Oral History Interview with Walter Hyleck Part II

Kentucky Historical Society


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0:14 - Jurying process / Guild train / Making a career out of art

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Keywords: Guild train; Jerry Workman; Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen; marketing; Richard Bellando

12:16 - Involvement in other arts organizations / Leaving the KY Guild

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Keywords: gallery; Kentucky Guild of Artists and Craftsmen; National Council of the Education of Ceramic Arts; Richard Bellando; sculpture; teaching

15:04 - Kentucky Craft Marketing / Social political art

20:09 - Marketing

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Keywords: Bybee Pottery; ceramics; Eastern Kentucky; Lyndon Johnson; mass production; Phyllis George; Phyllis George Brown; pottery; poverty; Richard Bellando; Walter Cornelison

29:18 - Function, form and social/political commentary in work

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Keywords: ceramics; function; political; pottery; teapot

37:03 - Influences of travel

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Keywords: Berea (KY); British Isles; Northern Minnesota; Santa Fe (NM)

43:09 - Tour of studio

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Keywords: clay; electric kiln; hand-built kiln; stoneware; tools


WILLIHNGANZ: Well -- how do you feel about the whole jurying process and the…is that, is that a good thing to contribute to the, the betterment of the, the individuals, or does it really stifle things -- in some ways?

HYLECK: Well, you know, I don’t know that the arts have ever managed to escape the idea of a jury and, and the difference between a jury and a critique is a, a group versus a single individual. And, and for that matter, a consumer is a jury as well, so -- the…anyone who would argue against the existence of a jury I think is, is being a little naïve. The jury is going, going to happen at one point or another, and -- a jury that manages to focus itself on the work as opposed to the personality of the maker is -- more likely to have a positive impact in the long run than no jury at all. As -- as a person who has now been involved in this for almost fifty years -- what I have come to realize is, is that as a practicing artist, no one really cares whether you exist or not, and no one cares about how your work develops anymore than you do. Those of us that were educated -- in our craft, or art in a university, discover that once you leave the university, it’s, it’s the closest thing to being hurled off a cliff. You can have…and that while you’re on the precipice, you have all of these people telling you where the edge is, and how close to get to the edge, and how to flirt with the edge, and then you graduate… and it’s if they, as if they all walked away, and as they left you, they pushed you off the edge and then what? Then no one gives feedback, unless the feedback is disinterest. So I, I think the juries are, are extremely important. A jury that gives you a, an acceptance or rejection letter that is accepted, check box, reject box, check -- is usually met with a great deal of, of -- hostility on one hand, or suspicion on another, or elation, and none of them are founded on anything. It’s, it’s just happens with, with the note. A jury on the other hand that a, that attempts to, to provide some sort of focused criticism that, as I said, is focused on the work and not on the person, or on the choice of the person to -- to submit, or not submit -- eventually I can…I think can have some positive impact. And as I, as I look back at people who -- and I wouldn’t want to name names here…the people who are rejected the first time, and persisted I can only say that it was positive. And, and that…this can be positive in a variety of ways, and one is that it provided decent and e -- and effective criticism and the other is that it made them angry enough that they went at it with greater intensity and -- with greater intensity, they came to a clearer understanding of what it was they wanted to do and why they wanted to do it. And, and I think that that in itself can be a way to, to improve a person’s work.

WILLIHNGANZ: You know, I’ve…now I’ve interviewed dozens of people who have been in the Guild, or are in the Guild, and -- it’s really a badge of courage how many times you were turned down .


WILLIHNGANZ: And you almost get into one-upping each other --


WILLIHNGANZ: -- there, well I’ve been there eight times and I still came back .

HYLECK: Yes, right, right. And I, and I think an organization like this that wasn’t just accepting people who were credentialed by the university or, or -- by a formal education -- needed to r -- address the fact that if people were self trained, or taking the occasional class, that that in itself was not going to be enough to sustain them. That -- if they, if they were going to be able to sustain themselves as, as artists, they would have to go through a number of layers of learning, until they became strong enough in their understanding of what it was they were making and why they were making it, that -- that they would be able to persist over time.

