P.K. Hoffman: Retrospective
October 15 - November 24
The process of curating this exhibit began in the Spring of 2019 when P.K. Hoffman exhibited a piece in Form and Function, a regional clay exhibit at TDAC. A few weeks after the opening, P.K. arrived with posters for the Salt Fire Workshops from the 1970s that were held in The Dalles at a studio on Mill Creek Road. The narrative started to reveal itself through a visit to the Mill Creek Pottery studio to see the space and watch PK throw one of these large vases. In the following months, more of PK and his unusual life was excavated from the studio spaces and conversations with him.
Questions developed that led to a broader understanding of a unique time period that could not be replicated in today's world. A group of friends from the University of Oregon created a space in rural Oregon where international workshops in clay were held. Starting with a small building, the first workshop created kick wheels. Subsequent workshops brought people together to build out more of the studio space and communal areas for cooking, eating and exhibition. A wheat truck was used to transport wood from clearcuts to be used in the 24-hour firings in a kiln built around shelves of clay work produced in the clay workshops. The artist was a omelette maker, instructor, carpenter, kiln maker and host. This, however, was not a one man show. The ACE Company, a non-profit used to gain access to grants, was formed by Walter Kortge, Ken Weeks, France Keny and P.K. Hoffman.
The Salt Fire Workshops and community developed in a similar fashion to the artist himself: an opportunity led to new paths, new people, and unexpected outcomes. P.K. Hoffman started at the University of Oregon as a football player after being a star quarterback in Seaside, Oregon. An introduction to clay came from Len Casanova who was taking a class from Bob James. Early challenges presented themselves when this football player with large hands and physique was was asked to make work in the proportions of the rest of the students, small pots to make it easier for small people. Ease came when P.K. embraced the gifts that he had to handle large masses of clay. However, when you make large clay pots, you need large kilns to fire them.
Large kilns and the skillset required to produce them came from Joe Soldate and Jerry Rothman in Los Angeles. The pay was $2.25 an hour plus studio space, a salt kiln and perhaps some beer. Besides learning how to make kilns, P.K. was introduced to Peter Voulkos, Paul Soldner, and John Mason who were at the forefront of clay in America. It also was an introduction to jazz through his studio mate Mike Frimkess, a saxophonist, who P.K. followed to his gigs. Following the year in Los Angeles, P.K. returned to Eugene to finish his degree with Bob Jones who was more than an advisor to P.K., "For Bob, working in clay was not a way to get a pretty pot, but a way of thinking and developing an individual process to solve personal ends. Bob helped me to see my own value and find myself in my work."
The pattern of leaving and returning to Oregon continued for many years. Jerry Rothman provided P.K. with a teaching assistantship at the University of Iowa, which led to a piece in New York's "American House" and a place in the Young American's exhibit throughout the United States. The extreme temperatures in Iowa brought P.K. back to Astoria where he started Earthenworks. In this space, he made a massive double-chambered kiln where he made pots for a gentleman by the name of Baron Norman de Winter. This man is thought to be D.B. Cooper. The man disappeared but the pots remained and became the body of his first one man show at Contemporary Crafts in Portland. Opportunities to teach workshops in England, Scotland and Wales sent P.K. overseas, but he kept his roots in Oregon with The Salt Fire Workshops that were held in The Dalles, Oregon during the summers of the early 1970s.
P.K. settled permanently in The Dalles when the junior college college started 42 years ago known then as Treaty Oak College. The college is now known as the Columbia Gorge Community College and P.K. still teaches there. He is now the one to change the course of people's lives through clay. Mill Creek Pottery is not the home to clay workshops in the same communal manner as the early Salt Fire days, but students still gather to do firings. One student remarked, "I would still be taking classes with P.K., but $400 became too much. If I knew that we would be doing salt fires at P.K.'s, it would be worth it thouh."
If you would like to learn more about P.K. Hoffman, please visit:
Maryhill Museum's Special Exhibit through November 15, 2021
The Gorge Magazine, article in The Gorge Magazine, Fall 2021, pages 16-18
Special Thanks to the Wasco County Cultural coalition for funding to produce the photographs and Vince Ready with Lasting Light Photography, https://lastinglight.photo/, for reproducing the "hermetically sealed" photographs form P.K. Hoffman's collection.