Midtown artist meshes pewter and clay


By Joe Lambe

An artist on Monday blew holes into a sheet of pewter with a small gas torch – and a metal used since the Bronze Age took shape in Midtown.

Michael Oliver, among a few artists still using it, works out of his home just off 39th Street in the Volker neighborhood.

Many know him as the man who teaches pottery at the Westport Roanoke Community Center, but that is just his latest gig.

Oliver, 68, has worked as a freelance artist for decades. He has also created jewelry for Zale’s, taught art in colleges and lived seven years in Paraguay making art.

artist-5The front rooms of his apartment are packed with art objects that make you look twice, then yank you close to catch details. The rear work area includes a potpourri of objects used in that art.

Need bits of bronze-coated bone from a South American boar? Got it, along with plenty of seashells from Australia.

There are antique molds of knights. Never know when you’ll need those.

And scattered among tools is a sheet of pewter.

It fits with clay like cheese with crackers, Oliver said. “Pewter and pottery are simpatico.”

He melted holes into a sheet to show how highlights on some of his ceramics begin.

A piece of art including glass and pewter is taking shape on his workbench, building on itself.

“When I build I don’t design,” he said. “I like whimsical things that surprise people.”

He started using pewter with ceramics while teaching at a college in Wichita, he said. After large ceramic platters started cracking in the middle, he inserted pewter in the cracks and added pewter highlights.

Pieces from that plains period include a ceramic platter with pewter Indians and buffalo on it.

asrtist-3An “End of the Mayan calendar” series includes a large piece with a ceramic angel-winged dolphin.

Another piece features a parrot-beaked dolphin and an elephant trunk that turns into a dragon.

“Beautiful areas of texture, toe and nail,” he said of that one.

A large award-winning pure pewter work looks like one piece, but slip fingers into a hole and the top lifts off to reveal a tray.

He takes it to potlucks with a vegetable dip inside, he said.

Skulls made with clay, pewter, glass and more also show up.

artist-6In an unfinished large water jug, ceramic dolphins with crab claws and angel wings perch on the top.

Lined on a small shelf are a champagne glass, a red wine glass and a water glass. Look closely at the pewter stems on each and you see they are three different knights in armor.

Some of his best work is now on exhibit in Florida, he said, and he would like to exhibit at a gallery in Kansas City but has not done so yet.

Oliver grew up in Kansas City and went to Westport High School, but did poorly because of undiagnosed dyslexia, he said. He eventually got into art and earned his Master of Arts from the University of Kansas.

For now, he works for the parks department teaching ceramics at the community center.

“I love to teach,” he said, “and I have some excellent students.”

More pictures of his work are on Facebook at M.J. Oliver – Master of Fine Arts

One Comment

  1. Maria Ferreira says:

    An outstanding Master of Fine Arts! Michael Oliver cannot limit himself in his awesome creativity. When in his private studio, he can “play” for hours or…for a whole night!! and the final product….can be anything from a jewelry piece, a sculpture, a fantastic and alucinating unusual ceramic form, or….who knows WHAT!!!

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