A Tale of Two Potters

A husband-and-wife duo produces two different styles of ceramic art



A vase by Maureen Mills

Courtesy photo

Several years ago, potter Maureen Mills started teaching ceramics at the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester. Her work has since taken a different path.

Previously, she and her husband, Steven Zoldak, worked for about 25 years at Portsmouth’s Strawbery Banke Museum, demonstrating slip-trail art. In this medium, intricate Old World designs are flowed onto ceramic surfaces with a squirt bottle filled with slip, a thin slurry of clay and oxides. The lines do not flatten during firing and remain raised, allowing a precision that has afforded the couple’s work a signature look, as demonstrated in their vast line of stoneware plates, mugs and other vessels. Mills claims the designs are her husband’s Hungarian heritage pouring out of him, saying, “He can’t help it.”

Zoldak continues his work at their Portsmouth home studio, while Mills has ventured into wood firing at the NHIA studio in Sharon. Both the process and time constraints have changed her work. She now does more hand building and experiments with surface design, scribing the clay with calligraphy and stamping patterns. Using earthenware, which fires at lower temperatures, she is also able to play with brighter colors — colors that can be unpredictable in a wood-fired kiln. She now allows the fire and ash to control the final result.

“It is what it is,” she says. “Each piece has its own personality.” Although there is more serendipity in her pieces these days, you can still see the Zoldak influence.

Both Mills and Zoldak continue to exhibit at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Fair in Sunapee each August, showing their united but diverging styles of work. This year, Mills’ work will also appear in a collection of wood-fired work on display at NHIA’s Sharon Arts Center Campus Gallery from August 17 to September 18.

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