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Ellice T. Johnston (aka Ellice Tarbet)

American
(1916–1984)

Untitled
circa 1959

stoneware
10.25 x 6 x 4 in. (26.035 x 15.24 x 10.16 cm)
Museum Permanent Collection
1984.1046

Ellice Johnston became an expert in high firing and glaze and clay body blends. This Untitled piece 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 to allow gases to escape which is a smart approach for figures with solid rope 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 figures were drying.

Ellice Tarbet was born in Rexburg, Idaho and moved at age 15 to California with her two brothers and mother. She enrolled at the University of California Berkeley in 1934. In her senior year she married her husband Daniel Johnston, and graduated with a B.A. in painting in 1938. Ellice Johnston enrolled at Chouinard Institute of the Arts in 1950. Susan Peterson was hired at Chouinard in 1952 and began introducing the West Coast to high fire reduction ceramics. In 1955, she followed Peterson to the University of Southern California (USC) and steadily gained more knowledge on glazing and firing. Peterson introduced Tarbet to the talented sculptor/potter Dora de Larios (see Dora’s Figure and Animals of the Sun), and they became life-long friend. De Larios said of Tarbet, “The work she produced was full of humor and charm,” and this figure certainly illustrates these qualities. Ellice was instrumental in founding two important west coast ceramic organizations. The first, Irving Place Studio in Los Angeles, with Dora De Larios in 1961. Then in 1974, two years after she moved to Ashland, Oregon she was instrumental in founding Clayfolk, an organization serving clay workers in northern California and southern Oregon.

Billie Sessions, PhD.


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