Billy Ritter doesn’t recall a time when he wasn’t making art. The Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, native has been working with his hands since the third grade. “I was chronically drawing, probably 100 pieces a day,” says the 39-year-old Tremont resident. As a college sophomore, he discovered clay and started toying with ceramics instead. Today, Ritter creates art in the form of bowls, plates, mugs, platters and more. “My work sits on your table your whole life as a centerpiece,” he says. “It’s going somewhere to be a part of something on purpose.” Leaving Marks: “What did you do in your life to create something lasting?” he asks. That permanence drew Ritter to this medium. “The first thing archaeologists discover is pottery. It becomes a record of this moment in time,” he says. “We see a pot from the Ming dynasty and it’s intact. It’s chipped but there it sits in its moment forever.” Risky Business: About a quarter of his pieces are made in an out-of-studio wood-fire kiln, while the rest are made in-house using a gas fire reduction kiln. “There are all these variables of the kiln that go into making something,” Ritter explains. “Your survival rate of a piece is about 60 to 70 percent. That’s part of the gamble and what makes it so valuable.” History Lesson: Ritter finds inspiration by looking back at history, especially in pre-Columbian or ancient Chinese pieces. “I’ll go to the Cleveland Museum of Art all the time and look at pieces from 4,000 years ago and just be blown away by the process and think, How did they even fire that?!” he laughs. Outer Spaces: His statement wood-fired big bowl ($500) withstands up to 54 hours of constant heat in the kiln. He describes its natural changes in color and abstract specks of colored glaze as something you’d find in outer space. “Imagine that you’re walking on the surface of the moon,” he says. “It’s so alien. There’s stuff in there that I cannot replicate in any way.”
Billy Ritter uses a secret process for his collection of bubble bowls ($40) to create the inky pattern that resembles soapsuds or ocean waves.