WILLIHNGANZ: We need to stop here for [unintelligible]


WILLIHNGANZ: We were talking about your involvement with the board --

HYLECK: Mm-mm.

WILLIHNGANZ: -- and -- you were the vice-president?

HYLECK: Vice-president at one point, yeah.

WILLIHNGANZ: -- at one point, and then over time you got less active and dropped out of the organization, is that correct?

HYLECK: That is correct, right.

WILLIHNGANZ: What happened?

HYLECK: Well the, the -- simple answer is, as my work evolved, and as my career evolved, the Guild no longer served my needs. I had not joined the Guild out of -- any sense of service to the, to the community or, or service to -- to the field of art. I had joined it because -- I thought that it could serve me, and -- I really looked for ways in which it served me. I think being on the board was -- a learning experience for me and it also was -- part of what a person does when they, when they join an organ, organization, or join any group of people is, you make an effort to, to maintain it the way you would like it to f -- to function, but -- it went through a number of, of different directors and as I’ve mentioned, part of Richard’s genius was his ability to serve the needs of people with very different backgrounds and very different needs. I did, I found that I could not sell my work in the woods, and as, it is as simple as that. For a few years -- Richard -- at Christmas time would try to find a storefront in Lexington and, and he -- had established a relationship with -- Walter Leet…a furniture store owner, owner in Lexington. And, and so we had a storefront space to sell at, at Christmas. Well, that, that kind of environment, which is closer to a gallery environment, actually suited my work better than being in the wood stick , and although people really like seeing my work in the woods…and I try to make use of, of the natural surroundings, in order to display it -- people don’t go to the, go to the woods to see social-political commentary. And even if you do, you -- you may find that it ruins your, your pastoral experience. Anyway -- with the, with the succession of, of directors that followed Richard -- fewer and fewer of them were able to do the kind of job that -- Richard so keenly grasped. I mean you had to be a fund raiser…we…if I can back up a little bit about the Guild --


HYLECK: When I first joined it, it had an educational function as well as a commercial function. The train was, was still operating and Jerry Workman was, was the person who managed the train and, and took it off into Eastern Kentucky for the most part -- as an educational gesture. But then, the, the part that Richard was mostly responsible for was -- the marketing of, of art and, and craft. Well, the…I mean it, it would take a genius to be able to raise the kind of money necessary to do both of these things and, and that’s really what he was, and, and, and what he was able to do. Well, the directors that followed him…I don’t think had the capacity to do all of those things, so as to train -- lost its funding and that stopped being part of, of -- the guild’s outreach. On the other end, it still had an educational mission, and -- it never really found that -- educational voice after the train was -- was eliminated. That in itself would not have caused me to, to leave the Guild. But as time went on, it also lost its ability to market what I would call fine art. Unless you could sell your fine art in the woods , and unless you could put up with -- foul weather -- during the fair in the woods, which I think in, in terms of the serious painter, the extremely difficult or serious printmaker would be exer -- extremely difficult. In case of potters, heck, we let the water rain on in and made the work look better anyway, but -- the kind of more sculptural work that I was doing just, just simply needed other venues. Also, at that same time , I had become chairman of Berea College’s Art Department, and I was still directing the apprenticeship program. I had too many administrative things on my plate. I had a family, with two young sons. I wasn’t willing, willing to sacrifice them as well. And, if I wanted my, my career in art to survive, I realized I had to find other ways to, to make it work, and I, and I don’t believe in token membership to anything. So I’d, I found it was much easier for me to step out of the organization and let it go the direction that it had wanted to go, rather than -- engage in some kind of conflicted push and pull with, with the organization.

WILLIHNGANZ: Now, were you involved in other organizations, the Southern Guild, Highland Guild? Or…

HYLECK: No, the Southern Highland Guild -- never really interested me at all. I was involved in the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts, which is an international organization in ceramics. And I had…I was very deeply involved in administrative assignments to the college, and, and various committees that, that the college had. It became extremely difficult for me -- for a number of years to keep my art going and do the administrative work, and the teaching work that the college demanded. In the case of the Guild…do it…at that point, it would have been far easier for me to market functional work than the sculptural work that I was doing. And, yet if you’re going to market functional work, and deal with galleries, you have to be able to supply them, and keep them supplied. And you can’t give them work in January, and then, when it’s gone and they need more work in -- April, say, gee, I haven’t made any and, you know, they, they very quickly lose interest in you. So, I put more energy into the more sculptural work -- it evolved more slowly, and the venues for exhibiting it -- were not as demanding …demanding in that they didn’t have to have regular production every few months. And, I just felt very comfortable doing that, that kind of work. So, so the guild no longer served my needs…really is, is, is why I stopped being involved with it.


