The University of Arizona

Going to Pot for Students

By Jeff Harrison, November 15, 2002

Like a lot of veteran archaeologists, Michael Schiffer has excavated and written about his share of shards over the last three decades. But Schiffer's fascination with ceramics has gone well beyond that of most of his colleagues.

Schiffer, a professor of anthropology at the UA, also dabbles in clay as an artistic diversion. As a student at UCLA in the 1960s, Schiffer took classes from Laura Andresen, who founded the school's ceramics program, and made a potter's wheel from old washing machine parts and other throwaways.

He says working with clay helped him relieve the stress of graduate school, but the hobby stuck. Schiffer also studied with other potters to learn new techniques.

"I make a variety of functional, decorative and sculptural pieces, using both the wheel and hand-building techniques," Schiffer says.

"My favorite forms are bottles and bowls, but I have also made cart parts, metal cans and leather purses as I play with the boundaries between and visual properties of different materials."

"The inspiration for my work comes from a lifetime of reading about, viewing and handling pottery and other crafts from diverse cultures, both ancient and modern. One can see in my thrown works, for example, echoes of Native American bowls and Greek vases."

Schiffer says his emphasis is on form, texture and glaze. He stays away from paint because "terrible things happen to pots that I touch with a paintbrush."

Two years ago, Schiffer auctioned off an assortment of his work to raise $4,000 in scholarship funds for the UA anthropology department. He will hold another sale on Dec. 6, again to benefit students through the department's scholarship fund.

"The drive to create pleasing, sometimes whimsical shapes comes from deep within, expressing in clay feelings and perceptions that have no other outlet," Schiffer says. "I hope (people) enjoy viewing and touching my pots as much as I enjoy making them."