Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Herb Schay's parade of whimsical creatures

Herb Schay
Earlier in his career Herb Schay of East Norwich, NY, was constructing technical prototypes in the radar lab at Sperry Corporation. He is now, and has been for many years, an Instructional Support Specialist at Stony Brook University in the Geosciences Department. Herb enjoys the technical and conceptual challenges that come with working for a scientific lab. A faculty member, graduate student, or a visiting scientist from anywhere around the globe, will request an instrument for his/her research. Sometimes the specifications are clear, sometimes they require a lot of creativity on the part of the support team. Meticulous design stage, heavy research into materials, precise drawings, rigid tests follow, until the instrument is built.

Mammoth by Herb Schay
Herb has an exactly opposite approach to his creative work in ceramics - all designs come directly from his head, he does not draw any sketches, he takes no notes, he does not catalog his work. He wants to just have fun. A true parade of whimsical creations: elephants, mastodons, cats, giraffes, dragons, unicorns, leaves his hands. Whatever creatures he chooses to make, they end up with an approximate resemblance to nature; realistic representation is not what Herb is after. Well, unicorns and dragons are not taken from nature anyway, so here the poetic license may be stretched to the limits. Since Herb is not a production potter and does not have to answer to any market needs he can be as playful as he his heart desires.

The "just having fun" sounds deceptively simple. To make whatever his fancy suggests, Herb still needs to utilize all his creativity, manual dexterity, and a solid knowledge of clay, glazes, and kilns.

Elephants by Herb Schay
Herb does his ceramic work at the Stony Brook Union studios at Stony Brook University. This wonderful place was started in 1969 around the time University was established. Studios are open to all students and faculty members in need of relaxation and release of creative powers. This is also where Herb learned the skills after stumbling upon an open invite to a pottery class. He has since taught hand building courses there. He donated his private kiln to the studio, where it is used by advanced ceramic artists for delicate work, the kiln only fits three pieces.

Dragon by Herb Schay
Herb prefers low cone glazes and firing. He experiments with clays, frequently using different ones in the same piece. He experiments with textures, as well. An elephant may end up with skin that is either smooth or hairy or old. Glazes, from matte to very glossy, match up the character of the piece. Herb sometimes also adds a non-clay element, either a feather or fabric, if a piece calls for it.

Dragon teapot by Herb Schay
Creativity and engineering run in Herb's family. His father lived as he preached: "don't be afraid to use your hands." After returning from WWII, where he served as a technical sergeant setting up pontoon bridges and such, he bought a construction book and took a GI loan to build himself a Cape Cod style house on Long Island. Everything there, except for the chimney, was put together by him and his brother. The house is still standing and is a marvel of perfection. He introduced Herb to basic electronics, plumbing, and joys of working with wood (Herb was a wood carver earlier on and made various items, including a full size cigar store Indian sculpture.) Herb's grandfather was also very applied. Herb remembers various toys made for him by his grandfather - a perfect xylophone, cigar box banjo, which was admired by his music teachers, or a baseball bat out of dogwood. It was a mixture of the inherited manual dexterity and ingenuity that carried on Herb's work. The clay creatures are entirely his own.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing work! I have the kissing pigs from Herb. They are beautiful. He is so talented.