Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ceramic Silpcasting and Mold Making - An Endangered Art in America?

One day  a mysterious object landed  on the table, wrapped in rubber bands.

I occasionally get inquiries from other ceramic designers looking for slip casters to produce their work. When the network that I envision manifests we can pass the request along to  production studios in the network.

There once was a slip-casting studio in Maine, which, I had been recommending, but I looked for the website yesterday to find that it is no longer active. leading to the conclusion that the production studio is no longer in business.

 Suddenly the rubber bands came off and the pod fell open.

Back in 2009 when I entered the competition for what I took to be a modest grant  appropriate to the micro economy. the same slip casting studio was then looking to expand to a new facility. It needed a specified amount of advance work orders to get off the ground. My Vision at that point had been published on-line for a  number of years, wherein I state that the development of a ceramic designer-craftsmen network is responsive to the interests of the participants in the network, -  an organizational process. that grows organically. The fact that the slip casting production was looking to expand at a moment co-coinciding with the competition, seemed like a God-sent first step in the process that I envisioned. The amount of the award was enough to capitalize the marketing costs needed to procure the necessary production orders.

Such an opportunity. waiting in the works, did not strike a chords with Mr John Burns of the Small Enterprise Growth Fund (a tax-payer subsidized investors group that I have written about here) The amount of the investment was suitable to the scale of the project  that I presented but Mr Burns was interested only in the entire network and declined my application, saying that I did not have a "plan for my vision", although my plan has long been that the development of the network has to proceed from the people who process a genuine interest in ceramic slip-casting and associated ceramic arts. To my point of view, if the marketing capitalization had been available at that time, the proposed slip-casting production might have materialized, which would have been the first concrete step in the direction of establishing a working ceramic designer-craftsmen network

Slowly an inner intent is revealed

Instead the new production studio did not launch and now it appears that the original production studio has closed as well. I have been unsuccessful in contacting the owner who in the past has been enthusiastically  engaged in the art of the ceramic slip-casting  and mold making  His first introduction to ceramic slip-casting was when he worked in our Portland, Maine production studio and learned the slip casting skills from my father, Weston Neil Andersen, and later went on to study at Alfred University.

Our story portrays of the state of the contemporary Maine economy, dominated by the vast "economic development" network of Maine State Inc., which collects capital from state and federal taxpayers and from non-profit gifts and redistributes that capital to their targeted sectors. Maine Inc, for all its hoop-lah about "creating jobs" has eyes only for the largest companies. or companies with "high growth" investment potential, and perhaps some smaller companies that relate to the green agenda. Most of the people with whom I am in contact function within the micro-to small business sector.  Businesses such as Andersen Studio are  not recognized as contributing to the "public benefit" goals of Maine State Inc. In fact, short of becoming a non-profit organization, we do not exist on Maine Inc.'s map for the future of Maine- even as we are in the manufacturing sector , which our nation needs so badly,

                                               A beaked form emerges

And along comes KickStarter, which is quite revolutionary in concept as for the first time the tide turns in the other direction. As the number of non-profits multiplies in Maine and in the nation, the competition for non-profit funding has driven non-profits to compete in the private sector and as they do so, they have been changing long-existent standard private sector rules of business to their advantage.

Such a case in point is when the Maine Crafts Association took over management of the Maine Crafts Center, operated by the Maine Turnpike Authority. MCA sent out a general announcement that those wishing to have their merchandise considered for the retail store could show up at a scheduled time and scheduled location and pay a S65.00 jury fee.

Andersen Studio has been selling wholesale to fine stores and catalogs for over half a century. Never have we been asked to pay a fee to buyers to consider our work. Jury fees are for art gallery shows and not appropriate in the retail marketplace.