HYLECK: It, it coincided with the period of time when the, when the girl…the Guild was struggling to survive economically, and -- and was going through a, a lot of turnover in it’s -- in its administration, and different directors, and seeking a director who had the skills and -- s -- solidarity that, that Richard had provided. That really had little or nothing to do with, with my leaving the Guild, and my real reason was it just didn’t serve what I was up to.

WILLIHNGANZ: What, what are your views about the, the state craft marketing program that started in the seventies, I guess?

HYLECK: Mm-mm. Well my, my initial involvement with, with the arts and, and the crafts is, of course, prior to the Reagan administration. It’s when the National Endowment for the Arts had -- a belief that they could support the arts by finding the most dynamic artists and funding their, their work, and that in doing so, they would not contaminate or destroy the arts. I think that this is a commendable mission. No mission in life is, is totally perfect, but the National Endowment -- I think created in its commendable mission two problems for itself, one was -- when money is involved -- we’ll call it the good whole boy, good whole girl network takes hold, and -- a lot of that funding w -- was -- administered on the buddy system, and the second thing that, that happened was you, was you had very controversial artists and very controversial work being funded. The kind of social-political things I was doing was nothing compared to some of the work that was being produced in the, in the ‘70s, and -- if anybody who rem -- remembers the hostility in the halls of Congress over the kind of art that was being produced, and how -- it became the appropriate whipping boy for all of the national ills, the national endowment was essentially gutted, and killed. It continued for, for a shorter period of time, but I th -- but I, you know, I think nobody noticed when it finally died…blew away. The result was, that instead of funding the most edgy art that existed, is that the money…so that there was still money, federal money going into the arts…it went into grassroots development. And the idea that art is for everyone, and everyone is an artist, took hold. Well, I, I don’t happen t believe that. You know, I, I do believe art is for everyone, in some way, but I don’t believe everyone is an artist anymore than I believe that everyone is a doctor, or everyone is a lawyer, or everyone is a clergy. I think that people have specific kinds of callings, and are willing to make a professional level commitment to those callings, and that by channeling the money into the, into the grassroots, we have done something akin to developing -- leisure time activities, leisure community centers, on a very broad basis, which, which is healthy and good, I, I have no opposition to that. But I don’t know that in itself it’s a way to develop the best kind of art, or fund the best kind of art. I wouldn’t want it--in saying that, I wouldn’t want anybody to interpret that to mean that I believe that art will disappear if it doesn’t get federal funding, that isn’t going to happen either. As, as long as, as there is a human spirit there’s, there’s going to be art developed, but that shift in funding had a profound impact on the way organizations, like the guild, functioned, the way many community organizations functioned, and -- what we have is, is more people who are, are not professionally committed or involved, and exhibit, and, and go through all of the same kinds of -- routines that a professional artist will go through using this, this federally sponsored money.

WILLIHNGANZ: We’ve had a lot of activity in the state when Phyllis George got very active --

HYLECK: Right.

WILLIHNGANZ: -- and started promoting basically merchandising --

HYLECK: Right.

WILLIHNGANZ: Did that affect you and, and your school’s activities?

