Pots by Mark Bell can be characterized as unassuming, quiet, and elegant. They also reflect the peace and beauty of the coastal Maine environment in which they are made, and the spirit of an artist dedicated to his craft. It was an opportunity to study ceramics as a high school student in southern Wisconsin that kindled Bell’s interest in making pots for a living, and his decision to attend a session at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, fanned the flame. He then went on to earn a BFA at the University of Wisconsin and an MFA from Arizona State University. Other experiences strengthened his determination, not least of which was a technical assistantship at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine, where he had the opportunity to work alongside established potters from across the country, such as Cynthia Bringle.
Bell and his wife, Martha, an environmental educator, loved the Penobscot Bay area of Maine, so they purchased a piece of property on a wooded hillside near the small village of Blue Hill. Building a kiln was the first step; next was the construction of an enclosure for the kiln and a tiny building to live in while both he and Martha continued to work multiple jobs to establish the property.
Bell chose to work with porcelain because of the way it feels and the way glazes look on it. “To me, glazing on a stoneware was like doing a watercolor on a brown paper bag. With porcelain, it was like a watercolor on a beautiful piece of rag paper. What was behind the glaze was as important to me as the glaze color.” The fragility of these eggshell-thin vases presents a glazing challenge, so Bell sprays all of his pots. “Most of my work has two or three glazes sprayed one over another. I start with a base glaze, then build up with contrasting colors. Quite often in my process the buildup becomes quite thick, but I keep the glaze thinner at the bottom so it does not run off the piece. During the firing, the glazes mix and flow in unusual and often interesting ways.”
“I feel like the people who like the spirit of my work will be with me until I am no longer making pots, however long that time may be. That spirit is one of the things that attracted me to Cynthia Bringles work. When one sees a pot that seems very special, one can somehow sense that potter has not only created a pot with a spirit, but has done so by sharing a part of themselves.”
—Phyllis Blair Clark
Ceramics Monthly, May 2001