Cat Clay: Pop Vintage

Cat Clay: Pop Vintage

Cat Clay’s work is on view in our juried exhibition “Small Works 2016”. 


Cat Clay was founded by Clifton Wood, a gorgeous calico who stepped on a rainbow the same day as Prince.

cliff-in-vase-insta
Miss Clifton Wood

She has been reincarnated as the Dalai Kitten, Miss Beckett. The sole employee of Cat Clay is Sabra, who also doubles as a mediocre kitten servant.

Our studio was founded 10 years ago, after taking classes at Genesee Pottery and RIT, as well as working alongside Stephen Merritt & Richard Aerni. We are located in the historic Hungerford Building in Rochester, New York. Cat Clay’s cozy studio has all the usual components: wheel, slab roller, kiln, display shelves. Plus an executive gym for Beckett.

Cat Clay studio
Cat Clay studio

We make functional pottery and sculpture, and are best known for our mug shot mugs.

David Bowie mugshot mug
David Bowie mugshot mug

And this time of year, we make ornaments – lots & lots of ornaments. With critical quality control being provided by senior management.

Quality control of ornaments by Miss Beckett Wood
Quality control of ornaments by Miss Beckett Wood

The other mainstay of our studio is Pop Vintage, where we transform vintage china into pieces that appeal to a new generation of collectors. This is done by designing an image with pop references, applying it to the china, then re-firing it in the kiln.

The first step in creating a Pop Vintage piece is to buy vintage china. A lot of vintage china. 6 shelving units of vintage china. Too much china? A lot of our friends are enablers, acting as pickers – keeping a lookout when they go thrifting or to estate sales.

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When we bring home a new pattern, we test it for lead – both to meet federal regulations, and to be sure our kiln is not contaminated and fuming lead on everything that’s fired in it.

Once we pass that hurdle, the guess work begins: how hot was the glaze fired on the vintage china?

If under-fired, the image isn’t melted enough into the surface of the glaze and will rub off. If over-fired, the image will disappear. Or bloating can happen, so that the piece looks like it has the plague, like poor Mr. Sloth (pictured below). Or even worse, the piece can melt down, turning into a lava flow in the kiln, and taking out everything in its path. Most of our vintage china is successfully re-fired to a point from 1900-2300 degrees – and a mere 50 degree difference can spell success or failure.

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Even if we guess correctly, there may be a defect in the piece that isn’t visible until after the firing. Soup saves lives, but it couldn’t save the invisible crack that grew in the kiln.

Bowl cracked during firing
Bowl cracked during firing

When we started making pop vintage, about 3 out of 10 pieces were successful. But we fell in love with those successes and kept plugging away. Now, given a new china pattern by an unknown maker, we guess correctly about 70% of the time.

And our images? We design them using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.  Sometimes current events inspire a design, such as our St. Bowie ornament, where we added renaissance wings and halo.

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Other times, we incorporate  lots of vintage illustrations with a snarky twist, to make the bridge from vintage to pop. For Valentine’s Day, we’ll couple an old print of cutlery and pair it with the caption, “Spooning leads to forking”. Or take a vintage cupid, and substitute an AK47 for the bow and arrow, with the added words, “Love hurts”.

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Then comes marrying the image to a specific piece of china, taking into account how the china’s colors will change from the kiln’s heat. And adjusting the contrast of the image so that it pairs well with the vintage glaze characteristics.

Once that’s done, we  re-size the image for the specific china, print it on special paper that creates a water-slide decal, cut it out, soak it in water and apply it to the plate. At this point, the decal is a stark black. A design may be a simple one-image decal. Or there can be over 20 individual decals that are hand-placed on one object.

Plates with images, before firing
Plates with images, before firing

Now it’s time to carefully pack up everything, load it in the car and take it to the kiln at the studio.

The kiln will fire for 8-12 hours and cool for 16 hours before we can unload it. And at the end, if all has gone well, we have a Pop Vintage piece. The decal image is now a warm sepia, and the original colors of the vintage china have softened.

"Surrender, Soviet Shark Subs"
“Surrender, Soviet Shark Subs”

Want to see more of our work? Look no further than Main Street Arts, which carries our Pop Vintage year round. Or check us out on Instagram: @cat.clay. And feel free to visit the studio – we’re there a lot!

In our spare time, we host Graphic Ear, a radio show on WAYO 104.3.

Our radio show on WAYO 104.3
Our radio show on WAYO 104.3

Each Thursday at 6pm, we have a visual artist as our guest, and talk about their life & work and play the music their favorite music. And we’ve had members of the Main Street Arts on – both Bradley Butler and Melissa Huang!

Bradley Butler on Graphic Ear
Bradley Butler on Graphic Ear

Stop by Main Street Arts to see Cat Clay’s work in our current exhibition “Small Works 2016” (juried by Bleu Cease, Executive Director/Curator of RoCo; exhibition runs through January 6th). 

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Closed 7/28 through 8/3:

We will be closed to the public Friday, July 28 through Thursday, August 4 as we install our next exhibition, Inspired By Nature. Please join us for the opening reception on Friday, August 4 from 5 to 8pm!