This event took place during the coldest days of winter at a time when gas prices were at high tide. Just at that moment, I had been considering joining the Maine Crafts Association but I was quickly dissuaded from doing so. I called the Maine Crafts Association and asked why they were charging craftsmen to present their work to a buyer for a retail store. I was told it was because the Maine Crafts Association exists to serve the public benefit. I asked who the "panel of experts" were. I never received an answer.

And transforms into the Great White Heron

There is no question that Andersen stonework would sell exceedingly well at a store on the Maine Turnpike but fair business practices are important to uphold and so we are not there.

Now KickStarter makes it possible for a small private sector arts business such as Andersen Studio to participate in fundraising projects, a venue formerly exclusive to the non-profit sector- and so the tide changes.

Kickstarter is an opportunity for a private sector business such as Andersen Studio to bridge the internet marketing and order fulfillment gulf. Our current production studio is too small to accommodate the market potential that is available to a distinctive small craft business in the era of the internet and social networking. The expectations for usual online purchasing is  instant delivery. KickStarter allows us to take orders with a delayed delivery schedule on a first order- first serve basis. The beauty is that the greater the number of orders we generate, the more people will will need and be able to hire and so creating jobs and opportunities is one of the contingent rewards.. As we build a staff and a new facility to accommodate production, order fulfillment, and marketing, we will then be able to expand our marketing through the usual internet and other channels knowing that we have the organization in place to meet the demand.

Our most valuable business asset are our designs and the perpetual marketability of those designs as established over sixty years. Our project will be the creation of rubber master molds for the designs and our rewards will be the artwork produced with those molds. The Great White Heron featured here has barely been produced since it was created in the 1980's due to some mold and support issues that need to be resolved. It is likely to be on ef our mold projects and rewards offered in our upcoming KickStarter project.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


You may have noticed that I haven't posted here for a while. That is because in order to start the KickStarter project we have to include a video, which we have not worked with so I have been busy learning animation using Adobe Flash CS6, which may or may not be faster than learning to make a more movie style video- but being that I didn't know how to do either, I had to choose one or the other and I chose animation.

I will get back to posting here but I need to keep my focus there for the moment. I hope to get back to writing this blog again soon.

Meanwhile- more pictures of the classic designs we have created in over 60 years. These are production pieces that retain their market appeal over the decades and are the basis for both productivity and a brand identity foundational to an American marketing enterprise.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A New Model of "Public Benefit", Learning Institutions, and the "Creative Economy"

 We will be offering the large Fish as a reward in our KickStarter project, as a signed and dated One of A Kind series. The large fish was modeled by Weston Neil Andersen, after he developed macular degeneration. The stoneware fish is based on a Carp but is primarily an archetypical Fish, assembled, carved and decorated with artistic imagination by yours truly, Susan Mackenzie Andersen

Going back to the post on the British Pottery Industry, I introduced this research paper  The Strategic Management of Outsourcing in the UK Ceramics Industry, published by by The Manchester School Of Management in 2001. The paper represents industry thinking on outsourcing at that time, which advised outsource all activities except the core business activity.

However, as valuable a paper as this is, there are no set rules for which activities a company should outsource,and no set rules on what motivates the thinking process that leads one to such conclusions. The article merely discusses the state of the art on thinking about outsourcing for large ceramic potteries in Briton in the year 2001.The primary motivation for out-sourcing as many activities as possible that the paper encorages, is the financial profit motive. However most people are not motivated by a singular goal, and furthermore, a straight path is not necessarily the best route to get to where ever one is going.

