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In 1991, with very little clay experience, I took a class at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. It happened to be a wood kiln building and firing workshop with NC potters, Will Ruggles and Douglass Rankin. I fell in love with wood firing and their adaptation of the Leach-Hamada aesthetic. Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada were two potters - English and Japanese - working from the 1920’s thru 70’s. They became interested in reviving handmade craft in the face of industrialization. Will and Douglass opened my eyes to the history of pots and to the liveliness of useful folk pots from all over the world -- especially Medieval English wares. It was in their class I first saw animals added to pots. Douglass would make animal shaped knobs on her jars.

I then spent six years at Penland School -- two of those years as a work study CORE student and three as a Resident Artist. In 1997 I started Shawn Ireland Pottery as a full time wood fire potter. I left Penland in 1999 and built a two chamber wood fire kiln in nearby Bakersville and continued potting.

In 2005, I visited a Penland friend, Chris Robinson, in Cortona, Italy. Chris is currently Director of the University of Georgia Study Abroad Program there. I immediately fell for the Medieval heritage of Tuscany. I was also introduced to ancient Etruscan culture and all sorts of incredible pots from antiquity. The Etruscans dominated central Italy from the 9th thru 3rd centuries BC and incorporated animal forms into their pottery. I made tons of sketches in the museums and knew these forms would work into my pots eventually.

I returned annually to Cortona to work for UGA as a Visiting Artist Intern & Studio Coordinator between 2006 and 2013. I had access to studios and fired the local terracotta clay in electric kilns, experimenting with different animal forms on pots. In Fall 2008, I went to Sicily and saw old and new colorful maiolica pots (white tin glazed terracotta) with animal elements. These inspired me as well.

I’ve always been interested in making functional pots. Candlesticks and bowls seemed like a good place to start on the Animal Ware path. My stoneware clay and wood firing gives an unpredictability to the glazes and an aged look. I prefer these more rustic surfaces to the hard, clean electric kiln glazes I had access to in Italy.

Coupled with this Mediterranean influence is my love of folk craft from all over, particularly Eastern Europe. All this experience and history enters the workshop and is getting mixed up into my current eclectic pots.