HYLECK: It -- it did…I don’t think it affected either. And I, I will command her efforts -- but unlike -- I’d [unintelligible], it, it hasn’t occurred to me that to compare her efforts to Richard’s effort -- with the guild. What Richard seemed to grasp is that the, the same -- approach to marketing person A’s work, won’t necessarily work to market person B’s or C’s, or D’s. Phyllis George -- Brown, had a one-size-fits-all, this, this is the way we do it and -- around that time, there were a few people associated with the Kentucky -- marketing program who had contacted me and tried to, to make contacts with galleries, but that isn’t the way galleries work. Galleries are not interested in being contacted by the state’s marketing personnel. They are interested, number one, in either discovering artists on their own, or having the artist contact them. It’s a different network entirely, and -- her one-size-fits-all approach and tha -- and the Kentucky marketing program is, is more akin to that. I mean, yes, they have, have their -- I would call them fairs, and it brings in wholesalers, but it brings in wholesalers for shops, for the most part, not necessarily gallery owners who, who are looking for the next thing. So it’s, it, it serves one aspect if, if anything it has a, a thrust on tourism and building an economic enterprise a, akin to small business. But it, it isn’t going to promote -- art for art sake. It, it’s not going to promor -- promote edgier things, that’s going to have to exist some other way, and that’s, that’s the reason I brought up the National Endowment. And, the National Endowment originally was trying to find, you know…where is the front edge? Where is the leading edge? And, and let’s try to support that. Where is, where is the rising personality? Let’s try to support that, and allow that to have an impact on, on the bigger picture. Now I think the, the support is for the masses and let, let’s support the masses and assume that that will, will -- stimulate the economy.

WILLIHNGANZ: Well, and so much of this seems to be just sort of re-shifting the focus to the marketing aspect, as opposed to the creativity aspect.

HYLECK: Absolutely!

WILLIHNGANZ: And I talked with Walter Cornelison of Bybee Pottery, who said, you know, when they got approached by New York marketers, basically, they said, you know, we looked at what they were wanting to order. We couldn’t possibly do that without completely changing everything we did --

HYLECK: Right!

WILLIHNGANZ: -- and they just had to turn that down --

HYLECK: Right.

WILLIHNGANZ: -- because it would have, they’d had to re-define themselves.


WILLIHNGANZ: And -- it’s always a, it’s a fine line between, between mass production and actual individual creativity, and some organizations that I see, seem to be threading the line between there. And, you look at Louisville Pottery, where they don’t actually use molds and mass produce, but they certainly have tried to get into the malls, and tried to do larger scale marketing than I would say the common potter or porcelain worker does.

HYLECK: Right, that’s exactly correct. I’d, I understand the, the challenge to make something that you can reproduce to su -- su -- support your life style. On the other hand, with the global economy, it is extremely easy right now to design something here and then to take it to -- I mean we, we beat Taiwan and China over the head with this, but they are not the only place…Malaysia…and build a factory there; build, build the technology there, and produce it at variable cost, and, and bring it back. And, and this can happen very, very quickly. And, it is easier for us to send our designer who has designed the product over there to oversee the production of the product, you know, once every two or three months, and stay ahead of the game, because a lot of the marketing is, is done in a very sophisticated manner. And -- and who decides what next year’s color is going to be …and I, believe me, it, it isn’t a group of artists in Berea, Kentucky . And, and it’s, it’s not -- it’s not even a couple of artists in, in -- in Chelsea or New York City, you know, the…these are professional marketing people who have decided ahead of time -- and who are well aware of, of what one another is producing. And, look at the American automobile industry. You…Ford knows exactly what General Motors is producing next year. They all know what one another is producing next year, and ultimately I think that’s what, what becomes part of the problem -- the art of it is, is cut out. It, it just doesn’t respond in, in the same way. Now, so I think that these kinds of marketing programs are -- are healthy for tourism of a certain kind. I need to digress momentarily. I, I can remember back in the sixties, when Lyndon Johnson had an idea of, of -- curing poverty with craft programs, and as a matter of fact -- I conducted a few workshops for folks in Eastern Kentucky who wanted to become professional potters, and I learned very quickly that they weren’t interested in the technology that I could give them. Subsequently, they wanted the bottom line: “Wha -- what should I make that is, is going to generate x number of dollars next week?” And, you know, I, I would try to tell them, “Well, if I give you that answer, by the time you get it to the market place, it’s going to be behind the curve, and, and, w -- the best I can do is to show you how to do certain things and then you have to de, have to figure out where the market is, and where your market is. And if you’re selling it right here in, in Harland, that’s a different market from Louisville, a totally different market from Louisville, so you have to, you have to manage all of those.” Well, they weren’t interested in that. So I, I don’t happen to believe that arts and, quote, “crafts”, are a solution to poverty, and as soon as I start seeing -- it’s never been a solution in my pottery anyway . As soon as I start seeing organizations go down that road where -- where they suggest that it is, I want nothing to do with them. You know, I w -- I want to get as far away from them as I possibly can because I, I feel that it, it contaminates the art. It, it lies to the artisan, if, if they are legitimate artisans, and what we’re really doing is, is feeding a disposable portion of the economy, and, and we don’t need anymore disposable economy, we need something that’s more substent to it than that.