A few years back I heard similar advice from Donna McNeal at the Maine Art Commission as she told the assembled group at an art marketing workshop, that one should always have a professional photographer take the photos of one's work. That's fine if you are a fine artist with a relatively small amount of work to photograph, and if you have the means to hire a professional photographer at whatever the going rate is.  When I heard this, I thought to myself that if my parents had followed Ms McNeal's advice, our company would not even be here today. Back in the days of black and white photography, they produced their first catalog themselves, which is not uncommon within the bootstrap economy, then and now. If you are familiar with Etsy, you will find that part of its networking culture is driven by the images created by global hand-crafted manufacturers, themselvesr

Later, after my encounter with the SEGF at the Juice Conference, I  began exploring the economic development legislation passed in Maine over the last thirty years,and reporting what I learned on my blog, Preserving the American Political Philosophy. My research has led to the understanding that the government designers of Maine's socioeconomic culture exist to serve the upper third of Maine's economy. The Maine state government's "targeted sector" is capitalized by the funds that the Maine government collects in it's network of state corporations, The Maine government has delegated it's "targeted sector" as the "creative and innovative" economy of Maine. Correspondingly, a name to identify the un-targeted sector in Maine's economy is called for and since this sector creates its own capital resources, I call this sector the "Bootstrap Economy" .

As you might notice - I have broken the rules as defined by the Maine Art Commission by not only by taking the photographs of our work myself, but also by designing our website. Over the years I have explored the possibility of working with an outside web designer but the inevitable response when web designers learn that I have designed our website is that they will have to throw the whole thing out and start from scratch and for this they will charge us in the neighbor hood of $120.00 an hour. It would not have been necessary to state the the first reaction as the cost of their services precludes the possibility of a working relationship, especially considering the size of the line of products that we have to market, which even today are not yet represented on line in its entirety. The prices that I have encountered for outside consultants are tailored to the economy of the a fore- mentioned "targeted sector", which is to be expected when the government is directing large amounts of capital to that sector. However, considering such factors as the reduced cost of taking and developing photographs, I believe that there is a new emerging potential for photography and related services affordable to to the micro-economy.

I bring this up as one of the "public benefits" that our business is capable of providing.  I learned to design the website myself through various online resources, most notably www.3schools.com, and as it stands in our current business model , photography, and webdesign and marketing skills are activities that we do in house, following in the tradition that originally built Andersen Stoneware to prominence. Rather than look to outside technical resources with which to work, I have developed enough knowledge on my own to work with apprentices and to teach them not only the skills that I have learned but to teach them how to learn- or encourage them to continue to do so. Our ideal new production facility would also include a marketing space where photography setups can be maintained and which has the potential to become a side business offering services affordable to other makers and manufacturers  in the bootstrap economy.

The government designers of Maine's socioeconomic culture state that one of their goals is attracting and/or retaining young people in Maine, and true to format, seem to think that what is needed to attract youth to Maine are high paying jobs with all the best benefits. Conversely in the bootstrap economy, this is something that one earns through building an enterprise since most enterprises in the bootstrap economy do not bloom fully grown with all the benefits as are conferred (or mandated)  upon Maine's "targeted sector", in place. This does not mean that there is not a desire to offer the best benefits- that is why I cited Whole Foods as a model in my Vision, having heard that Whole Foods offers top of the line health care services to its employees. However, in the current state of affairs in this country, the entire health care situation is too uncertain to make any plans, but at least the size of business that I envision- or I should say individual businesses in the network that I envision, would unlikely hire greater than fifty people and not be subject to current government mandates. How much of an advantage that may or may not be remains to be seen, since the cost of private insurance is relative to the number of people in the pool.

Young people, and for that matter all people, are motivated by multifarious reasons Ceramics has historically been attractive to youth. In these days when a college degree usually guarantees a large debt but no longer guarantees a high paid position enabling one to pay back the debt, the smart young person will consider other alternatives. With the right amount of capitalization. Andersen Studio - Andersen Design, can potentially be such an alternative  A ceramic slip-casting business that teaches the skills of ceramic slip casting, glazing and decorative techniques, and also has an in-house marketing department that also develops photography, graphic, and website design, and a business office and development strategy, is a viable alternative to the type of environment that one finds on college campuses. It would also be a community of all ages and if it successfully works together as a team, it offers some of the same spiritual benefits that we find in sports.

This is not to say it would be easy but its a new model suited to today's emerging reality.

Another version of the Large Fish