Justin Rothshank and Brooke Rothshank are the team behind Rothshank Artworks. Justin makes the beautiful pottery pieces with political figures that grace our shelves, well-crafted keepsakes of prominent U.S. figures. I was able to interview Justin about his pottery and influences, and a great conversation ensued. I hope you enjoy reading about his work!
The effect the pandemic has had on Justin’s art practice has largely been shifting his schedule to accommodate his family’s routines. Additionally, he’s found that “demand for political themes in pottery” has seen a decrease not just this year (though the pandemic has amplified it), but since 2019. As representing political figures has been a part of his practice for 12+ years, this means a shift in his work. Hopefully this year brings room and time for exploration!
I asked Justin what has influenced his work throughout his time as a potter. “I'm influenced by my Mennonite background relating to themes of simplicity, nonviolence, hard work, and respect for handmade trades.” I like these values as a backdrop to his work, they make me enjoy his pieces even more knowing the intentions behind them. Justin also has a section on his website in which he acknowledges the stolen land of the Potawatomi he lives and makes art on. Though he doesn’t specifically cite the Potawatomi as directly affecting his art, I think they influence his work in terms of the respect he speaks of, acknowledging those you are in community with, past and present. He also spoke of his influences early on in his career. “My high school art teacher was instrumental in encouraging me to pursue clay. She introduced me to raku firing and wood firing, which was very appealing to me. The process has always been something I greatly enjoy.”
Next I asked Justin about his process. “I was interested in addressing themes of social justice in my work, and thought about the possibility of text transfer as a way to do this. I took a workshop at Anderson Ranch in 2005 on image transfer with clay, and from that began to develop my own style which includes building layers of imagery, texture, color, and glaze. I use an electric potter’s wheel that is set upon a stand that I built. After each piece is created it is fired unglazed. Generally, each piece is then dipped in liquid glaze and fired for a second firing. Then each piece is decorated using a variety of ceramic decals. I find these decals from a multitude of sources, and some are custom designed and printed in house. Some of them I design myself and have printed by custom print shops, some I purchase from commercial manufacturers, others I acquire through eBay or from friends. I have sourced decals from China, Australia, Denmark, South Africa, Great Britain, and the United States. During this stage I might also hand paint some pieces with Gold, Silver, or Platinum luster or China paints. Usually I layer decals and fire pieces for a 3rd, 4th, or 5th firing, or more, to achieve a layered, collage effect.” I am very interested in artists across all mediums using collage techniques in their artistic process, both through gathering influences and physically manipulating materials. Most art is created through a collage-like process, gathering influences and techniques from multiple sources and putting them together in a unique and engaging way. His addition of 2D techniques to his 3D practice feels just that, as well as a way to evoke the pictorial and objective simultaneously in his work.
Justin is passionate about his practice and its effect on the communities he participates in. He believes in collaboration and teaching others, and I asked him more about what these practices mean to his work. “Education is a big reason why I choose to put political faces on my pots. There are many figures, past and present, that are unknown to our larger society. Adding these faces to pots helps begin a conversation that can lead to furthering education. I've always shared about my process/techniques. It has helped me in connecting with other artists, and solving process related problems with my own work. This has been incredibly valuable in enabling me to continue learning at a rapid pace.” I think this is a sentiment shared by many educators and teachers all over, that teaching others helps them learn as well. It becomes a cycle and a shared space of learning from one another, which is what collaboration is all about.
A part of Justin’s practice is writing about themes in his artwork that challenge and inspire him. One such piece he wrote is about what collaboration means to his work, which he graciously shared with me. I enjoyed the parts in which he described the culture of collaboration he’s immersed in, and what this community fosters in his art. “I love the shared risk of collaboration. I’m interested in the failures, the tests, and working through a process that isn’t always comfortable. I’ve grown up in a local Mennonite tradition of collaboration. Craft and labor projects, in the historic Mennonite communities, are often a collaborative environment. Barn-raisings, quilt making, food preparation all require a spirit of collaboration, work, and craft. My life experience includes many of these experiences, which feel both familiar and comfortable. My extended family grew up on rural farms where joint work efforts were daily occurrences and I currently live in a rural area surrounded by Amish farms.” His remark about wanting to exist in a creative space that isn’t always comfortable but has a foundation of trust and familiarity is poignant. The interplay of comfort and discomfort is integral to the art-making process, feeling familiar with something and using that as a bridge to connect to something unfamiliar. It’s great to see community as the source from which these contrasting elements emerge for Justin!
If you want to know even more about Justin, Brooke and their practice, check out their website! It has a bunch of resources and writings by Justin about some of the topics we covered in this interview, such as teaching and collaboration. You can visit their website here.
Thanks for reading!
Stay safe and healthy,