Former Riverwest Resident Finds Her Niche in Japanese Tradition

by Suzanne Zipperer

Many Riverwest residents remember Mudlark, a pottery shop located on Bremen and Clarke Streets from 1977-87. Ginny Zipperer’s stoneware and porcelain pottery showed up on many dinner tables — coffee mugs and teapots, casserole dishes and sugar bowls. Functional in design. Made to be used. And, like Ginny herself, unimposing. Ginny-pot.jpgSoon the teapots sported handles of stylized fish, vases caught your interest with delicate brush strokes of glaze, and lamps recalled the layers of sedimentary clay from which they were made. Zipperer was hitting her stride, as well as mid-life. But starving for her art was also starving her art. She closed her shop, went back to finish a degree, and then worked as an educator for Planned Parenthood, keeping her fingers in the clay at a basement studio and selling at small retail outlets. “When I closed Mudlark and went back to finish my degree, I took clay classes just for fun,” Zipperer said. “I became more interested in the ‘art’ of clay and did nothing functional. I was interested in just playing with it.” She also experimented with raku. Raku refers to a particular firing technique. Originally a Japanese process, Americans have revamped it. It is very different from the usual firing method where a large number of pots are put into a kiln for a long period of time, raising the temperature and cooling slowly. With raku, a few pots are put into a small kiln and the firing process goes very quickly. Within an hour the glaze melts and the still glowing pots are pulled from the kiln. Each one is set into a metal container filled with combustible material that the pot starts on fire. The fire is then smothered until it creates smoke. It is the smoke interacting with the clay and glazes that gives raku its wonderful colors and patterns. Deep rust, oak-leaf reds, metallic blues, and warm browns are characteristic of raku firing. In 1993, Zipperer relocated to Paseo Pottery in Santa Fe, also the studio of two other potters. There she found a market for her raku work. “It wasn’t until I started doing raku that I began to find my niche,” Zipperer explained. “I still work with vessel forms, but they are only marginally functional. They are more decorative. I am concerned more with the surface and with integrating that with a good form.” Finding inspiration in the pueblo style architecture in and around Santa Fe, Zipperer also began building “casitas” — little clay houses with scenes of traditional life. Now back in Wisconsin, Zipperer bases herself on the family farm in Manitowoc County. She works and teaches out of a studio in Kewaunee called The Barn. Riverwesters, however, don’t have to go that far to say hello and see the growth in Zipperer’s work over the past ten years. She is hosting a show, titled Transplanted, that will include her work and the work of the potters of Mata Ortiz, Mexico. Zipperer has long been a fan of the pots made in Mata Ortiz, a small village with more than 300 potters. She started collecting the work, which is based on a pre-historic southwestern style, several years ago. Last summer she visited the village and was able to buy a larger quantity of pots to sell. These pots are hand built using local materials and fired using cow dung and cottonwood bark. They are especially noted for the quality of the designs painted on the surface. Mata Ortiz pots are shown in galleries and museums around the world. Ginny Zipperer hosts a display of her work and the pottery of Mata Ortiz community just in time for Christmas shopping. “Transplanted” will be held Friday, December 12, at the LGBT Community Center, 315 W. Court St., Milwaukee, from 5 to 9 p.m. For more information call 920/682-5938. If you can’t make the show, you can see Zipperer’s pottery displayed for sale at Lincoln Art Pottery, 636 W. Lincoln Ave. Author Suzanne Zipperer is the artist’s sister.