WILLIHNGANZ: Whoa! I need to look through my questions here and see I’ve gone --

HYLECK: While you are doing that, I’ll take another break?

WILLIHNGANZ: That will be fine.

HYLECK: Thank you.


WILLIHNGANZ: I get started here. Yeah, let me ask you just a couple other questions which -- are kind of interesting that we haven’t touched on. We talked a little bit about the function of objects --

HYLECK: Mm-mm.

WILLIHNGANZ: -- that, that play in your work. And, as I look at your work, it seems to me that it’s almost gone from very specific messages to a more sort of thoughtful consideration. I look at your work with -- with -- teapots, and then -- the platters and other things, which, to my bluntly untrained eye, are curious. And, I look at them and I’m saying, what is he really trying to do with this, and what is that about for you. Can you comment a little bit about the --

HYLECK: Sure, yeah.

WILLIHNGANZ: -- the progression work?

HYLECK: That’s -- that’s a very insightful and targeted question . Yeah, that’s good. The -- well…we’ve talked about the earlier work which was focused on social-political issues and ideas, and how over time it evolved into things that relate to place. The, the platters that you’re talking about or mentioned, all relate to place. But then so does the functional work. The -- I have always used teapots as a form of callisthenic the -- technology involved in ceramics can be extremely sophisticated or it can be very m -- modest and, and humble. I can fire in a hole in the ground with dung, you know, and, and no official glazes. On, on the other hand -- what interests me e -- is the phenomenon of, of the image, and the history of the image. People have been, where mankind has, has been working with clay images now for over ten thousand years, and in each case, the o -- ceramic object has taken on a kind of presence that either relates to something that can be, can’t be spoken about in any other way, that is we could call it spiritual or religious, or it has taken on an absolutely mundane and functional presence a, a, allowing it to even be disposable. And then I think of tankards made for pubs in, in Europe where people break them and, and so potters put a half dozen handles on them so that, as handles got broken off the thing could continue to be used until all the handles were broken off, and then you threw it away. And, and at the same time that this potter, a potter is, is making that for the, for the pub, they’re also making large commemorative platters that are, are mounted on, on the wall around the edge of the room that commemorates special events in, in the communities’ memory, you know, the, the birth of such and such a person, or the election of such and such a person, or, or the year of a particular crop -- and, and the -- it becomes a document about the people at the same time that, that this is just mindlessly used the way we--I refer to Dixie cups, which I think don’t exist anymore, but you understand what I’m talking about. In, in order to bridge that gap, I have always been really intrigued by the process of making a pot, which is akin to, parallel to the formation of the earth. The, the things that, that a potter uses to make the object are the same thing that formed this earth, and the firing of the pot is the same process that the crust we walk on went through in order to be formed, and it, as I become more and more involved in trying to get the image I want, I realize I have to know more, and more, and more about the technology that goes into making that image. It’s not just a case of pushing mushy clay one way or another, it’s a case of then understanding that these chemic -- chemicals ultimately have to be heated up and fired, and they look like white powder when, when I apply them. But when they come out, they’re red, or they’re blue, or they’re green, or they’re bumpy, or they’re smooth, or, so, so you have to understand the technology. In order to understand that technology, I have used my foundation education as a jumping off point, and that’s why I call the teapots calisthenics. The teapot on one hand represents an object that assumes a place in our life. A person who uses a teapot keeps it in a specific place, puts it in a specific place, uses it in a certain way, and returns it to that place, and, and that’s not just our culture that does it, so -- other cultures do it as, as well, and some with greater -- celebration and respect that, than we do. So it, that object fits into this i -- idea of the importance of place, and it becomes an object that challenges my understanding of the technology. So, if I want to develop a new surface for my more sculptural things, the platters or the caldrons, I can explore that within the realm of the teapot. I can explore illusions, surface illusions within the realm of the teapot, and then bring them to the more sculptural object that evolves more slowly with a sense of confidence. I call it calisthenics because I think of an athlete. An athlete operates from muscle memory and they do calisthenics in order to tone that muscle memory. They go through their preparatory -- warm ups in order to get ready for the real event, and then when the real event is happening, it comes out intuitively, and I want that to happen…I want that, that preparation to be there in those functional objects. And then, when I am making the more sculptural things it comes out in, intuitively. I also have a, have a deep respect for the complexity of, of the teapot, and, and how it has fit into, into different cultures at, at different times, in the same sense that I have a respect for the platter, which has fit into cultures in different ways -- always doing two things, one is serving a specific function and at the other time--other time, it is, it is -- visually enhancing the space.

