Alfred University is where Richard Hess first gained an interest in ceramics. He did not study art, yet he was always intrigued by the students who wore “mud” on their jeans. After graduating college and working various jobs, he moved to Greenwich Village, New York where he took private pottery classes for just two dollars a week. He loved clay and gradually drifted to building with slabs, however did not think he could make a living from the art. Instead, Hess attended graduate school, taught, and practiced carpentry for the next ten years. At age fifty, he decided to move to Ithaca, New York and revisit working with clay. To support his job as a potter, he worked as a night janitor at Cornell University. Soon enough, he began successfully showing his work at craft shows throughout the Northeast. He has since relocated to Galena, IL where he has set up his studio to continue doing the work that he loves.
Each of the pieces produced is individually constructed from slabs of clay and bisque fired (the first firing) to approximately 1800 degrees F. The surfaces are then treated in a variety of ways to create the effects that you see:
Horsehair: The black lines on the black and white pieces are produced by firing the piece to approximately 1200 degrees F. (the second firing) and then applying actual horsehair to the hot surface so that the hair carbonizes into the clay and produces the black lines.
Raku: In raku firing, a glaze is applied to the surface of the piece and during the second firing it is taken out of the kiln with tongs when it is red hot and placed in a metal container of combustible materials such as newspaper or straw. When the material bursts into flames, the lid is placed on the container to shut off the oxygen thus, depending on the glaze, producing a crackle effect or an iridescent finish.
Ferric Chloride: The bisque pieces are painted with the chemical ferric chloride and wrapped in aluminum foil before being placed in the kiln. During firing, the ferric chloride and the aluminum foil react to one another producing the pinkish color on the surface of the piece.
Ferric Chloride and Glaze: This technique combines the ferric chloride process described above but is applied to a glazed surface. This combination requires an additional firing.
In addition, the tails and manes of the horses are made of horseshoe nails and are imbedded into the piece when the horse is still soft, prior to the first firing.