PUBLISHED: 5:09 PM on Wednesday, May 31, 2006
A craze for glaze entices painter turned potter

Accomplished painter and etcher, Michelle Morrell has thrown herself into pottery exploring a pallet of crystalline glazes.

As the featured artist for June at the Juneau Artists Gallery, Morrell is displaying her newest pottery work as well as many of her etchings and paintings for First Friday, June 2.

"I'm in a discovery process that has become something of an obsession with me," said Morrell of her pottery.

Glaze is the glass coating found on most ceramic vessels. It is both ornamental and functional, keeping the vessel watertight and free of interior crevasses in which algae and other microbes can persist. Glass is a very viscous substance.

When it is hot and molten, crystals can be formed in the liquid when it is supersaturated with some substance.

Crystalline glazes require prolonged firing.

The kiln is fired to the maturation temperature - where everything in the glaze solution dissolves in the liquid glaze - as quickly as possible.

The magical temperature for her pieces is 2220? Fahrenheit, or cone 6.

The temperature is then slowly lowered to a crystal-growing temperature, where it is held for some time. This is called "soaking."

"I typically do a bisque fire before painting on my glaze, and then do the crystalline firing on a very small kiln load. This amounts to 27 to 30 hours of firing for each piece," Morrell said.

Crystalline glaze is very fluid at maturation and will drip right off the vessel.

To avert ruining the kiln shelves, kiln and vessel with runoff glaze, the vessel is perched upon some sort of glaze catcher. When the vessel comes out of the little kiln purgatory, you grind any frozen drips and sharp crystals off the bottom.

"As a painter, I haven't evolved beyond a representational, detailed style. I am incapable of non-objective art. However, vessels can have very minimal form. I truly enjoy working with such simple forms and giving the glaze the voice in the decorative outcome," Morrell said.

She grew up in Washington state and attended University of Washington where she majored in literature. She taught school briefly before moving to Alaska with her husband, then a forest service employee. Morrell initially learned printmaking at University of Alaska Southeast in Ketchikan from Ray Troll and subsequently learned wood engraving from Dale DeArmond when Dale and Robert moved to Sitka.

After settling in Sitka for 15 years, she had two one-woman shows for her printmaking and watercolors. Morrell is now a Juneau resident and has had a show at Juneau Arts and Humanities Council Gallery.

Her pottery and other work can be seen online at Her pottery, watercolors, etchings and other prints are on display seven days a week at the Juneau Artists Gallery in the Senate Mall Building at 175 South Franklin.