WILLIHNGANZ: Okay. Have you traveled a lot, and has your travel to different cultures and different settings influenced your work a great deal?

HYLECK: Well I, I, I, I am, I’ve traveled a lot in the United States. As far as travel in, in Europe is concerned, that’s mostly been limited to the, to the British Isles. So, I think my travel is, is in my mind…my travel has been part of a twentieth, twenty-first century person who has access to the internet and books, and, and other people who travel here…people from other cultures who, who come here. I can relate and, and, and experience, in terms of, two experiences in a way, when I travel. Two of, of, of the most influential people in, in my background…they are British potters who are now deceased, who -- who came to Berea as, as guests, and -- who out of a sense of professional courtesy were willing to engage in, in a dialogue about their work, about my work, about work in general. Ultimately they, they’ve influenced the way, the way I think. They’ve influenced the way I look at my own work, by bringing their cultural experiences to me. Another one, on one of our trips to the southwest, in -- Santa Fe, one of these little souvenir stands -- along the edge of the city, had brought in a Mexican potter, actually a group of Mexican artists who, who did different things. But this Mexican potter, to make his work mostly to entertain the tourists, and -- I became quite intrigued watching the way he was working and, and I began to talk to him about the things he was doing, and he very quickly identified that I was a potter as well and, and -- he, he just got all excited. All of the sudden, there he was talking to another person who had an interest in the material as he did, instead of talking to the tourist who, who wants to know how long did it take him to make that thing and -- the, the next thing I knew he, he was saying, you know, “I’m, I’m going to do this, and you ought to see that, and I’m going to do this, and I’m going to fire them and there is my kiln over there and if you’ll come back in an hour and I’ll show how I’m going to do that and how I’m going to fire that kiln” and -- over a, over a two or three-day period, he was telling me when he was going to do things, and I was coming back and talking to him about it, and, and -- the, the exchange went way beyond watching how you make that object. The exchange went on to how often do you do that, how often do you load up your truck in Guanajuato and, and drive all of that work here, and how much of it do you make here, versus how much do you make there. And, what do you expect to bring back to your family, and why do you do it here as opposed to having people come there. And, do your kids do this? And did you grandfather do this? And what did you learn from them at -- that’s where the cultural exchange comes. And, I think I would even add to it, that some of the fellows that I went to school with -- from northern Minnesota, who came from the reservation, who rode Greyhound bus from the reservation to school, and -- and would stay for the week, and then ride the bus back to the reservation on, on the weekend, and their work became about their life experience. And, and as we talked to one another about our work, it bec -- it be, gradually became very clear to me that the work comes out of your life. It, it comes out of the things that concern you in your life, and not necessarily about the things you learned to do that you, that you repeat. Now I think of, of this thing very similar to a good surgeon, you know, he’ll, they learn how to cut it open in, in surgery school, but then, when they get it open and they discover, hey that thing is not where it was in surgery school, it’s over here. And the more they do, the more -- I’ll say efficient they become, the more knowledgeable they become, the more intuitive they come--become about the way they do it. And it’s, it’s that blend of things that I’m looking for in my work, and that doing the functional things, like the teapots and bowls, and, and the -- and small things for the house, for the table, vases, which assume a place in a person’s life that becomes part of the organized routine for living. And then other things that become more ceremonial, like the painting on the wall, that if it came down now off that wall, something would have to go back up in its place in order to make the room be environment complete, or another object that you put on the wall that reminds you of something in your past that is very important and makes, makes you complete. So I’m trying to bring all of those things together.

