The primal element in human endeavor: The work of Brad Bachmeier

‘Conservation Through Clay’ features ceramic works from five residencies at national parks

Over the course of six years, Bachmeier created unique work in four national and one state park.

Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Red Rock National Monument; storied landscapes all translated into clay by F-M ceramic artist Brad Bachmeier.

“When I was at the Petrified Forest, even the rangers lock the gates at night. So it’s just you, hundreds of square miles and the coyotes,” said Bachmeier. At every park he had lodgings offered to him directly in the park or just adjacent, offering him the opportunity to fully experience the locations.

To these locations he brought a “portable pottery studio,” complete with a small electric kiln which could be plugged in to a normal 110v outlet. Bachmeier used the kiln for the first firing (bisk firing) of his work in order to make it more durable for transport.

In some cases, Bachmeier was able to find a school or studio with a kiln nearby that he could use. Other times, when a kiln was not an option, he would nervously travel hundreds of miles with air-dried (leather hard) pots in the back of his vehicle.

Traveling so far South was not originally Bachmeier’s plan. “Since I have a family, I was really looking for places that were closer,” he explained. Because of this, Bachmeier began his six year journey at Lewis and Clark State Park.

The pull of the rich pottery tradition of the Southwest, however, became too much to ignore and the Anamoose, N.D., native headed South.

Included on many of the pieces were poetically twisted branches or intriguing natural stone shapes perched on top. Some of these Bachmeier explained, were collected on public land when he and park rangers were digging for natural clay bodies to test. Others were purchased at rock stores in the area, as it is illegal to take specimens out of the parks.

Some of the most intriguing pieces were those that included basket weaving at the top (see picture for two examples). Bachmeier said his inspiration was the lifestyle of the Paiute people.

“In the beginning they were nomadic and wove baskets. Then they were sedentary and developed pottery before becoming nomadic again and switching back to baskets,” Bachmeier explained. This history inspired him to create work that melded the two together.

For this to work, Bachmeier had to carefully plan the pattern and size of the reeds he would be using; as all the connecting points between the ceramic and the woven parts had to be added before the first firing.

The result is beautiful and intriguing.

A collection of “Conservation Through Clay” will be touring five states and vary in size from miniature to massive.

According to Bachmeier’s brochure on the collection, “The traveling exhibit will highlight the vital responsibility that our generation has to conserve and protect our nation’s most important and vulnerable historical, cultural and natural resources.”

A message that is all the more potent today.

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