Cherokee potter makes contemporary pieces
TULSA, Okla. – When it comes to making pottery, United Keetoowah Band citizen Mel Cornshucker doesn’t usually make pieces intended to sit on a shelf. He makes pieces that can be used everyday.
“I’m a contemporary stoneware potter,” he said. “I make items from cups to casseroles to dinnerware sets, and I do some sculptural pieces.”
Cornshucker took up pottery in 1975. He needed an art studio course while attending law school, so he took ceramics. After the course, he quit school and went looking for a job as a potter. He got hired at Silver Dollar City as an apprentice potter.
“Art has always been in my family. My grandfather was a rug weaver. I’ve got aunts that are basket weavers. My dad was a silversmith, so art has always been there for me,” he said.
Cornshucker said he’s always had an interest in art and took art classes in high school, but never thought anything about it until college.
“When you go to school and you take classes in grade school and they tell you to make an Easter egg or a Valentine’s Day box, whoever had the best looking one got a little prize, well that was me,” he said. “I always took prize.”
Today, he owns and operates a studio and goes to seven or eight art shows a year. Some of those he attends are the Santa Fe Indian Market, Heard Museum in Phoenix and the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis. He also deals with galleries in Chicago, Los Angeles and St. Louis.
Cornshucker’s studio, the Brady Artist Studio in Tulsa, has enough space and equipment to make bowls, dishes, plates and sometimes the more non-contemporary vases.
“I’ve got slab rollers. I’ve got extruders. I’ve got air compressors. I’ve got all kinds of equipment now to make the job easier, anything to make it easier,” he said.
A slab roller is a manual device for rolling out large uniform slabs of clay. Cornshucker uses it to roll out clay, and by shaping and smoothing the clay he is able to make bowls.
Cornshucker said a potter’s basic pieces of equipment are a wheel and kiln. A potter’s wheel shapes round ceramic ware while a kiln is a thermally insulted chamber that allows the clay to dry or harden.
When making a piece, Cornshucker said it depends on what he needs for his shows.
“If I’m getting ready for a big show then I will think more pieces like vases, things that I normally don’t make,” he said.
When it comes to decorating his pieces, Cornshucker tries to create petroglyphs based on images he has seen. Petroglyphs, or rock engravings, are images created by removing part of a rock surface by picking or carving.
“When I decorate, the designs I use are Indian motifs,” he said. “I use a jackrabbit. I use a bear, turtle. Dragonfly is my favorite. I have been in the Southwest a lot, so I’ve looked at a lot of petroglyphs. And petroglyphs are all over the United States, so you keep these in your mind and I can go back and start using different parts of those petroglyphs and put them together to make more of my own little designs.”
Since opening his own studio, Cornshucker said more people from the area are starting to recognize him and his work. Cornshucker also teaches pottery classes in his studio from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursdays. The Brady Artist Studio is located at 23 Brady St. in Tulsa. For more information, call 918-313-7952.
918-453-5000, ext. 6139