WILLIHNGANZ: Terrific! That is great stuff, I could go on for two or three hours, but we really need to --


WILLIHNGANZ: -- go outside and I --


WILLIHNGANZ: Okay, so tell me about your, your shop here.

HYLECK: So, when, when we moved to this lot, I moved three studio spaces in…into this one. And -- previously, one of the other studios included kilns, and one of them included woodworking equipment, and the other one had drawing equipment and books, and was an office with a computer, and so on. Now, this is the combination of those three, except I don’t bring the computer out here, it’s too dusty. But the woodworking--everything is, is on wheels they can be pulled out into the center space, if I need it. Woodworking equipment is, is over here…workbench and the, the potting things are over to that side, and behind the camera, and -- the kiln, kiln down…kilns down on the far end. I have an electric kiln on the right hand side and a -- a just recently constructed gas-reduction kiln then on the, on the left. It hasn’t been fired yet, I just finished the brook--brickwork and the plumbing last month.

WILLIHNGANZ: Did you build this yourself?



HYLECK: Yes. I had -- some guests in here a couple of weeks ago who had a similar reaction of whoa, and -- wanted to know, you know, why I built it myself as opposed to buying one. And -- I didn’t have a good answer for that but -- part of their question was well have you ever done it before, and then I realized, this is about number thirty-five. I, I built at least that many kilns before, with the --


HYLECK: -- either helping other people build, or for the college, or -- for myself.

WILLIHNGANZ: Tell me about all your supplies over here.

HYLECK: The -- well, the way I have it organized, at, like I said, everything pulls out, stored glazes back behind the kiln. These are chemicals for glazes. A work surface at the moment is holding a few molds that I use for vases and, and teapots, and, and colorants up on the top -- the marble table here is, is -- is both a work table as well as a wedging table, and --

WILLIHNGANZ: I’m not sure what wedging is.

HYLECK: Wedging is, is, is like kneading bread, it’s preparing the clay for -- for working, for throwing--getting the air bubbles out, as well as equalizing the moisture throughout, throughout the clay. I work in, in both porcelain and -- and in earthenware. For the more sculptural things I, I use earthenware and for the functional things I, I use porcelain. The difference there is that the earthenware is lower temperature, the porcelain is very high temperature, and when I fire the earthenware for the most part, I fire it in my electric kiln, and when I fire the porcelain…fired in the, in the gas kiln. [Ware ax?], which at the moment include -- storage of finished pieces as well as the storage of, of pieces that -- have just recently been made and, and trimmed, and throwing area. Then as I said, open space here that I can pull things out in, into. I have more glazes stored underneath the workbench over to this side, and -- clay stored in just about every nook and cranny that I can, can find.

WILLIHNGANZ: Where do you get your clay?

HYLECK: So far I have been -- able to make use of the college’s facility to, to make my clay. I have always ordered -- powered clay from the mines and then compounded my body to suit -- my specifications and use, either mixing equipment there at the college facility. Since I’ve just retired in -- from teaching in July, we are only talking about six months or so, six-seven months of being away, so I still have the clay I made at the college before I left. But I suspect that I will continue to -- find a way to make use of their facility to make my clay. If not, I’ll just have to buy from, from a distributor in Lexington or, or Louisville .

WILLIHNGANZ: What are these pieces up here, this, those racks up here?

HYLECK: Oh, the, the -- platters…oh this is, yes this is, is one of my warehouses up, up here. These are platters that -- were exhibited, and the numbers that you s -- every platter actually has a -- number that is chronological from the first platters that I made, and then that number becomes part of the name of the piece, and -- so, they’re just stored in those slots. But the, the other pieces that -- either have been exhibited, and are not touring at the time are just in the boxes stored up there.

