Sculpted Over Time
How ceramic artist Frank Matranga took the wheel and never looked back.
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Arriving at a house with a mailbox made of clay, I knew this must be the resi-dence of my Mr. Potter. Though he may not be a wizard of Harry’s kind, Frank Matranga can certainly create pottery magic with his hands.
As a kid, he made all the toys for the kids in his neighborhood, using tools from his father’s workshop. He was crafty with the #2 pencil, a skill that later got him transferred from the Army’s artillery center to working as an illustrator for the officer’s can-didate school.
For those next two years, Frank was at the drawing board creating graphical work—even paintings of Russian uniforms for the benefit of student soldiers. He was headed in the direction of becoming a graphic artist, unaware that a career in clay would be his ultimate calling.
“If I think I have even the slightest chance of doing something, I’ll say, ‘Yeah, I can do that,’” he shares. “Immediately after, I think to myself, ‘How can I do that?’”
This style of logic may scream overconfidence or even recklessness, but Frank knows no other way. Once he grasps an understanding of what he’s getting himself into, he goes for it. So when Frank was approached to fill in for a teaching position in ceramics, he said (you guessed it) “yes.” But had he handled clay before? No.
“The first time I fired by kiln, I burned everything up,” Frank recalls. “I didn’t know you had to let the pieces dry first.” While teaching high schoolers by day, he attended a class for himself by night. Frank’s craftsmanship showed great promise, and with a convincing nudge from his instructor, he changed his major from design to ceramics. He also ended up teaching that ceramics class for the next 20 years.
At his home in Manhattan Beach, a space that also doubles as his studio, Frank continues to shape and glaze the medium that he grew to love. “I like the purity of porcelain and the gutsiness of stoneware,” he describes.
Instead of a vegetable garden in his backyard, Frank created a sculpture garden—a whimsical alternative to the decorative and utilitarian pieces in and surrounding his house. The “alarmists,” as he calls these creations—pirates, lawyers, samurai warriors and football players, all come to life as if to say, “The sky is falling!”
Half the fun for Frank is experimenting with color combinations, glazes, techniques and temperatures, which is why he travels around town with either his digital camera or sketchpad so he can recall what inspired him when it’s time to create back in his studio.
Putting his talents to practice on a new project