Artist Interviews

Meet Jo Sanders

Jo Sanders - Tall White Vase
Jo Sanders – Tall White Vase
Please introduce yourself:

My name is Jo  Sanders. I grew up in suburban Chicago and attended the University of Michigan.  I earned a B.A. degree in English Literature and a Master’s degree in Social Work  at the U of M, as well as a “Mrs.” My husband and I have two children and three delightful grandchildren, the youngest in his third year  of college. 

We moved to Denver from Ann Arbor in 1960 after my husband completed his surgical residency. I worked part-time as a social worker for over 50 years, and specialized in marital counseling and adult psychotherapy in private practice for over 35 years. I retired for the second time two years ago, and finally have more time to devote to  pottery. 

How many years have you been a member of the Colorado Potters Guild?

I am a charter member of the Colorado Potters’ Guild, and was one of the five potters who organized our group in 1964. In 1963, I was taking a pottery night class with Mark Zamantakis and told three of my classmates about The Ann Arbor Potters’ Guild, a non-profit co-op, with a studio complete with potters wheels and kilns, glazing equipment, work space, and classes. Having  access 24/7, with each member having a key to the studio, was  mouth-watering irresistible! 

An opthamologist friend who had also taken classes at the Ann Arbor Potters’ Guild was recruited, and by mid-1964 the five of us had established the Colorado Potters’ Guild, the first non-profit pottery co-op in Colorado. We used the Ann Arbor Guild’s By-Laws ( now in their 68th year) and received invaluable advice from their members. We purchased a gas reduction kiln from Denver Fire and Clay Co. with no money down, and small monthly payments over many years.  They also gifted us twelve electric wheels. We found a large remodeled garage at Louisiana near Broadway to rent, and after doing the math, concluded that we needed a total of 17 charter members to meet our monthly expenses, plus some rainy day savings. With some fast-talking and high enthusiasm, we gathered a great group of talented, energetic members, all with a passion for pottery! 

Through members’ contacts we found two sinks in a local junkyard, received discarded cabinets,  counters, and shelves from a local hospital renovation, and  purchased sturdy used lab tables from Denver Public Schools for a pittance. Fifty-three yrs later, we are still using much of this furniture! 

Jo Sanders - Wheel Thrown Pottery Basket
Jo Sanders – Wheel Thrown Pottery Basket
What does it mean to you to be a member of the Colorado Potters Guild?

Having a community of folks who share a common passion for clay and share their knowledge is very special to me. Although many of us have home studios now, we still glaze and do our final glaze firing at the Guild.  The camaraderie and generosity of time and spirit so often present among members is heart-warming and enriching. 

How many years have your been working with clay?

I have been working with clay on and off for over 60 years. Since my undergraduate schedule was too full to take a ceramics class, I finally enrolled after graduation in an Ann Arbor adult education ceramic  night class taught by the U of M ceramics professor. I took a night pottery class at Opportunity School when we moved to Denver for my husband’s internship. When we returned to Ann Arbor for his residency, I enrolled in night classes at the Ann Arbor Potters’ Guild.  Working, the birth of our children, a stint in Washington D.C., completing my masters thesis—put potting on hold until we moved to Denver in 1960. I returned to Opportunity School for more classes with Ed Oshier,  a class with the McKinnells , another with Mark Zamantakis, and many workshops. 

Jo Sanders - Tall Handbuilt Vase
Jo Sanders – Tall Handbuilt Vase
Do you have a formal education in clay/art or how did you acquire your skills?

As a child I took art classes at the Art Institute in Chicago. My family encouraged my interest in all the arts—music, dance and theater as well. Exposure to museum exhibits, especially 20th century painting and Japanese pottery, sparked my interest and probably my ceramic style. 

How do you work (techniques/glazing/firing methods)?

Wheel-throwing has always mesmerized me, and at least 80% of my pots are thrown on the wheel. In the last ten plus years, I have done some hand-building and slab work, specifically to create new containers and vases  to showcase another passion, Japanese flower-arranging. 

I fire all my glazed work at cone 10(high-fire) in one of our gas reduction kilns. I prefer the colors, depth, variations, and refined quality that I can achieve with this method. 

What does “being creative” mean to you?

For me, “being creative” means working on a form such as a bowl or plate, exploring many different shapes and sizes until I find some examples that have both aesthetic and functional appeal to me. I then like to reproduce these pots, experimenting with different glazes. 

Since I don’t use commercial glazes, understanding glaze chemistry and glaze formation is important and very challenging. I am trying to develop new glazes, and experiment with glaze combinations and applications that will compliment my pottery, but have barely scratched the surface of this huge body of knowledge. 

What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?

I do most of my work in the winter months before the garden beckons. Since retirement I have more time for this serious hobby, often working four to five hours three days a week, January to April. I try to make enough pots for our Fall and Spring Shows and for occasional home sales and gifts. 

I make my stoneware slabs with a slab roller machine at the Guild studio. Otherwise, I do all my throwing, slab work, hand-building, and bisque firing in my home studio while listening to Colorado Public Radio or music. I usually do not answer the phone, but I do interrupt my work to multi-task dinner and laundry.  To save time in the last three years I have often glazed the inside of my smaller pots in my kitchen, which I refer to as “Poison Central”!

Jo Sanders - Wheel Thrown Vase
Jo Sanders – Glazed Vase
How do you overcome obstacles or difficulties working in clay?

Sometimes my clay is too dry or too wet, and after an hour of struggling, I quit for the day or week and read, see friends, cook and bake, knit, and get buried in household chores and errands. While pottery is my most preferred extra- curricular activity, gardening and flower-arranging run a close second. I like variety and being busy, enjoy volunteering, politics and current events, concerts and plays, traveling, my Book Club, and an occasional bridge game. 

When I have trouble throwing a form, I try to analyze what I am doing, and will try a few different approaches. Usually the third try is the charm! If I like the result, I record the type and amount of clay used and the measurements of the pot for future reference. 

Jo Sanders - Wheel Thrown Bowl Set
Jo Sanders – Wheel Thrown Bowl Set
Do you pursue any themes in your art work?

“Less is more” is my mantra. I like simple forms combined with overlapping glazes as the sole decoration. I am  inspired by Asian ceramics and glazes,  especially Japanese pottery. 

Who or what inspires you?

I am inspired by the work of many Japanese potters who have been designated “National Treasures.” Locally, I have admired and been influenced by the teaching and work of Bob Le Donne, the McKinnells and Mark Zamantakis.  

Jo Sanders - Handbuilt Ikebana
Jo Sanders – Handbuilt Ikebana
Where do you see your work progressing over the next year?

I want to create a variety of new container forms for Ikebana. Throwing larger and improved platters is another goal.  My  first priority is probably to learn more about developing new beautiful glazes for cone 10 reduction firing. 

Where can people find your work? (websites/social media/galleries?)

My work is displayed at the Colorado Potters’ Guild website, and is shown at the Colorado Potters annual Fall and Spring Show/Sales at the Plymouth Congregational Church in Englewood. In the distant past I entered juried  shows in Central City and Denver. For the past twenty-five years I have been content to participate in the two annual Colorado Potters’ shows.