WILLIHNGANZ: Now did you design this building with this in mind?

HYLECK: Huh? Yes, the -- when we built the house -- I was originally trying to find an industrial space in town that I could use as a studio. As I mentioned before, I, I had had three studios and, and had to move the work…all of the stuff that was stored in those three studios into a smaller space. So, I was looking for an old industrial space, but Berea doesn’t have a lot of old industrial spaces, unfortunately, and I didn’t want to have to drive all the way to Richmond and to find something. So we built the house, and then as time went on, I thought I would wait and see how that came out. And, when the house was finished, my wife and I decided I’d go ahead and build this, and this was as much as, of the lot as she was willing to sacrifice to, to my studio. This is, is about the size of, of one of the studios that I had before, and -- I, I designed it with a shed roof so that I would have a good twelve feet above the kiln, and I wanted to make sure that it was -- at least thirty feet long to allow me a work space, and that is the workspace for the clay as well as an area to have my, my power tools. If I am efficient, I don’t need a whole lot more space. And that, I think most artists are, are capable, as I am, of filling any space that you give us, and, and for the most part it’s probably filled with junk, but junk that will be valuable at some point down the road and in this case, I try to limit myself to the amount of junk collecting. Although, as you see over there, on that side, that’s -- collapsed cardboard boxes and packing crates and wood that -- I have salvaged from different places that I know I will use sooner or later.

WILLIHNGANZ: Well, I was looking at the, this -- rack of wood that you have up here. That’s quite a fair piece of wood up there, and --


WILLIHNGANZ: -- I’m wondering I b -- I didn’t realize you needed to be working in wood that much if you are a potter.

HYLECK: Well -- you know that, that’s interesting that you, you mention that. This has nothing to do with [Sound of a machine being turned on] my being a potter, it has much more to do with my son being a, a painter, a printmaker and a drawer, and this is framing stock.


HYLECK: -- so I can make frames with it. Do you want me to turn that off?

WILLIHNGANZ: Yeah. [Machine turned off]. Thanks.

HYLECK: And -- it’s, its framing stock that I had -- made by the, the college’s woodcraft industry. Its, its oak and, and maple framing stock and then I can make frames for him, or for myself, of any size. The -- wood on the, on the top is -- a variety of -- either different kinds of cabinet woods or, or -- things that I use just for shelving here or, or for the framing process.

WILLIHNGANZ: How much time you had --

HYLECK: Yeah you move in, you move into a new house and -- and -- your wife always has ideas of things that you can make but that house, so that’s part of what that is. And the other thing is in, in doing the, the more sculptural work I do, I often have to make jigs and pictures of different kinds. I have to make frames for molds, and -- I’m, I’m always needing to access wood in, in one way or another.

WILLIHNGANZ: Hum. How much of your time these days are you spending out here?

HYLECK: Huh, all day every day . I -- I am usually up by six o’clock, and I may read for a little while, while I am having my breakfast, and I’m usually out here by seven thirty or eight, and -- I’ll come in for some kind of a lunch, talk to my wife for a while, come back out here or, or do other things that are scheduled for the day, and then quit by around four, four thirty. And then, of course, that changes with what I’m making at -- it’s, it’s common for a potter to put in a twelve to fourteen-hour day, and that’s because the work, or the kiln, or something requires your attention, so if I have things that are drying out, and they have to be worked on, I’ll come back out later in the afternoon, or later in the evening, and I’ll stay until it’s finished. If I’m firing a kiln…if the kiln chooses not to be finished by quitting time at four thirty, I’m sorry, I’ll just have to stay out here until whenever it’s finished, and if that’s midnight or two in the morning, that’s, that’s the way it is.

WILLIHNGANZ: Is kiln the pronunciation? I always thought it was kiln.

HYLECK: Both pronunciations are correct. You can lay on the end, or not. I don’t know where it was that I learned not to pronounce the “n”. Now I think it has, I think it has to be back in undergraduate school some place , but it goes either way.

WILLIHNGANZ: Okay. Well, thank you very much for sharing your, your studio with us.

HYLECK: Sure, happy.

WILLIHNGANZ: This is terrific.

[End of Interview Part II]