Brenda McMahon




The illusive nature of saggar fired vessels is both alluring and addictive.

Despite the artists effort, no two burnished vessels are alike. 

These unglazed pots are wrapped carefully with organic materials, ropes, wire and minerals and then packed in a chamber within the gas kiln. During the firing, the organic materials burn away, and the flame marks, vapor flashes and mineral fumes create a beautiful array of smokey soft colors that are both delicate and dynamic.

“I was schooled at Manhattan’s Hunter College and received my Master of Arts from SUNY Albany in 1987. Though I grew up in the greater New York City area, it was the quiet of the land and not the city, that captured my heart. My home was a modest brick house squeezed in among others along the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, specifically, Rockaway Beach. My earliest memories are of sand, water and salt air; at night, as I gazed out from the front porch, I saw a shimmering black skyline, not that of Manhattan, but the vast expanse of the moonlit ocean.

Now, more than 20 years away from the shore, my early life of inhaling natures salty breath comes out in my work. I form soft earth into subtle polished vessels among the rolling hills of my rural studio. Instead of using glazes, in this Raku-alternative firing process I experiment with natural materials, polished porcelain and the random markings of fire upon earth, it is known as saggar firing. Like the unpredictability of waves chasing the shoreline, each saggar firing yields surprising results upon the surface of my pots, never are two alike.

I came to ceramics after working in broadcasting for 10 years. I studied at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy, New York and apprenticed with several experienced potters. I call my training self-taught, but this, of course, does not happen in a vacuum. My influences are varied, from my first teacher who encouraged me to continue, to my many mentors through the years.

This I know: I love unglazed work, simple and strong forms and a quiet meditative aesthetic. From there I expand and explore. In recent years I have come back to my long time love of carving from my early days where vessels were my canvas. Now I am headed straight for the wall where I stretch, pull, alter and carve my tile canvas, creating celebratory “Figurative Expressions” that dance across the room. My “Fire Paintings” have taken my well known saggar style onto a tile canvas, where the soft blushes of fire’s random marks undulate across the surface of these dynamic landscapes.”