Questa North

Questa potter infuses work with a touch of body, mind and spirit

By Anna Racicot
tempo@taosnews.com
Posted 3/14/19

Visitors to the Questa Studio Tour and gallery goers might be familiar with the pottery of Michael Ridder, especially with his spectacular, reticulated glazes that draw even the casual observer to …

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Questa North

Questa potter infuses work with a touch of body, mind and spirit

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Visitors to the Questa Studio Tour and gallery goers might be familiar with the pottery of Michael Ridder, especially with his spectacular, reticulated glazes that draw even the casual observer to his pots, encouraging viewers to explore their texture.

This glaze presents a swath of white pebble-looking shapes drawn across a dark blue vase, for example, or a tumbler. Not all of Ridder's work, of course, is glazed in this way. A simple mug of earth-tone colors, extremely smooth to the touch, might be the first piece a viewer reaches out to feel.

A native of Wichita, Kansas, Ridder moved to Crestone, Colorado, in the 1980s, and found himself in the right place at the right time. That was "the setting, the time of life that motivated me to get into pottery." It was in Crestone that he met his pottery mentor, Bertha Gotterup. Ridder said she "really instructed me and got me going." He was also influenced by Robin Hopper, Ron Coleman and Phil Rogers.

A behavioral health councilor who later worked in Albuquerque, Ridder somehow always managed to have a pottery studio. Now retired in Questa with his partner, artist Peggy Trigg, he said he's "in the studio most days." He becomes so involved with his work that he said, "I have to check my phone to see what day it is … You have to use your whole body to make pottery, which I really like. I like the aspect of being able to sit down with materials and create something. My body's part of that. My mind's part of it. My spirit's part of it."

For Ridder, "making pottery is a way of living," rather than a way of making a living.

This potter's way, at least in the manner Ridder approaches it, is the antithesis to the hectic pace of contemporary life. "We live in a time when so many things are virtual," he said. He does not sell his work online because he wants people to have the tactile experience of reaching out and touching one of his mugs or vases. Perhaps because the sense of touch matters so much to Ridder, his work exhibits a glassy smoothness.

"I don't want any burrs," he said. "Finish is really important for functional pottery. It should feel right when you pick it up." Additionally, any design he has created for functional pottery Ridder uses for a time to make sure it works as imagined before he produces more.

A shelf in his studio contains pottery experiments, several of which he wants to remind himself not to repeat, and he keeps a sketchbook with the results of years of glaze experiments. A potter can find the formula in a book, he states, but "50 percent of the process" is testing. With pottery, he explains, "you have to hold in your mind what you're making" because it takes four to six weeks from the time the clay is thrown on the wheel until it is finished. "Your gratification is so delayed."

"There is joy in that," he adds when pot after pot turns out well. Since not all pottery efforts are successful, though, Ridder says, "You have to be really determined, deal with the disappointment and see what you can make next time."

Although Ridder creates some pieces out of clay slabs, most of his work is fashioned on the wheel and twice-fired in his electric kiln.

Ridder points out that the quality of pottery in craft fairs has "improved tremendously" since the 1960s and '70s. He credits this improvement in the craft to the internet and YouTube. "In the world of pottery, the amount of information is overwhelming." He advises would-be potters not to rely on online sources, but to take a class. "If it really resonates, then find a mentor," one whose "work you admire" and who is also willing to share his or her techniques.

What hand-crafted pottery can do, he says, is to "slow you down enough to appreciate the life that you have." A person may ask, "How does the glaze look? How does the handle feel? It can make your life better just to notice that."

Noticing the beauty of created things, the simple things of life, is a gift Ridder clearly has, and one which he shares freely with those who see and touch his work - he is always willing to explain the process, always willing to share the joy he feels.

Ridder shows at Magpie Gallery in El Prado, La Mesa Gallery in Santa Fe, the Contemporary Clay Fair in Santa Fe in April and November and Patrician Design in Albuquerque. He participates in the Questa Studio Tour and the Fuller Lodge Craft Fair in Los Alamos. He can be contacted by email at mridder5@msn.com and by phone at (505) 974-5315.

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