Al Scovern maintains a studio practice that explores a range of fast firing processes following a professional life as a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist. He earned a B.A. degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of South Carolina. He now lives in Belfast, Maine with his wife Diane Follingstad and Golden Retriever, Kenzie, where he plans to continue exploring alternative firing techniques.
I make decorative, wheel-thrown, unglazed stoneware pots that emphasize simple, classic forms, highly burnished surfaces, and tight clean lines. The forms of Pueblo potters are an obvious influence on my work -- they have created, I believe, the archetypal American pot.
My throwing and the forms that my throwing produces are precise, or at least as precise as I can make them. There is a tradition in American wheel thrown pottery of flowing, undulating, altered and misshapen forms that give pieces a soft, organic feel and a sense of “movement.” Potters in this tradition will talk of letting the clay express itself or of letting the clay become what it wants to become, Zen-like. This is not me.
I grew up in a river mill town near Pittsburgh at a time when men took sand and iron and coal and transformed them into glass and steel. They wouldn’t have thought of letting the iron become what it wanted to become—instead they transformed the iron according to their own aims and wishes. Glass and steel are austere, if they are anything at all, but they contain great beauty nonetheless. They are products of human imagination.
My pots are seen by some as austere. Without glaze, extensive carving, ornate decals, or delicate handles, the shape of the pot is left to speak for itself. Up to a point. Like Pueblo potters, I take pots made with great deliberation and obsessive attention to form and subject them to a range of primitive, unpredictable, fast-firing processes. The result is an object marked only by the vagaries of carbon and metallic fumes.
The deliberate play between the poles of control and spontaneity, order and disorder which characterizes my work led a fellow artist to describe my pots as "organically precise." I cannot say it better.