JoAnn Axford, The Botany of Desire

Introduction by Mary Kathryn Jablonski

Porcelain artist JoAnn Axford creates sumptuous, sculptural works with botanical carvings on the surface. She includes in her repertoire endangered species of plants and insects, as well as invasive species, and those in symbiotic relationships. Most fascinating is her carving process. On many works, the porcelain remains unglazed (in its natural buff color) so that we may focus on the surface carving and vessel form alone.

About her work and process in making her one-of-a-kind pieces, JoAnn says: 

The beauty of the forms and textures in the plant world initially seduced me to carve botanical images into the surface of my pots. The book, “The Botany of Desire,” by Michael Pollan inspired me to explore botanical imagery beyond its beauty, to include the reciprocal relationship between man and plants and its effects on the delicate balances in nature.

My pieces begin with Grolleg porcelain on the potter’s wheel. The pots are allowed to partially dry to a “leather-hard” state. Working from live specimens and resource photos, I use watercolor paints to sketch the botanical images onto the pot’s surface. This allows me to make changes, and the paints burn away during firing. Then, using an assortment of tools, including Exacto knives and dental tools, I begin carving away the background clay to reveal the raised bas-relief botanical images. Small amounts of clay are sometimes added to the surface. The carving process often takes as much as 100 hours for one vessel. When dry, the work undergoes its first firing to 1800 degrees Fahrenheit, after which it is sanded and polished. The second firing is to 2200 degrees Fahrenheit. I further enhance the unglazed porcelain surface by hand polishing it after the final firing.