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Stephen Procter : Numinous Vessels

 

By Mitchell Manacek

 

Stephen Procter’s sculptural vessels stimulate visceral reactions, their sheer mass creating a gravitational pull that is difficult to ignore. There is an unmistakable presence to his forms, which creates the feeling of sharing the rooms and gardens they are destined to be placed in with an old and cherished friend.

Over time, the potter sitting at the wheel—like artists in all media—learns to render the experience of certain states of mind. In doing so, the potter not only gives shape to the clay body but also to those varied and mysterious invisible forces in the process. Stephen Procter is a curious student of the energies and invisible forces that can often govern our lives. Informed by this frame of reference, he came to think of his vessels as numinous entities themselves. As an artist, Stephen believes his hands are in service of the material, moving and working with the sculptural clay body, rather than trying to manipulate it. In that sense, rather than crafting his vessels, Stephen channels them. Furthermore, there is no narrative to an unglazed ceramic pot as there can be with works of literature, music, or paintings; instead, Stephen’s vessels invite us to occupy a nonverbal place within ourselves, where meaning is intuited rather than interpreted. 

On any given day in his studio—an old, converted mill near downtown Brattleboro with a pleasing industrial grit to complement the 216-cubic foot steel kiln occupying the center of the room, which he personally designed and assembled—Stephen creates his forms in an exercise of ongoing improvisation. Like a jazz musician riffing on melodies atop a stable chord progression, Stephen begins his vessels with a general idea for shape and size, but tends not to fuss over the meticulous production of carefully drafted designs. Nor does Stephen consciously reference any particular historical time period or geographic region—ancient Japan, the Roman Empire, or rural England—through his work. Rather, he allows the pottery that he sees in museums, galleries, and personal collections to be taken in osmotically. In doing so, Stephen’s work seems to draw upon centuries of traditions to distill the sensibilities that have lived through history—and live through us all—to create something with a universal, yet contemporary, relevance.

One afternoon, in the midst of conversation, Stephen referenced the French Baroque composer Jean-Phillipe Rameau, who once said, “I would rather be moved than astonished.” With this mantra as his guiding light, Stephen’s pottery ultimately concerns itself with simplicity and directness. With their natural forms and typically unglazed surfaces, these vessels come to life in indoor and outdoor settings alike, where they become strong anchors for the homes, gardens, and galleries in which they reside.


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The clay Stephen uses is made up of twenty percent grog—a sculpture body, not standard dinnerware clay.

Due to his materials of choice and his firing process, Stephen’s pots can be left outdoors year-round without absorbing moisture.