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Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud!

Posted On October 5, 2022

The Bascom’s Frank Vickery looks back at his journey

Story by Kim Henry

Photography by Chelsea Cronkrite

Life has a way of throwing curve balls. Perhaps the key is to catch them and keep running. Such is the story for ceramicist Frank Vickery, who had two influential factors in his formative years - ceramics and soccer. Despite being dedicated to both, a foot injury at the tender age of 19 meant Vickery had to eventually trade in his cleats for his potter’s wheel, and thankfully, he did not look back.

Vickery’s childhood in Rock Hill was spent running around his family farm and playing in the mud, which gave him an ingrained appreciation for the earth beneath his feet. “I became aware of this plentiful material and the endless possibilities trapped in the form of mud,” says Vickery, who has spent more than 20 years exploring the infinite possibilities of ceramics. Letting go of his soccer aspirations, Vickery focused on his affinity for all things clay, and this led him into academia. Vickery received a BA in Education from Winthrop University and went on to get a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Western Carolina University in 2005. 

Drawn to share his artistic skills, Vickery became a middle school art teacher in Rock Hill, SC. Although his passion for teaching has continued to evolve throughout his career, it only took Vickery two years to realize the public education system was not for him. “I want to help people make their own discoveries, not just tell them what to do.” He smiles and ponders dedication, which he says is a key factor in becoming an accomplished ceramicist. “It often takes students a while to realize it’s not quite as easy as it looks,” he adds. “To get it right takes a lot of exploration.”

And then there are the accidents. A combination of being in the right place at the right time led to an invitation for Vickery to run a workshop at The Bascom, a non-profit center for visual arts in Highlands, NC. It was the summer of 2010, and Vickery was at a crossroads and decided to give it a try. “That initial workshop was for 200 children,” exclaims Vickery, “so I taught a class in origami!” It went well, and Vickery was hired as the resident artist at The Bascom. He cleaned out his studio at Western Carolina University and bought a place in Glenville. Once at The Bascom, Vickery was able to complete his thesis, comparing the way potters work to Karl Marx’s alienation of labor theory, and he began the building of what was to become a dynamic ceramics program.

“I really like the mountains and the fact that this area has a deep appreciation for crafts and clay,” says Vickery who, fast forward a decade, is now the Director of Ceramics at The Bascom, a position that allows him to combine his talent for teaching with his passion for pottery. “One of the best parts of my job is learning from other clay artists, both in the studio and from visiting instructors. The more I can learn about other techniques, the better teacher I become,” he explains, referring to signature Bascom programs such as The Three Potters Symposium, where celebrated potters are invited to share their talents with students.

In addition to running this innovative department, Vickery continues to develop his own skills, and his ongoing exploration of different glazing styles has become an integral part of his creative process. Vickery’s work embraces three main glazing phenomena: oil spot, copper red and crystalline. Each process involves different glaze ingredients, such as iron and copper, and varying firing temperatures and atmospheres within the kiln itself. The results range from vibrant colors to fractal patterns. His exploration and expertise have placed Vickery’s beautiful and functional pots, vases, bowls and plates in high demand both on the plateau and beyond. “Anyone can make a nice form, but it’s been a drive of mine to explore glazes that ultimately influence the form,” explains Vickery. This drive circles back to his teaching philosophy, encouraging students to be persistent and take the time to explore different techniques for themselves.

Ever prolific, Vickery’s work has been featured in a number of exhibits. He has also been featured in a range of publications and routinely accepts commissions. Inspired by the complexity of the glazing process and his desire to share the never-ending discoveries of ceramic techniques, Vickery is thriving within the creative framework of The Bascom. And so are his students. Like life, art is a journey, and it is the dips and turns - the curve balls - that help us grow the most.