at newly formed Glen Echo Pottery near their home in NW Washington, DC, spending his free time during the week learning ceramics and weekends sailing on the bay.
When he entered high school in 1972, The Field School was new and extracurricular activities were created through the effort of students. Despite his hard lobbying for a ceramics program, the Head of School told him they couldn’t afford such an extravagance. Rick volunteered to build a pottery wheel out of wood, bricks and plumbing supplies from plans found in Mother Earth News – cost $35 – and became wheel-throwing instructor to his classmates. The Field School ceramic studio is a thriving part of the art department to this day and a legacy that gives Rick great pride to have had a hand in its founding.
In 1976, the curves of sails replaced the curves of pots as he moved aboard the family’s 30’ sloop in Annapolis to start a full-time sailing career. His work as a sail maker led to position of sail trimmer on every fast ocean racer he could get himself on along the east coast and in the Caribbean. Between races he windsurfed.
As life can go full circle, Rick went back to ceramics as a full-time ceramic artist when he moved to West Virginia in the last decade. “I took on porcelain pottery because it is the most challenging of all clays. Porcelain’s silky white clay body allows me to achieve purity, intensity, as well as subtlety in my glazes. Its extremely fine particle structure lends itself to the refined shapes of my pieces, especially my signature vases that I call ‘Sailing Vessels.’ These uniquely voluptuous sculptural vases, with their curving sails stretching out of their tops, came to me in a dream while I was landlocked in West Virginia. These forms challenge me every day to push the limits of porcelain’s nature.”
“Both ceramics and sailing demand full focus, a presence of mind and body, a centering, as it were, that help me find balance in my life,” says Rick.
Rick left West Virginia 2½ years ago and followed this heart and the rivers to his home here at sea level on the Chesapeake Bay. He teaches porcelain and intermediate/advanced wheel courses at Baltimore Clayworks, continues to create his “signature” Sailing Vessels and plans to teach privately in his just-completed ceramic studio at home in Betterton, Md.
Porcelain vessels by Rick Bisgyer can be seen thoughout the month of August in the FABRICATIONS 2014 show in the Studio Gallery at Chestertown RiverArts, 315 High Street, Suite 106, Chestertown, MD. Hours: Tuesday through Thursday 11 am – 4 pm, First Fridays 11 am – 8 pm. Saturdays from 10 am – 4 pm.
Chestertown RiverArts is a member-supported, 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to engaging our community in the creation, appreciation, and support of the arts.