It actually began with raku sheep. I wanted to develop a project that made raku firing, and the properties of raku firing, necessary. Hence, the blackface sheep flock.

But then came the election and my frustration with being unable to escape screens blaring commercials and other propaganda at me everywhere I went, restaurants, gas stations, checkout counters, everywhere. Even in the dentist’s chair! This led to thoughts of Fahrenheit 451 in which the totalitarian government (Big Brother) not only burns all books but requires screens everywhere running the government propaganda continuously while simultaneously monitoring everyone. That’s when I got the idea of The Sheep Project where the sheep would be constantly exposed to a screen with “newsfeeds.”

A flock of raku ceramic sheep staring at a screen while grazing

The entire Science Fiction/Fantasy concept began with The Sheep Project and the “sooon to com” Newsfeed: We Are What We Eat

My first thought was to create a ceramic panel installation and with the constant cries of “invading illegal aliens,” my thoughts turned to War of the Worlds and the famous (infamous?) Orson Wells radio play event. In case you aren’t familiar with this piece of mob insanity, on October 30, 1938, Orson Wells directed a Halloween radio play of the novel in which the Martians land in Grover’s Mill, New Jersey and thousands of people panicked. Given that even supposedly responsible news organizations were writing stories that sounded like The National Enquirer, I designed a prototype ceramic plaque and managed to get a flock of 24 sheep (with only 3 suffering a lost ear) before classes ended. I wanted to do an installation with 100 hundred sheep and a much larger screen, but that took time, money, and a place to install 100 sheep. None of which I had.

It would be a year before I could get back to Clayscapes Pottery — and this time I was on a mission and a tight deadline.

A friend and artist said she was thinking of entering the Bubonicon 50 Art Show. (Bubonicon is an annual science fiction & fantasy literary convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico that started in 1968.) I said I’d go — and enter the art show if she went and we could visit Mesa Verde National Park afterward — and she took me up on the offer. (It helped that the author of Red Shirts, John Scalzi, was the guests of honor. I had voted for Red Shirts to win the Hugo Award at the World Science Fiction Convention. (It did.))

Now I had 8 weeks to complete some pottery for the show. The theme of the art show was Golden Age Science Fiction. Obviously, I wasn’t doing The Sheep Project at Bubonicon.  In the year since the birth of The Sheep Project, the similarities between Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 had grown. The lowest point was a public bathroom with a TV screen streaming FOX. In addition, the issue of income inequality was escalating with the top 1% owning over 50% of all wealth in the world. And the political rhetoric sounded eerily like two classic works by George Orwell: 1984 and Animal Farm

So while I suspected the Art Show team at Bubonicon 50 were thinking rocketships and aliens, I began working on handbuilt ceramic pieces using prophetic, subversive Science Fiction and Fantasy literature. 1984 was Orwell’s response to the increasingly disingenuous rhetoric of government and public organizations (little did he know how bad it would get) as well as the increasing government rules and monitoring of people’s lives and communities, plus the increasing anti-intellectual push for greater conformity and obedience. Orwell, a dedicated socialist, used Animal Farm to slam capitalism, Stalinist Communism, and the Soviet Union’s abandonment of its revolutionary ideals. Fahrenheit 451 reflected the fear, paranoia, and blind compliance in America during the McCarthy Era and the Communist Scare. Even H.G.Wells was working with social themes of his time while his rival, Jules Verne, focused on technological extrapolations. War of the Worlds explored implications of both technological and chemical warfare.

But I’m pretty certain the Bubonicon Art Show staff were expecting rocketships and aliens.

Tall red rectangular plaque with painted flame over which is imposed the scorched U.S. Constitution

My favorite in the Fahrenheit 451 series. The Brooklyn Line Glaze Red Hook took on a rich, deep red tone during the second bisque firing (necessary for the decals) and the Stroke And Coat glazes blended into it nicely.

Fortunately, they didn’t even blink (or if they did, I didn’t see it) when I sent them photos of some early pieces out of the kilns and asked if they violated any of the art show rules. A big Shout Out of Thanks to Bubonicon Art Show staffers, Roslee Orndoff and Kathy Kubica, for their patience and quick responses to my questions.

(And a big Shout Out of Thanks to my handbuild teacher, Wes Weis, whose patience and wisdom is unparalleled and who got everything through the firing kilns in the knick of time. Also, thank you to Don and Kim Seymour, owners of Clayscapes Pottery, for their patience, support, and creation of an amazing business and dynamic clay community and studio, as well as everyone in the incredible Clayscapes Pottery studio community.)

So I head out tomorrow with 3 full crates of ceramics for possible inclusion in the art show. But my Sheep Project and  Prophetic Subversive Science Fiction/Fantasy series are not about specific ideologies but about the need for critical thinking and questioning authority. We need to ask questions not only to the statements and beliefs of others but our own statements and beliefs. We need to think with modern minds, applying Karl Popper’s dictum that science looks for ways to refute a hypothesis, not support it. Instead of looking for statements or rhetoric that supports our beliefs or viewpoints, we need to see if there are any that disprove a statement or viewpoint we accept.

Which explains why I ran out of question mark decals.

I’ll explain the raku pieces in another post. I have to finish packing my camper van named Lu-Yu, also known as Number 12 Ox or simply Ox.

Rectangular, shallow platter glazed half light blue and half green with 1984 slogans and phrases overlaid.

1984 Series: What started as a glaze test quickly turned into another examination of Newspeak.





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