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Ellice T. Johnston (aka Ellice Tarbet)


circa 1959

10.25 x 6 x 4 in. (26.035 x 15.24 x 10.16 cm)
Museum Permanent Collection

Ellice Johnston became an expert in high-firing, glaze, and clay-body blends. Untitled is made of stoneware with grog and stained with iron oxide in a salt firing. Grog is used to add a gritty, rustic texture called “tooth.” It reduces shrinkage and helps prevent cracking. The coarse particles open the green clay body, allowing gases to escape, an effective approach for figures with solid stretched arms like these. The sailor’s legs and body were thrown on the wheel, and that form was altered to shape the head. Arms, bird, and sailor hat were attached as the figure was drying.

Ellice Tarbet was born in Rexburg, Idaho, and moved at age fifteen to California with her mother and two brothers. She enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1934. In her senior year she married Daniel Johnston, and graduated with a BA in painting in 1938. Ellice Johnston enrolled at Chouinard Art Institute in 1950. Susan Peterson was hired at Chouinard in 1952, and began introducing the West Coast to high-fire reduction ceramics. In 1955, Johnston followed Peterson to the University of Southern California and steadily gained more knowledge of glazing and firing. Peterson introduced Johnston to the talented sculptor/potter Dora De Larios (see Figure and Animals of the Sun), and they became lifelong friends. De Larios said of Johnston, “The work she produced was full of humor and charm,” and this figure certainly illustrates these qualities. Johnston was instrumental in founding two important West Coast ceramics organizations. The first was Irving Place Studio in Los Angeles, with Dora De Larios, in 1961. In 1974, two years after moving to Ashland, Oregon, Johnston was involved with founding Clayfolk, an organization serving clay workers in Northern California and southern Oregon.

Billie Sessions, PhD.

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