Decalcomaniacs – Red Lodge Clay Center

DecalcomaniacsAug 05, 2016 - Sep 30, 2016

Curatorial Statement

Artist’s Reception: Friday, August 5, 2016 from 5-7pm MT

Exhibition Posted Online: Monday, August 8 by 10am Mountain Time


The term cockamamie has its origins within the ceramic vernacular, denoting a particular type of commercial ceramic decal that has been marketed by decal manufacturers since the mid-1900s. Such decals are characterized as wacky, weird, or unusual for the type & style of imagery that they specifically portray. Comic strip characters, for example, are common motifs depicted in cockamamie ceramic decals. The word cockamamie was first used for the genre because it was thought that young children might have difficulty pronouncing the French word “décalcomanie”. Known more commonly in its shortened form, “decal”, this is the proper name for the decorative technique by which printed imagery is transferred upon ceramic ware. As a deliberate mispronunciation of décalcomanie, a cockamamie winds up being a strategically marketed malapropism that was designed to cater to a younger audience of makers & further the appeal of the ceramic decal craze known as “Decalcomania”. For those who suffer from such an irresistible & insatiable craving to work with decals, the late Howard Kottler, one who helped redefine the field of contemporary American ceramics through his unconventional use of commercial decals, would diagnose those afflicted makers as full-fledged “decalcomaniacs”.

Decorating with decals was once a highly technical process, which could only be rendered by the initiated few. It was a technique invented & perfected within the ceramic industry, its inner workings kept secret by the manufacturers. Along the way however, the secret got out. Decals became available in limited quantities & hobbyists started decorating with them. Very quickly, decals became more & more accessible to the public: in 1875 there were only about 300 designs commercially available, but just two years later, roughly 10,000 designs were available. While it is uncertain what caused this surge in availability, decals quickly became ceramic’s new popular commodity. It is here that Decalcomania entered the ceramic vernacular, becoming an important milestone in our field.

In the midst of the information age, computerized scanners & image editors, desktop publishing, the internet, & an ever improving silk screen industry have combined to make custom ceramic decals a viable option for contemporary makers. Imagery that was once dictated by commercial decal manufacturers can now be circumvented through greater accessibility of custom decals: imagery of any sort the maker desires. This “new image” of ceramics is emerging through the advent of custom decals as a new milestone establishes itself.

This exhibition celebrates how Decalcomania has shaped the ceramic field by focusing on artists who use decals as a focal point in their work.  It questions what constitutes an image that is particular to the field of ceramics.

Artists included in the exhibition: Jeremy Kane, Melissa Mencini, Justin Rothshank, Robert Lorenz, Erik Scollon, Pattie Chalmers, Rain Harris, Wesley Harvey, Colleen Toledano, Jeremy Brooks, and Meredith Host.