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Rawcliffe, Susanfree

  • Laurence Libin

(b Cambridge, MA, 8 March 1945). American ceramist, musician, and instrument maker. She holds a BA in English from the University of California at Berkeley and New York University (1967) and an MA in psychology from Pepperdine University (1972), but is largely self-taught in ceramic art. Her publications on musical acoustics and prehispanic ceramic instruments are based primarily on original research on mesoamerican examples, including work in Mexico supported by the National Endowment for the Arts (1980). In 2011 a Cultural Exchange International grant from the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs enabled her to examine the Crossley-Holland collection of prehispanic West Mexican instruments at the University of Wales, Bangor.

Drawing on her experience of replicating and playing ancient clay flutes and studying their acoustics, Rawcliffe’s original ceramic instruments include single and multiple flutes, ocarinas, and whistles; harmonic, polyglobular, and chamberduct flutes; ‘whiffle’ ocarinas, trumpets, and ‘clay-doos’ (ceramic didjeridus). She also creates sound sculptures and performance-specific instruments, employing hand-building techniques such as pinching, coiling, extruding, and slab construction. Exploration of timbres and tunings is a major focus of her work, which ranges in size from small necklace ocarinas to large sculptures. She combines globular and tubular forms, puts rattles on bowls and ocarinas on cups, and makes ocarinas in fanciful vegetable or body part forms. The instruments are often colourful, with matt slips and shiny glaze touches. Rawcliffe’s flutes and sound sculptures have been exhibited widely, including at the American Museum of Ceramic Arts, Pomona, California; El Camino College, Torrance, California; Yerba Buena Museum, San Francisco; Winter Garden, New York City; and the Renwick Gallery, Washington, DC. Rawcliffe performs with her instruments, solo and in various ensembles.

Writings

(selective list)

  • ‘Harmonic Combinations: Sound Sculptures’, Ceramics Monthly, vol.45/8 (1997), 35–8
  • ‘Sounding Clay: Pre-Hispanic Flutes’, Orient-Archäologie, vol.8 (2002), 255–67
  • ‘Eight West Mexican Flutes in Fowler Museum’, The World of Music, vol.49/2 (2007), 45–65
  • ‘Entrancing Sounds: Beats, difference tones and other sounds in prehispanic flutes’, Orient-Archäologie, vol.22 (2008), 333–48

Bibliography

  • B. Hopkin: Gravikords, Whirlies and Pyrophones (Roslyn, 1996)
  • B. Hall: From Mud to Music: Making and Enjoying Ceramic Musical Instruments (Westerville, 2006)